Starting in 1881, some 2.5 million desperate, destitute eastern European Jews washed up on American shores to connect an ancient text to a young nation’s sense of its own special destiny. For the implacably confident citizens of the surging United States, these exotic newcomers provided new perspective on three mystical Genesis verses that had resonated with their forebears since the earliest days of British settlement.
“Go for yourself from your land, from your relatives, and from your father’s house to the land that I will show you,” God commands Abraham (still called Abram at that point in the text). The Almighty reassures the puzzled patriarch by pledging a world- changing outcome to this directed journey into the unknown: “And I will make of you a great nation; I will bless you, and make your name great, and you shall be a blessing.”
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