The View From Here | A Nation of Wusses? Not a Chance

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Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about Ed Rendell’s famous quip that we’ve become a “nation of wusses.”

I’ve seen its truth in the tendency of people to throw in the towel instead of continuing the fight; in the shrill complaints from neighborhoods around the Philadelphia Museum of Art that the NFL Draft — a media event that some estimates now say benefited the local economy by as much as $80 million — clogged up the Parkway and side streets for almost a week; in the audacity of a president to pass off inaction as accomplishment and claim a middling first 100 days of his administration as the most active in U.S. history.

Rendell’s notion that we as a country are falling short of our idealized past is admittedly simplistic and fails to fully account for all of what this nation continues to achieve. And yet, there it was again, popping in my mind during Zimrikudiah, Perelman Jewish Day School’s Song and Dance Festival celebrating Yom Ha’atzmaut, Israel’s Independence Day.


As I watched the students, faculty and staff — all dressed in blue and white — dance in celebration of the Jewish state’s 69th birthday, I thought back to 11 years ago, when my wife and I took our three young children and made aliyah.

Back then, in a farewell column for the Exponent — at the time, I was the paper’s departing news editor — I naively saw things in terms of how American immigrants to Israel could affect the Jewish people’s modern experiment in the Middle East.

“I can safely say that Israel requires some improvement,” I wrote at the time, having been an oleh for just more than a month. “From the way that drivers literally fight with police officers to how real estate agents act like they’re doing you a favor instead of an incredibly expensive service, the Israeli chutzpadik spirit is in dire need of a good dose of savlanoot.”

We spent more than five years living full time in Israel, and I can attest that everything I wrote back then is still true today. But at Perelman’s Melrose Park campus on May 2, I realized that Israel, that tiniest of nations half a world away, has so much to teach us, the United States of America.

If we are a nation of wusses, Israel is a nation of doers. The country that “made the desert bloom” continues to lead the world in desalination technology, as well as in biomedical engineering and computer programming.

In less than seven decades, the State of Israel has gone from a third-world backwater of interest only to Jews to an economic powerhouse that is the embodiment of the Jewish resolve to survive. Take out “Jews” and “Jewish” and transpose the events to the late 18th and early 19th centuries, and from the Middle East to North America, and you’ll have a succinct description of this country’s own revolutionary transformation.

We as a Jewish community celebrate Israel as a reflection of who we are as Jews, but we as the United States should also celebrate Israel as a reflection of what we can further achieve as Americans. This city transformed the Parkway in less than a month to host one of the largest temporary stages ever built. Isn’t it unconscionable that the only rail connection between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh offers an eight-hour trip twice a day?

At several points in its history, the United States transformed the landscape — as well as the economy — with canals, the transcontinental railroad and the interstate highway system. But now that it stands firmly in the 21st century, it relies on these same 18th- and 19th-century innovations and technologies. Acela, Amtrak’s “rapid” rail service introduced to much fanfare almost two decades ago, in many cases offers just less than 10 minutes of reduced travel time when compared to Amtrak’s Northeast Regional line.

President Donald Trump speaks a lot about his prowess as a developer and hails his promised border wall as the kind of grand project that can have an impact on the order of, say, the Hoover Dam or the Tennessee Valley Authority. But the potential payoff along the southern border pales in comparison to the kind of economic engine that Pennsylvania could become if there was enough foresight and capital harnessed together to more firmly connect its two biggest cities.

But actually doing the improbable means developing a vision for the possible. There’s enough optimism and intelligence right here in the United States — much of it in our own community — to make it happen. But each individual ability must be yoked together to have any meaningful benefit.

Think of it: Armed with the charge of President John F. Kennedy, we landed human beings on the moon before the end of the 1960s, using some very old math and some very new technology that is today dwarfed by the computing power in a single smartphone.

Just what might the future hold? It’s a question that animated a people longing for the return to their homeland and provided strength to their resolve to forge a nation out of nothing. And on this, Israel’s 69th birthday week, we should take that ongoing accomplishment to spur us all to continue to improve our own corner of the globe.

Joshua Runyan is the editor-in-chief of the Jewish Exponent. He can be reached at [email protected]

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