With the July 4th weekend here, I feel it is incumbent upon me to properly acknowledge our national holiday of independence. This is especially significant to us as members of the Jewish American community.
Human nature being what it is, we tend to criticize, to complain, and to highlight the shortcomings and inadequacies of our system. But it’s the Fourth of July, and while I will admit that the government in this country is far from perfect, it is a far cry better than that of any other country or government in the world.
The world is in turmoil. There is a real and ever-present danger to Jews in many part of the world. Anti-Semitism is rearing its ugly head and remains largely unrestricted in so many areas. One need not look too far to realize that we can only feel tremendous gratitude that there is a United States of America.
There are those among us, including many Americans, who criticize the United States. They point to the issue of immigration as one of this country’s great challenges. But I say that we have an immigration issue precisely because this country is so great. The promise of freedom and liberty here is so appealing that everyone wants to come here.
My friend, Senator Marco Rubio, in a recent tribute presented at the Jewish American Heritage Month, reiterated these sentiments: “Ours is not the story of a perfect country or a perfect people,” he said. “But it’s the story of a county and a people who are struggling to be better and we have the freedom here to accomplish that.” He continued to say that, “In every part of the world there are people who were trapped in difficult circumstances in their country and were able to accomplish great things here. Being an American is not just a title. It’s a blessing and along with that it’s a responsibility.”
As grateful as we are for this country’s benevolence, we sometimes forget that we are still in golus. We don’t have a license to flaunt our successes or to express our dissatisfaction in an excessive manner. Our country allows us to practice our religion and we are thankful for that. But it is incumbent upon us to live in a modest fashion and to conduct ourselves with humility. We need to be careful not to arouse the ire of our neighbors and the general population. There will be times that we will not be successful in achieving our goals, politically or socially. When that happens, let’s not measure our failures by attribute them to anti-Semitism or hatred. Instead, let’s focus on generating goodwill, an affirmative outlook, and a positive demeanor.
Lest I be misunderstood, let me be clear. Just because we need to recognize the importance of living in a subdued fashion, that doesn’t mean that we need to live a clandestine lifestyle. Living a subdued lifestyle doesn’t mean diminishing our allegiance to Torah. On the contrary. We should proudly demonstrate our commitment to Torah. We are grateful for the freedom that has mandated to us by the Constitution of the United States to live as proud Jews.
In years past, there was a feeling among many of our brethren that it was necessary to discard the Torah way of life in order to become good Americans. That was unfortunate and today we know that it is simply not true. Being a good Jew and being a good American are two concepts that work very well together. It’s a balancing act that we need to internalize and understand as we approach this Fourth of July.
As we celebrate this Fourth of July, what goes through my mind? For starters, I believe our community should re-engage ourselves to consider our civic responsibility. That could mean something as simple as registering to vote. Or, perhaps, to engage in civic duty as good upstanding citizens. Let’s recognize that America became the greatest country on this planet because it recognizes innovation and improvement. Our responsibility as citizens is to engage our community in our civic duty while at the same time remaining committed to practicing our Faith.
Here’s another idea. As proud Americans, why not display the American flag from our windows? How delightful it would be if, when I wake up on the morning on July 4th, I would see the flag proudly fluttering in front of the homes of our fellow Jews in Boro Park, Monsey, Lakewood, Williamsburg, Monroe, and elsewhere. Let there be tens of thousands of American flags waving in our communities, testimony to the fact that we are grateful for what this country has provided us. Let there be no mistake about it. The fact that we have today hundreds of thousands of frum observant families raising our children in the pathways of our ancestors is only possible due to the protection of our constitutional guarantee. Waving the flag, a simple demonstration of patriotism, would serve as a tremendous Kiddush Hashem. The nation at large would understand that we are rooted here in the United States and that we take pride in our country. And that we are willing to contribute as proud, loyal, and productive citizens.
There are other steps we can take as well. Our youngsters need to be better educated about the history of this great country. We need to allow them to develop a better appreciation of their duty as citizens. We need to teach them to speak and write properly in English. We need to help them develop as contributing members of the society. And the best way to do that is to make them fully cognizant and aware of the workings of our democratic process.
Finally, let’s bring back the tradition of reciting the ‘Pledge of Allegiance’ in our community’s yeshivos and schools. It’s a practice that was done years ago, but has been abandoned over time. What a difference it would make if our children would recite these timeless words:
“I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America. And to the Republic for which it stands, one nation under G-d indivisible with liberty and justice for all!”
These are my thoughts as I sit back and reflect upon the many different ways we as a Jewish community and American citizens can celebrate this upcoming Fourth of July holiday.
Ezra Friedlander is the CEO of The Friedlander Group, a New York City and Washington DC based Consulting Firm.