In a moving personal piece published for Gloria Greenfield’s Doc Emet Productions, Dr. Juliana Geran Pilon, Senior Fellow, The Alexander Hamilton Institute for the Study of Western Civilization (AHI), contrasts the anxious hopes of her Romanian Jewish family with the growing attacks on both America and Jews today. Dr. Pilon begins “The Slaughter and the Spring” by poignantly recalling their rumbling flight from Paris in 1962 on a plane full of “Jewish immigrants. They prayed they would be spared forty years in the wilderness.”

Hoping to be treated “as equals” in the New World “none of us had ever seen,” they knew they had “next to no assets besides ill-fitting clothes” and that their skills were “largely obsolete.” Most could not speak English. In theory, “we really would be equally treated.” But in practice? “We didn’t even have a Moses to assure us that, God willing, it will all work out. Besides, even if God willed it, it was now up to us, which wasn’t all that comforting.”

Manhattan’s “surreal skyline” came into view—with “the sunniest June day we had ever seen before or, I daresay, since. Were we awake, alive, sane? Could those obelisk-shaped objects be real buildings, or were we hallucinating? … We remembered to exhale, then emerged, dazed, into the light, a burning bush in the pit of our stomachs. Was it the heartburn of being reborn, absent an umbilical cord?”

It helped that her family “had somehow kept our wits … during all those years under communism.” Even as a little girl, Juliana had noticed how “her parents used the never-read newspapers only as toilet paper … listened intently to a barely audible radio broadcast after they thought her asleep … would tell their friends jokes in a whisper.”

Now “we had to be ready as soon as we could, to exercise our newfound ‘liberty.’ Whatever that meant.” Living under communism, they could “never take words at face value.” The Statue of Liberty in Emma Lazarus’s poem “beckons all those ‘yearning to breathe free,’” but some immigrants are “nearly choking” and “may have only the vaguest idea what oxygen is … We weren’t quite in that situation, but close enough.” Her family’s goals were modest: “we wanted to live anew, join the near-mythical country that seemed willing to give us a chance … we would gladly do our best to justify the privilege. We implicitly pledged to link our various histories, habits, and hopes with those of people we would soon call neighbors and compatriots.”

This patriotism came even before they fully understood the roots of American liberty. “It was easy for us to be part of a people who had declared the God-given right to liberty as self-evident in what they called a Declaration of Independence … But oh, there was so much we didn’t know. We didn’t realize, for example, to what extent America’s Founders had indeed been informed by the Hebrew Bible. Considering themselves … chosen to be free, they were determined to keep that freedom, believing themselves to have been entrusted with a sacred responsibility.”

Today, in contrast, this American creed is under growing attack. Alongside “increasingly vocal and virulent anti-Americanism” in the academy and the media, anti-Semitism—not coincidentally—is also rising, disguised as “anti-Zionism.” But despite all this, Dr. Pilon passionately opposes any abandonment of either the American dream or America itself:

“I am appalled to see many of my friends giving up on America,” fearful of the continued growth of anti-Semitism. Giving up on America, she adds, “would be deeply immoral, given how much we owe this amazing nation. But even more profoundly, it would amount to betraying our very essence as a liberal community. Yes, liberal. Not in the mutated, mendacious sense in which it has been used for nearly a century, but the original, biblical sense: that we are all created equal in God’s image.”

In conclusion: “Don’t be fooled by words: the liberal idea is no mere ism. It is a way of life, and hope, and compassion. Against slaughter there must be spring.”

Dr. Pilon holds a Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Chicago and has taught at several colleges and universities. She has served as the director of the Center for Culture and Security at the Institute of World Politics in Washington and has designed and managed a wide variety of projects for democratization abroad. Among her books are The Utopian Conceit and the War on Freedom; The Art of Peace: Engaging a Complex World; and Why America is Such a Hard Sell: Beyond Pride and Prejudice.