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Editorial

The Statue of Liberty – The Icon and Soul of America

I have always been fascinated by the stories of the immigrants who endured the often difficult sea voyage to America.

Stuffed into the holds of the ships of the time, being able to afford only the cheapest passage, and after being tossed about by ocean waves for weeks, the immigrants of yesteryear finally arrived at the port of New York at about the spot where the Verrazano Bridge now stands. That is where they received the most beautiful welcome gift they could ever expect, a view of Miss Liberty. The symbol of Freedom, the Statue of Liberty, holding aloft a torch with her right hand, tall, proud, determined – it was perhaps the most beautiful sight in their lives. The Statue of Liberty sent them the message that America welcomed them with open arms.

At that moment, as they cast their eyes on the Statue of Liberty, they could forget what they had been through, and they would feel warmth in their hearts. The dream had just been realized – the dream that often seemed so elusive – the dream of settling in America, with an opportunity to work hard and build a better future for themselves and their families.

I had the good fortune – thanks to a gracious invitation from the Stavros Niarchos Foundation (SNF) – to attend the grand opening of the Statue of Liberty Museum on Wednesday night.

(Yes, SNF was there, also representing and honoring with its presence the hundreds of thousands of Greek immigrants who passed through there, as well as contemporary Hellenes.)

The amazing weather provided us with an amazing view of Manhattan – its southern tip embracing the harbor, crowned by the great skyscrapers of the 20th and 21st centuries that mark America’s greatness, shining in the glorious sunlight.

The foundation that was set up for the creation of the Museum of the Statue of Liberty – Greek-American leaders, take note, this is how you build monuments in New York – organized this event on Liberty Island. Under the leadership of Greek-American Albert Bellas, Board Chairman, the foundation succeeded in raising $100 million for the cause.

The event was held in their honor – the doors of the new museum were first opened to the public yesterday – and dozens of donors were present. Some of them came by helicopter, but all of them were humble, approachable, smiling.

When the Emcee said that the money to build the museum was contributed by “the people” including, he said, “Jeff Bezos,” Bezos who was present, burst into laughter.

It was indeed a special night. A night that will be remembered for a long time.

During the tour they gave us at the Museum, I stood in awe and read again the poem of Emma Lazarus, which is engraved on the base of the Statue and eloquently expresses in a few carefully chosen words the history and the soul of this country, of the country of immigrants.

And, of course, we could not miss the reference to – who else – the Greeks.

It’s worth re-reading it:

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-tossed to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

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