Emma Lazarus's Audacity of Hope

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While many Americans are still relishing in a renewed surge of hope (myself among them), I thought I'd give a shout-out to Emma Lazarus. Her memory became forever associated with her powerful vision of America as a symbol of hope and possibility for the down-trodden. Today marks the 121st anniversary of Emma's untimely death, at the age of 38.

It wasn't until several years after I first visited the Statue of Liberty that I learned the words: "Give me your tired, your poor! Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free," (etched into a plaque at the Statue's base) were penned by a Jewish woman named Emma. One of the first successful American Jewish authors, Lazarus was part of the late-19th-century New York literary elite, and was celebrated in her day as an important American poet. In her later years, she wrote bold, powerful poetry and essays protesting the rise of anti-Semitism and arguing for Russian immigrants' rights.

In 2008, it's refreshing to once again see a glimmer of hope re-emerging in a time of jadedness, war, and environmental destruction. We just elected our nation's first black president ... and, for many of us, this is a sign that anything really is possible. It's comforting to believe that there may come a time when we actually will "breathe free." It's equally comforting to realize that two centuries ago, a Jewish woman helped mark this country as a place where freedom really did become a reality. Thank you, Emma L.

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