Walking With Sinatra Through the House We Live In
OpinionFrom Where I Sit

Walking With Sinatra Through the House We Live In

The essence of America stands against racism and anti-Semitism.

Dave Schechter

Dave Schechter is a veteran journalist whose career includes writing and producing reports from Israel and elsewhere in the Middle East.

Perhaps the most unusual Frank Sinatra recording is “The House I Live In.”

What is America to me
A name, a map, or a flag I see
A certain word, democracy
What is America to me

This is no swinging tune or lover’s ballad, but the theme song of a 10-minute, black-and-white film of the same name, released in 1945 to counter post-World War II racism and anti-Semitism. The lyrics were written by Lewis Allen, a pseudonym employed by songwriter Abel Meeropol (who also penned the haunting “Strange Fruit,” about the lynchings of African-Americans, famously recorded by Billie Holiday).

The house I live in
A plot of earth, a street
The grocer and the butcher
And the people that I meet

Sinatra steps out of a recording session, stops a group of boys who have chased a Jewish boy into an alley, and croons a lesson on tolerance.

The children in the playground
The faces that I see
All races and religions
That’s America to me

The Anti-Defamation League’s Southeast Region recently presented its 2017 Abe Goldstein Human Relations Award to Brendan Murphy, a Marist School history teacher, for his commitment to Holocaust education.

The place I work in
The worker at my side
The little town or city
Where my people lived and died

A couple of nights later, the Islamic Speakers Bureau of Atlanta presented businessman and philanthropist Arthur Blank with a Lifetime Achievement Award.

The howdy and the handshake
The air of feeling free
And the right to speak your mind out
That’s America to me

In receiving the award, Blank recalled his grandparents, who “immigrated to this country in the very early 1900s in pursuit of better lives for their families. They got on ships, taking them to a new place none had ever seen, with a faith, a dream and a determination that I can hardly imagine. … They came for freedoms they didn’t have and opportunities that were readily available to anyone willing to work, regardless of how they looked, where they came from or their manner of worship.”

The things I see about me
The big things and the small
The little corner newsstand
Or the house a mile tall

Americans are at “a time in our nation’s history where the notion of inclusiveness, diversity and equality is being challenged,” Blank said. “Hard lines are being drawn, and people are again being segmented by many who, in my view, are more interested in political positioning than they are in demonstrating and championing the ideals of a great country.”

The wedding and the churchyard
The laughter and the tears
And the dream that’s been a growing
For a hundred and fifty years

The recipient of ISB’s Courage Award was Sally Yates, the U.S. deputy attorney general (and briefly acting attorney general) fired in January by President Trump for her refusal to enforce what she felt was an unconstitutional ban on immigration from seven predominantly Muslim nations.

The town I live in
The street, the house, the room
The pavement of the city
Or the garden all in bloom

“For 27 years, I was privileged to be part of an institution (the Justice Department) that’s dedicated to representing the people of the United States — all the people of the United States,” Yates said to applause and cheers. “Representing the people by upholding the Constitution and the rule of law. At the core of those laws and our Constitution is the founding principle of equality, that we all have the same rights, and regardless of race or nationality or religion, that those rights are protected equally.”

The church, the school, the clubhouse
The millions lights I see
But especially the people
That’s America to me

A stanza in the song’s second verse, which was not included in the movie, spoke of:

The house I live in
My neighbors white or black
The people who just came here
Or generations back …
That’s America to me

This is the house we live in.

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