What Does America Mean To The Heschel Community?

By Anna Khorets and Max Rabin, Online Editor and Contributing Writer, respectively

In light of the recent election, we thought we would ask the Heschel community about their thoughts on America and its political system. The variety of answers portray that America has different meanings for everyone, even a small Jewish community. 

1. In general, use a few words to summarize how you feel about America.

Risa Lippe ‘22: I feel like America has infinite potential to be the country we advertise ourselves to be, but we are trapped by the circumstances of our history and an inability to gain a new perspective.

Celine Clerfeuille, French Teacher: In general, I’m very happy to live in the U.S. I love my job at Heschel (with wonderful students 😉 ) and I find life in the U.S. very exciting. Pre-Covid, I loved exploring various states.

Mauricio Szajman ‘22: In summary, I would say that America is the best country in the world.

Mark Adler ‘21: I think America is going through a tough period right now, but overall I’m optimistic about our future after the pandemic.

Ray Bernstein ‘22: I feel scared about America because the country has not treated everyone equally. POC and LGBTQ members have had their lives at stake. 

Mia Reisfeld ‘23: I like it a lot here. It’s very different from Israel, but it’s a good transition. It’s a completely different lifestyle, but it’s great to see and experience two different ways of living.

2. In detail, what makes America so special?

Risa Lippe ‘22: What makes America so special is the power and influence we hold in today’s modern world. America has an opportunity to set the moral and diplomatic standards for the rest of the world.

Celine Clerfeuille: For me personally, what makes America special is the flexibility that exists in terms of employment. Even when the country is going through a recession, it is still much easier to find a job here. The system is also much more flexible than in France. In France, a specific degree corresponds to a specific job and it’s virtually impossible to get a job beyond the degree that you have. For example, if you majored in math, you will work in the field of math. Any other pattern is extremely unlikely. Here, people with very different backgrounds end up having the same given job. This is a bad example, but in this country you don’t have to study politics to become a politician or president (for better or for worse!) In France, unless you go to a specific school, your chances of going into politics are zero. 

Mauricio Szajman ‘22: What makes America special, in my opinion, is the fact that anyone living here has a tremendous amount of opportunity to become successful as long as they work hard for it. In Brazil, it’s much harder to become successful or even just start a business and do your own “thing” than it is in the US. I think a lot of Americans nowadays take for granted that they live in such an amazing country with so many job opportunities; it truly is “the land of opportunity.”

Mark Adler ‘21: America is special because of the opportunities it gives to people of all races and religions.

Ray Bernstein ‘22: I think America is special because it is a democracy, even though at times it doesn’t feel like it. 

Mia Reisfeld ‘23: Definitely the people, and how everyone interacts. In Israel, the society is more friendly, and here, in America, it’s more serious and based on work. I think that in America, you have more opportunities to succeed and maximize your potential. 

3. Has the recent election and events in this country changed your perception?

Risa Lippe ‘22: The recent election has made the politicians’ abuse of the public’s trust in this country very clear. Elected positions are meant to represent the people and to make positive change, but today we see politicians only caring about keeping their jobs and getting re-elected. The government has become elitist and this last election has shown exactly that.

Celine Clerfeuille: The recent election has definitely made me question my perception. But again, we’ve gone through similar turmoil in France, so that gives me perspective. But yes, for a while, I was thinking maybe I should go back to France. Then I read the French news, and there’s turmoil there too. 

Mauricio Szajman ‘22: The recent events in this country have not changed my view a great amount; however, hearing people say that they would rather live in another country based on if a certain candidate gets elected just shows how much people take for granted what they have here. Additionally, another issue that I have been noticing in the last few years, but especially around election time, is biases in the news and how much certain news sources will go about manipulating headlines or not reporting on certain events in order to protect a candidate that they favor. In Brazil, there’s a lot of corruption with politicians, and in recent years Brazil has suffered a lot from it, so I believe that news sources need to be as unbiased as possible and report on everything.

