Last night, I had the pleasure to celebrating Ramadan at an Iftar (Breaking Fast) event organized by the Islamic Center of New Rochelle, our local mosque. I would have been honored by the invitation to join neighbors and friends for this occasion under any circumstances, but was especially grateful to attend this year, in light of the increasingly ugly tone of our national politics. The fostering of division and fear is profoundly un-American and must be challenged at every turn. At the event, I delivered the following remarks:
Good evening. Thank you for the invitation to join you tonight. It is a pleasure and an honor to observe Ramadan in your company.
On an occasion like this, I am reminded of how fortunate we are to live in a city and country with such remarkable diversity, with cultures that trace their origins to every corner of the globe – all of us fiercely proud of our own traditions.
And yet by sharing a community, we come to better understand and appreciate the humanity that binds us together – recognizing that we are all New Rochelleans, all brothers and sisters, all contributing to a stronger and greater whole and to a common future we shape together.
Though we may read from different books and use different words, have we not all one Father? Do we not all strive, in our imperfect ways, to honor his will and to uphold that simplest essence of wisdom and justice: the Golden Rule?
This seems an especially appropriate and important moment to affirm our fundamental values, because today, in our nation, there are some who seek to reverse decades of hard-won progress and undo all we have built together.
Loud and ugly and profoundly un-American, they would elevate themselves by fostering a climate of fear and suspicion, turning neighbor against neighbor.
These voices of division must be challenged at every turn. They must be reminded that in our country, there is no us and them. There is only us.
In this spirit, permit me please to read a few passages from a letter, words that have always moved me greatly. This letter was addressed some years ago to a minority religious group, in this case the Jewish community of Rhode Island, but the sentiments it expresses are universal; they apply to every group – and are just as timely today as when first penned. The letter reads:
“ . . . If we have wisdom to make the best use of the advantages with which we are now favored, we cannot fail to become a great and happy people. The citizens of the United States of America have a right to applaud themselves for having given to mankind examples of an enlarged and liberal policy—a policy worthy of imitation. All possess alike liberty of conscience . . . It is now no more that toleration is spoken of as if it were the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights, for, happily, the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens . . . May the children of the stock of Abraham who dwell in this land continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other inhabitants—while every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree and there shall be none to make him afraid. May the father of all mercies scatter light, and not darkness, upon our paths, and make us all in our several vocations useful here, and in His own due time and way everlastingly happy.”
And it is signed . . . George Washington, President of the United States.
I certainly do not have President Washington’s eloquence, but let me close as I did in my recent State of the City Address, with this: what makes America great – today as much as at our founding, perhaps even more today – is not blood, or soil, or walls, what makes America great is brotherhood from sea to shining sea.
May you find joy and peace during this month of reflection. And may we all together celebrate our common humanity, now and always.