The very concept of American citizenship can help to provide an understanding of this nation'suniqueness and the opportunities readily made available to Jews and others:The United States is one of the few countries in the world that does not make citizenshipdependent on ancestry, on race, or on membership in a certain religious group. Instead,common principles and values that are enshrined in the country's constitution bind thecitizens of this country - regardless of race, class, or religious creed.... Consider the firstthree words of the Constitution - "We the People." Three seemingly innocuous and yet powerful words, here is the essence of why the United States was exceptional at the time of the Constitution's adoption - the insistence that the authority of government is not derivedfrom God or some higher authority, as was previously thought more or less common, butfrom the consent of the governed.As with every ideal, the realities associated with any social system suggest that efforts to portray a perfect society are offset by a different and less appealing scenario. Societies, including the U.S., mustcontend with their own historic truths; exemplified in this case by slavery and the internment of theJapanese internment during the Second World War. Similarly, the economic elements of capitalismhave at times evidenced how the power of greed and corruption defy and undermine the principles of an open and fair marketplace; the Bernard Madoff affair sadly reflects this latter reality.
b. Constitutional Guarantees
Beyond the symbolic and personal statements of American leadership, the Constitutional principles of American democracy have clearly enabled and shaped Jewish political engagement. Among theunderpinnings basic to this nation's creation was the commitment of its founding fathers to ensurereligious liberty and church-state separation, as expressed in the First Amendment to the Constitution:Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercisethereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably toassemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.Similarly, Article six of the Constitution contains a further political safeguard: it prohibits any form of a"religious test" as a qualification to hold public office.
c. The Jewish Contract with America
A set of historical events have, over time, created a kind of mythology concerning Jewish participationin American society, suggesting a "special connection" between America and its Jewish citizens.With the election of its first President, George Washington, the Jewish congregations of the newrepublic issued a series of congratulatory letters; the Jewish community of Newport Rhode Islandreceived a return note from President Washington. It represents one of the most extraordinarystatements defining the ideals associated with American society and serves as an important element of this notion of a "contract" between the Jews and America:The Citizens of the United States of America have a right to applaud themselves for giving to Mankindexamples of an enlarged and liberal policy: a policy worthy of imitation. All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship. It is now no more that toleration is spoken of, as if it was by