I'm Jon Spira-Savett, rabbi at Temple Beth Abraham in Nashua, New Hampshire. This website and blog is a resource for Jewish learning and Jewish action. It is a way to share my thoughts beyond my classes and weekly Divrei Torah. You'll find blog posts, standing resource pages with links and things to read, and podcasts as well.
Integrating America: What I Hope To Get From This Year
Assignment: Complete this thought -- "I am about to begin a year of study about America..."
This is the final bit of preliminaries, before delving into history and literature. I wanted to put down a few of my own goals in taking a sustained, hopefully deep survey of American history since colonial times.
I used to think of history, sort of, as a series of case studies where people faced social-ethics dilemmas like the ones we do, and we can see various approaches and arguments from the standpoint of completed episodes. In a certain sense, people in the past are like us, minus some technologies and mostly minus the idea that women and men are equal.
I guess that approach owes something to John Dewey's decidedly non-industrial, non-training-only view of education from the Progressive Era. Now I know that every period, even of the history I have lived in my own life, has a texture of its own and you can't easily analogize or extrapolate. If you want to, you have to make a case for the analogy.
I still hope to learn some in that analogy vein. But maybe more so, I want to understand better that we live in a different part of the American story, and I live in a different part of the story than when I had my formative American education. So I should look not just for parallels, but for things that my current experience would otherwise miss. Some of those things may have clues to what I miss about America today.
At the same time, I am looking for a thread of ideals and the story of challenges, stress-tests, and refinements of those ideals. The citizen as "connected critic" that I articulated already on this thread. I have always thought the challenges were about expanding who is included, and the blindnesses that impaired or prevented that. I'm looking to test that idea as well. I want to believe in American ideals -- freedom, equality, pluralism, diversity -- I have a rooting interest. I hope I'll look with a critical spirit and that people here will join me in learning and helping test my own reflections.