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On Becoming a US Citizen

OnRav Marc w citizenship Wednesday December 16th, I was officially sworn in as an citizen of the United States, which was an extraordinary experience that actually gave birth to a surprising range of emotions. It was very moving to see 50 or so people becoming citizens from 29 different countries, including Belgium, Bhutan, China, Cote d’Ivoire, the Czech Republic, Egypt, Ethiopia, Germany, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Italy, Mexico, Russia, South Korea, United Kingdom and Vietnam.

For some of these new citizens, the process has been grueling and the end of a very long journey and the sense of joy and excitement in the room was palpable. Truthfully, I found it hard to say the Oath of Allegiance, especially the part that says “I will bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by the law.”

Along with a flimsy American flag that may have been made in China, we received a packet full of goodies, including a message from President Obama addressed to “Dear Fellow American.” It included a section that said, “Our democratic principles and liberties are yours to uphold through active and engaged participation. I encourage you to be involved in your community and to promote the values that guide us as Americans: hard work and honesty, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism.”

I couldn’t help wondering how this letter might change under the leadership of some of the current Presidential hopefuls, but don’t want to go there right now. I find the President’s words moving as an invitation to get involved in this country’s destiny. Our certificates of naturalization were presented to us by the Secretary of State for Colorado, who reminded us of the utter importance of the electoral process and encouraged us to register to vote immediately after the ceremony. That is exactly what I did, going down one floor in the USCIS building to sign up, and now I am officially registered to vote, which was a big part of this; the desire to participate more in the political process here, however dysfunctional it seems right now.

I am very grateful for all the support in this journey from friends and from Bonai Shalom and was moved by the presence of supportive people at the swearing in ceremony. Many have asked me if I have given up my British passport. Absolutely not! I am a dual citizen and am not sure that I would have gone through this without the possibility of maintaining my relationship to England and Europe, to the places where I was raised where my parents and extended family still live.

The part of the oath that declares that I renounce my allegiance to any foreign sovereignty was hard and confusing to me. I was very aware of my privilege coming from a place and family where I have always had abundant opportunities and freedoms and have certainly not fled oppression or tyranny. I can return to England whenever I choose, which is not true for some of my fellow new citizens for whom this new identity has a power that I can only imagine. That said, it seems to be a frightening paradigm that suggests that we cannot have loyalty to more than one country, which does not hold true for me in my own vision of global partnership to redeem our world. I still have much to process about this experience, but feel proud, grateful and relieved to have completed my own personal path to US Citizenship!

About Rabbi Marc Soloway

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