“Your Thoughts: Assimilation”

As we look around America’s melting pot, we see descendants of immigrants.  We see groups of peoples whose ancestors were either forced to arrive here for slavery purposes, or those who arrived here to escape oppression.  Modern day America is a mixture of the descendants of African slaves, now African Americans, as well as the Irish, Italian, Jewish, Russian, Polish, Mexican, now all Americans.  Through assimilation and cultural infusion, many accents have been replaced by new ones, languages replaced with others, styles of dress, where to live, interests in foods, have all changed for a great number of Americans.  Of course, we cannot hyperbolize by saying that all families that are descendants of immigrants have replaced aspects of all parts of their culture with the “status quo.”  Rather, many families still maintain parts of their heritages in the homes, speaking their native language with family, and English out of the home; practicing religions in their churches or synagogues, eating their native foods, carrying on their native traditions.  What does all this have to do with anything, you ask?

The United States of America has existed for just over 200 years.  While travelers and voyagers came over to the new world well before the country was founded, the country officially came to being at a certain point and thus a new culture began to form.

Recently we discussed the stories of Pesach, which begins with the Israelites being slaves in Egypt for over 400 years.  While the Israelites were slaves, and not citizens, of Egypt, my question is, how did the Israelites maintain such a tight hold on their own culture, religion, language, etc?  400 years+ is roughly 12-14 generations living in a foreign land.  We are now seeing Americans in 2 to three generations, speaking different languages, assimilating into the already established culture, while also adding to the culture.

If, indeed, the Israelites spent 12-14 generations living alongside Egyptians, even as slaves, how did they come out on the other side of the Sea of Reeds not speaking Egyptian languages, dressing like Egyptians, etc.  Or, is that one of the reasons for the wandering in the desert, to cleanse the Israelite people of 400 years of assimilation?  If that is the case, would they not take with them and pass down with them bits and pieces of Egyptian culture, despite being isolated with only Israelites in the wilderness?

Interested to hear your thoughts on this.

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2 Comments Add yours

  1. Anna says:

    This premise is a difficult example upon which to comment upon since there is no evidence that we were ever in Egypt, hence it would be impossible to assimilate in a place we never were located. However there are many examples of Jewish customs and laws that arguably stemmed from assimilation, for example, the placing of mezuzah’s. The issue of assimilation is a great topic because it clearly has degrees and once assimilation leads to abandonment of your language, customs, cultures, foods, music, religion etc. then it tends to result in less diversity and less connectivity to ones heritage. And let’s not forget the American Indians and all the damage done to them through forced “assimilation”. I for one would much prefer a USA that honors, respects and embraces diversity while upholding the laws of the USA rather than complete assimilation. Hold fast to your religious heritage, respect other’s right to do the same, abide by the laws and maybe we can live in peace – tecun olam.

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  2. Anna says:

    It is difficult to comment regarding the example given because there is no evidence that we were ever in Egypt. One cannot assimilate in a place one has never been. However the topic of assimilation is a good one. I personally don’t believe that as a result of assimilation one must give up their language, customs, culture, food, music, religion etc. Rather, we should be permitted, no encouraged to hold fast to our differences, as well as respect others to do the same. Diversity should be enbraced not abandoned. When we as a society can do this and not discriminate then we will be able to truly be the land of the free.

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