Converting to Americanism

26 Nov

I am an alien.

A Resident Alien, that is. I’ve lived in the United States for nearly 15 years and I am finally going through the process of becoming a citizen. I have been studying for the civics exam for the past few weeks. People ask me, “how hard can it be? Do you really need to study?” Although I caught up in high school, I missed the basic lessons from birth to fourth grade – the kids in my class couldn’t believe I didn’t already know the Pledge of Allegiance – and I didn’t grow up surrounded by the unparalleled American patriotism that natural born citizens did. (Canadians are generally pretty cool and low-key about everything…hence why our history is so much more boring). So no, the test is not that hard – it focuses on important historical events, people, presidents, laws and the way the government works – but I can bet that the majority of American-born citizens would not be able to answer every question cold, especially if they are not particularly involved in politics or history. Yet, because they were born here and somewhat expected to know these things, they don’t have to demonstrate their basic knowledge (or lack thereof) before a government official.

This reminds me of another part of my identity: my Jewish identity. There are so many Jews, especially in America, that identify as Jewish only because of chance; they were born in a Jewish family. How many of those Jews can name the Five Books of Moses, the laws of our people? How many know about all the Jewish holidays? About the basic history of the Jewish people and how we got here? I’d be very curious to see how many “Jews by birth” could pass a conversion test.

If you are trying to become a part of something you didn’t have the privilege of being comfortably born into, you need to work for it; you need to actually know about the commitment you are taking on, to know what it means to be an American, to be a Jew, to be doctor or a pastor or even a husband or wife. Does being inherently American or Jewish mean that you can’t get rid of those identities even if you wanted to, or do you need to be educated and participate to be able to identify yourself as such? Is the responsibility just as great for those who are already members to know about that which they belong to?

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Amber Ikeman is the Youth Engagement Coordinator at The Jewish Federation of Sarasota-Manatee.

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One Response to “Converting to Americanism”

  1. Bev Ikeman December 5, 2013 at 11:57 am #

    Excellent, thought provoking article!!!

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