Word that Amy Gutmann soon would be named our ambassador to Germany rang my American chimes in several ways. I got a little verklempt. (Yiddish for emotional).
Not because she is the president of the University of Pennsylvania. I’ve always said that’s a great school to attend if you can’t get into Temple. 😄
No, the thing that’s giving me shivers is that her father, a Jew, had the spidey sense to flee his native Germany before the Nazis got rolling and locked in the Jewish population, in order to exterminate them. (Albert Einstein was another Jew who escaped.)
So Amy, now 71, won the birth lottery and was born in America, which was her family’s salvation, despite the open anti-Semitism that existed at the time.
She became the first member of her family to graduate from college, earned her Ph.D. at Harvard, became Penn’s second woman president and the longest-tenured chief executive of Philadelphia’s largest employer.
And now, after her appointment, this Jewish woman will represent America, the nation that saved her family, to the government that succeeded one, the Nazis, that would have killed them. The sweet irony.
There are several morals to this story.
Germany today is not the Germany of 80 years ago — far from it — and should not bear the blame for the sins and crimes of their grandparents and great-grandparents. No reasonable person would do that.
If I have to spell it out for you, that means no reasonable person would hold today’s Americans responsible for slavery.
As the daughter of an immigrant, a minority, and a woman, Gutmann rose to unparalleled heights. Her American story is unusual, but not unique, and brings to mind a quote by another minority overachiever by the name of Barack Obama: “In no other country on Earth is my story even possible.”
This is what we mean by American exceptionalism.
The German chancellor will welcome Gutmann with open arms, and probably a hug, to reflect the closeness between two powerful nations that are more than allies. We are close friends.
And we are friends because after America defeated Germany, we planted and tended her fledgling democracy, and provided welfare for her people and seed money for her economic recovery. No victor had ever been so generous.
Another example of American exceptionalism.
Of course, we had smarter leaders then and a more united citizenry.
None of this story is a myth, as some despicables claim about American exceptionalism. Every word is true and makes me proud to be an American, and safe to be a Jew.