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We are assembled to celebrate
the anniversary of the day in the year 1945
when the Charter of the United Nations went into effect.
With the adoption of that Charter,
the first step was taken
toward bringing all the nations of the world
into a law-bound convenant to respect one another’s rights.
What is a nation?
It is people who live in a land of their own,
who live in it
and derive their living from it;
people bound together
by common memories,
by shared experiences,
and by the ideals and aspirations
that have grown out of those experiences.
Each nation thus possesses a character of its own.
The national character helps mold the life
of every man and woman in the nation
and every man and woman adds something of his own
to the life of the nation.
No person is merely an individual.
His very personality is rooted in the soil of his nation,
reflects its landscape,
thinks in its language,
responds to its moral standards, laws, and customs.
In the permanence of the nation
his own life acquires abiding meaning;
the resources of the nation enhance his meager powers;
the security of the nation protects his own.
The sovereignty of the nation
derives from the nation’s need
to be free to help its people obtain these blessings.
Each nation should therefore be allowed
to live its own life,
to seek its own welfare,
and to make its own contribution to civilization.
But national sovereignty must not be absolute.
It must always be subject to the sovereignty of God,
to whom belongs the earth and the fullness thereof. Cf. Psalms 24:1.
It must conform to His law of justice.
When nations act arbitrarily in their own interest
and disregard the needs and the rights of other nations,
they usurp God’s sovereignty
and render idolatrous obeisance to their own national ego.
Nationalism then turns from a blessing to a curse.
This has been the tragedy of human history
with its record of recurrent wars
that wreak havoc with human lives.
Aggressive nationalism has been the scourge of mankind in every age,
but in ours it menaces the very existence of the race of man.
Technology has shrunk the dimensions of our world
and bound together
in one economic mesh
people of all races and all climes.
We are all neighbors now
and must learn to live together as neighbors.
International war is an anachronism that must be abolished.
Wars have become too destructive to be tolerated.
Their devastation affects the lives not only of the participants
but of whole populations,
including millions of people who have no share in waging them.
War has become mutual genocide.
There is no victory in modern war,
save for the vulture,
and the disease germ.
Under such conditions
national sovereignty can no longer mean complete national independence;
it must mean the equality of interdependent nations.
It calls for the union of all nations, great and small,
to protect the rights of each and advance the good of all.
Let us look upon mankind’s plight as a challenge from God, who tells us:
“I have set before you life and death,
the blessing and the curse.
Choose, therefore, life.” (Deuteronomy 30:19)
The decision of the nations to unite was a choice of life.
If the nations will be loyal to the United Nations charter,
mankind will live.
This essay for introducing United Nations Day, “The Significance of the Day,” was first published in The Faith of America: Readings, Songs, and Prayers for the Celebration of American Holidays (Jewish Reconstructionist Foundation 1951), p. 249-250. It is unclear from this publication whether the prayer was written by Mordecai Kaplan, J. Paul Williams, or Eugene Kohn separately or together in collaboration. –Aharon Varady
|1||Cf. Psalms 24:1.|
“Opening Prayer for United Nations Day, by Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan, J. Paul Williams, and Eugene Kohn (1951)” is shared through the Open Siddur Project with a Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication 1.0 Universal license.
Works of related interest:
Closing Prayer for United Nations Day, by Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan, J. Paul Williams, and Eugene Kohn (1951)
💬 Preamble and Introduction to the United Nations Charter (1945) | מבוא לאמנת האומות המאוחדות (Hebrew trans., 1949)
💬 Universal Declaration of Human Rights | אַלװעלטלעכע דעקלאַראַציע פֿון מענטשנרעכט | הַכְרָזָה לְכׇל בָּאֵי עוֹלָם בִּדְבַר זְכֻיוֹת הָאָדָם | Deklarasion Universal de Derechos Umanos (1948)