It took the Forward newspaper of New York to “out” Sen. George Allen of Virginia as being of Jewish descent. Wait, scratch that. He’s not of Jewish descent, but is actually Jewish. Judaism determines Jewish identity by matrilineal descent, and George Allen’s mother is Jewish.

Surprised that a high-profile Republican senator who promotes conservative and religious values would deny his own religious heritage? Don’t be. The denial of one’s Jewishness has been a time-honored tradition among Jews, who often feel that they are out of the mainstream and will therefore do almost anything to garner acceptance by either erasing their distinctive Jewish identity through assimilation, or by denying they were ever Jewish in the first place. Madeleine Albright is, of course, a famous example of someone who embarrassed herself by doing just that.

This denial of one’s identity has tragic consequences, not only for the individual in question, who is leading a liar's life, but for society in general because, by denying his or her distinctiveness, the individual is robbing the country of the enrichment that comes from contributing a unique, cultural gift.

Many people believe America is a melting pot society where distinctive ethnic and religious differences are lost amid the general coalescence into a single indivisible whole. That, of course, is not only undesirable, but also highly inaccurate. What has made America the greatest, most powerful, most colorful, most inspiring nation in the world is the phenomenal diversity that it incorporates.

Travel to Scandinavia and you will not see anything near the ethnic diversity of the United States. Travel to the Middle East, and you certainly will not see anything of the ethnic diversity. Indeed, one of the reasons Israel is so hated by Arabs is that they see the Jewish citizens of Israel as “European interlopers” who have usurped Arab land. Many of our Arab brothers unfortunately do not feel enriched by diversity, but feel that non-believers are contaminating Islamic lands.

But America always welcomed immigrants with open arms, not only in the belief that everyone deserved a better life and access to the American dream, but even more important, in the belief that diversity leads to greatness. America believes that a colorful mosaic made of different pieces leads to a far more beautiful picture then the entire scene being comprised only of purple, white, or black.

Many believe that ethnic differences should only be stomached, should only be tolerated. Indeed, the word tolerance is so pervasive in our society that we consider it a virtue. In fact, tolerance is a repugnant state of mind. It means “to put up with someone else,” to tolerate them, rather than feel enriched by them, to feel that one is made to feel more complete by exposure to someone who is different from oneself.

My daughter called me from Israel where she is studying in seminary for a year. She was nearly in tears because one of her teachers said in class that Jews were better than other people, that they had a truer religion, and that they were G-d’s chosen people. When she argued with the teacher and insisted that we are all equally children of G-d, and that G-d loves us all as His children, she was berated by small-minded colleagues in her class. She told me she knew she was right, that Jews were part of a family loved by G-d, but asked how that belief squared with our being the chosen people.

I explained to her that chosenness for the Jews is not a noun but a verb. In other words, G-d did not choose the Jews to make them ethnically, intellectually, or religiously superior. G-d is not a racist. Rather, G-d chose the Jews for a mission of diversity. The Jews were chosen by G-d to spread the light and love of G-d to all the nations of the world so they, too, would know G-d loves them and needs them. G-d would never suffice Himself with the Jewish people because we are all equally G-d’s children and all of infinite value. G-d wants to create a community of communities, a nation of nations. He wants His children to come from Africa and America and Scandinavia. He wants His children to be Muslims, Christians, and Jews, and for each to come to the mountain of the Lord with his or her distinctive language and identity, so that we can all be enriched by the beautiful tapestry that is the human family.

It is a great shame that someone like George Allen, who harbors national aspirations, has missed the essential component of the American dream--that there is only one America, but it is comprised of distinctive individuals all of whom have brought a great gift to this wonderful land.

I should mention that I am not offended by Sen. Allen for denying his Jewishness. I am rather saddened for him that he is ashamed of who he is. At my Sabbath table every Friday night, there are blacks and whites, Jews and Christians, atheists and agnostics, conservatives and liberals, and I revel in all the friends who surround me. Perhaps Sen. Allen can learn something from all those people around him who proudly affirm their identity rather than ignominiously deny it.

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