An American Iconoclast – Emma Lazarus

The New Colossus by Emma Lazarus is inscribed in a plaque at the base of the Statue of Liberty.


    Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
    With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
    Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
    A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
    Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
    Mother of Exiles.
    From her beacon-hand
    Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
    The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

    “Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
    With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
    Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
    The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
    Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
    I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

    November 2, 1883

A biography Emma Lazarus by Esther Schor has recently been published. Esther Schor was recently interviewed on Emma who was referred to as an American Iconoclast

By modern I assume you mean deriving a Jewish identity from ethics, something that’s rational and secular.

    There was a romanticism to her Judaism also. This sense of a love for Zion, a love for Judaism; that wasn’t completely rational. But she had a strong Jewish identity. What it wasn’t was halachic. That’s where she alienated a lot of people because she was very blunt. Her need to take away the “cobwebs” out of Jews’ minds.

Her family was wealthy, Sephardic, and very assimilated, but she seemed to have no trouble crossing the gulf between the world of her youth and a more observant Jewish milieu.

    Well, she did her homework. Lazarus did her reading and had access to very learned Jews and she made them her friends and followed up with them and found sources and was very interested in Jewish learning and, in fact, did learn Hebrew. I’m not sure how accomplished she was at Hebrew, but she learned enough so she could read the medieval Spanish poets.

    She was very ambitious, fairly aggressive. She began correspondences at the drop of a hat. And of course the case in point is her friendship with Ralph Waldo Emerson. She found that he was very receptive to her because she was such a talent and so erudite and precocious and accomplished, and so excited by him. She took what she needed from him—she was able to ignore him when he was dubious about this poem or that poem. And he gave her very opaque advice which she sometimes ignored and sometimes followed.

April 9, 2007 | Comments Off on An American Iconoclast – Emma Lazarus

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