What is the only country in the Western world where God’s name appears on the currency? The surprising answer: The United States. Yes, the same US where separation of religion and state is a fundamental constitutional principle. The same US that bans joint prayer sessions at public schools.
And here’s another question: Where was the new US Congress inaugurated? It wasn’t at the Capitol or at the Lincoln Memorial or the White House, but rather, at the Washington National Cathedral with a joint prayer sessions for all faiths represented in Congress.
And here’s the last question: Which head of state had to make clear last year that he is devoted to his religion and prays regularly? The answer: Barack Obama. He did it in the face of charges that he isn’t Christian and in light of the fact that he is barely seen at church. Hence, Obama issued a statement where he made clear that he prays every Sunday.
All this is happening in the US in the most public way possible and among the highest officials. There, people are not ashamed to believe in God, to enter a prayer house together, and to openly declare that they are praying. Officials there also do not hesitate whether to make time for prayer in their busy schedule. The truly bothersome question is why doesn’t it happen here?
The Americans understand that faith in the Creator is an element shared by the overwhelming majority of the population. Even in respect to those who are not devout, almost everyone believes that a higher power exists. One need not wear a kippah or go to confession every week in order to use God’s name, almost inadvertently, when offering someone well-wishes or expressing hope.
Cultural, moral issue
Around here, on the other hand, we usually rally around the Creator at times of distress; during official memorial days, private memorial days, at a time of illness or accident, and during war or terror attacks. This isn’t wrong, heaven forbid, yet it appears we would do well to interact with our Creator at other times too; at times of happiness and gratitude, at moments of hope, or just on regular days.
As noted, one need not be religious to do that. When Jewish Congress members attended the prayer session at the Cathedral they did not do it because they believe in Christianity; they saw it as part of America’s universal social fabric. This can and should be the same around here as well.
It is customary here to see the president and prime minister heading to the Western Wall after being elected, yet not much happens beyond that. In the State’s first years, the president and prime minister arrived for the Independence Day prayer at Jerusalem’s Yeshurun synagogue every year. Yet this tradition has disappeared. Reliance on the Bible and other Jewish sources is almost non-existent in the public discourse.
This isn’t just a religious problem; it is a cultural and moral issue, because whether we like it or not, Judaism is a religion and a nationality. Should we ignore the first part, we’ll have great trouble preserving the second part. The easiest route perhaps would be to imitate the Americans; after all, we usually do it enthusiastically.
Dr. Aliza Lavi is a communication and political science lecturer at Bar-Ilan University
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