In these dark days, our R.I. heritage gives me ‘Hope’


Of my many sabbatical semesters throughout my six-decade career at the Rhode Island School of Design, my favorite journey was a mere nearby jaunt around Rhode Island, a trip of only a few hours.

My research was about the hike taken by the founder of our Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, and the legacy of Roger Williams. His flight was from the tyranny of religion itself: he was searching both for freedom of religion and also from religion.

Oddly perhaps, the first two minorities he welcomed in Newport were born brothers, one Catholic and the other Jewish. Look it up, I am not making it up. The Catholic had converted to save his life from the horrors of the Inquisition.

Simon Wiesenthal, a Holocaust survivor and the founder of the Museum of Tolerance, in Los Angeles, published a book titled “Sails of Hope,”  in which he claimed that the crew that helped Christopher Columbus’ mission to “sail on” were likewise desperately escaping from the intolerance of the Inquisition.

My point is that our Roger was quite a remarkable exception to the intolerance of his time, and our own current time. He disagreed with the Quakers but never sought to exile them. He studied the languages of the indigenous tribes and discussed their folklore and shared his own with them.

I am writing this salute to his vision because I am deeply distressed by the war in Israel. I believe that our American values at their very best have their roots in Israel!

We named Jerusalem, Rhode Island, and Galilee, Rhode Island, to bring the world’s victims of hate to our Ocean State – rich in rivers, bays and intimate places to seek and salute one’s own spiritual guides. (My favorite street name, though, is “Quail Run,” in Watch Hill, because it even embraces a native species of bird as an angelic messenger.)

Members of both political parties and candidates for our top leadership have expressed, forcefully and eloquently, their recognition of our alliance with Israel. I would argue that freedom of religion, and thus access to a free press and hopefully a search for truth, were born under the pen and graphite of Roger Williams.

Israel means, etymologically, “struggling with Creation,” so we have to work to find the value of our lives.

When students at Brown chose to throw blood-red paint on a statue of Christopher Columbus, they not only insulted the Italian community but they revealed their lack of research and the peer pressure of the latest fashions, while the value of  “higher” education continues to diminish, despite the enormous rise in the expenses that drain the budgets of wiser and older generations who pay the bloated bills. The  “liberal  arts” has lost its prestige, and may not soon restore or redeem the respect it once sought, and sometimes earned.

I am writing this rant because I am greatly distressed by the dreadful rise in antisemitism, I mean hatred of the Jewish people, spreading like a plague.

Both of the presumed candidates for president have behaved honorably and eloquently in saluting Israel, each within only slightly different contexts.

I have visited our Holy Land many times, and hope to land in the Tel Aviv airport once again, as soon as possible.

My late brother, who lived in Newport, had one single granddaughter, who has dual citizenship, Israeli and American. Julia dwells in Tel Aviv, and I worry about her welfare and hope to be able to visit her. And light a memorial candle to the memory of her late grandfather. (I was the last-born  “runt of the litter” of three boys, all born in Providence, Rhode Island, where the Four Freedoms, for which we fought in World War II, were first spelled out way back when we were the smallest colony in size but the biggest in the dreams of our founders, framers and farmers.)

President Franklin D. Roosevelt declared Dec. 7, 1941, “a day that will live in infamy,” but I might alter it, or add to it, “the day that will live within the motto of our Ocean State, which is ‘Hope’!”

MIKE FINK ( is a professor emeritus at the Rhode Island School of Design.

Sketchbook, Mike Fink