Mark Adler ‘21: Not at all.

Ray Bernstein ‘22:  The recent election has changed my perception because I am now holding on to the smallest bit of hope that this country will be a great one. I’m hoping that transgender people will get their rights in the military again and Joe Biden will repeal the discrimination act against transgender people in hospitals. 

Mia Reisfeld ‘23:  It hasn’t really changed my perspective, but I feel like it’s an experience that I needed to witness. I’m really grateful that I did because it made me feel like I was a part of the country. I learned a lot about the election process, which is very different from the election process in Israel. 

4. What do you think politicians can change to improve the country?

Risa Lippe ‘22: I think if Congressional term limits were changed then the elected representatives would pay more attention to their constituency than to their next election year. Members of Congress need to realize [that their actions impact] millions of people’s daily lives.

Celine Clerfeuille: The one thing we have in France and that needs to be implemented here is healthcare for all. The U.S. already has Medicare for people 65 and over, so it’s not that crazy a “socialist” stretch to extend it to the general population under 65. The notion that healthcare is “Marxist” or that you wouldn’t be able to choose your own doctor is absurd. I don’t get to choose my doctor here, but I certainly did when I was living in France. I would also change the voting system and have the popular vote be the norm.

Mauricio Szajman ‘22: I think that politicians should pay close attention to how they can improve the current healthcare system in America because right now it is laid out in a way that is meant to be most profitable to insurance companies. However, I do not believe that the answer to this problem is universal healthcare; I believe that competition between companies will always result in the best outcome for the consumer and some more regulations on pricing needs to be put in place. For example, the Trump administration this year passed a bill that would cause the price of insulin to decrease; we need to make sure the insurance companies can’t abuse their power. Additionally, as an immigrant, I think that the way people apply to immigrate and/or become U.S. residents or citizens needs to be changed. The reason there is so much illegal immigration from the southern border is because the current system in place makes it very hard for people to receive permission to move to the US. 

Mark Adler ‘21: TERM LIMITS, get new faces into politics.

Ray Bernstein ‘22: Police brutality and equal rights for women and minorities. 

Mia Reisfeld ‘23: I wish that the whole election process was smoother and less stressful for all Americans. And I think that politicians must be more reliable and trustworthy in order to regain the citizens’ trust and improve the country. 

5. On a scale of 1-10, 10 being the most, how well do you think you are represented in this country?

Risa Lippe ‘22: 5/10; I feel there are a lot of representatives who share my values, but when it comes to sticking by them, they are quick to abandon social justice, which is very important to me. On the other hand, as someone who is white, I am represented, but as a Jewish woman, I am a minority. Judaism is a large part of my identity and it is easy to feel not represented when the American government doesn’t fully acknowledge the extent of anti-Semitism here.

Celine Clerfeuille: I would give it a 5. I feel like there’s less and less of a middle class in the U.S. It’s either the upper middle class or the working class, but nothing really in the middle and the gap is widening.

Mauricio Szajman ‘22: As far as being represented by politicians for the policies I believe in, I would say I’m pretty well represented, so I would give it a 9/10. I didn’t give a 10/10 because nothing is perfect; however, overall I don’t see any major flaws with how I am represented in this country.

Mark Adler ‘21: It’s hard to put a numerical value. I was very happy with President Trump and his policies; I hope Joe Biden won’t be such a hardcore lefty.

Ray Bernstein ‘22: 2/10. I feel like my rights do not matter and my people are being murdered on the streets because of their gender identity.

Mia Reisfeld ‘23:  I would say a 5, because I am not a citizen, so I don’t have the right to vote. The fact that I don’t have the right to vote makes me feel like I don’t have a say and that I can’t really share my opinions, which therefore makes me feel like I don’t influence the political situation. Other than that, I feel like the society is very welcoming and respectful most of the time, which makes me feel more comfortable to try and accomplish my goals and maximize my potential.

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