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Saturday, July 4, 2009

One Great Day; Two Great Celebrations


One Great Day;
Two Great Celebrations
by Rabbi Isaac Jeret
July 4, 2009
(Updated: July 4, 2011)

Each year, on the Fourth of July, Jews residing in The United States of America, as well as those residing in The State of Israel, have reason to celebrate a great day, commemorating, not one, but two great events that occurred on this single day, spanning a distance in time of exactly 200 years. America's Founding Fathers, and (ultimately) its inexhaustibly committed soldiers and founding citizens, declared into existence the world's first independent, democratic country on this very day, 235 years ago. As well, only 35 years ago today, the boys of TZAHAL -- Israel's  Defense Force (the Sayeret Matkal unit, to be precise) -- freed 100 Jewish hostages from the Entebbe Airport, where they were held after their plane was hijacked by Palestinian terrorists and their German accomplices.

Courageous and benevolent Americans, motivated ever-since by our country's founding generations and forever-more by America's Divinely inspired message of freedom and liberty, have championed causes of human dignity the world over in the most recent century and prior. Both the very ideals that America represents and the reality that it constitutes continue today to awaken a deep yearning for liberty in the hearts and souls of decent human beings throughout the world who seek at minimum to secure a free and better future for themselves and their families. The intellectual courage, spiritual fortitude, and physical bravery of those who thought and fought to breath life into a new, free, and dignified way of living, on the soil of the New World, exemplifies and models still today the necessary vision to dream of liberty, the courage to fight for it, and the conviction to defend it. The State of Israel is the world's finest and most authentic present-day example of this remarkable, life-affirming phenomenon.

This week, I find myself reflecting concurrently upon two great heroes, men who typified the spirit of liberty shared by Americans and Israelis alike; George Washington and Yonatan Netanyahu. The former was, of course, the brave General, and thereafter the founding-President of the United States of America, who dedicated his life to birthing and nurturing our great country in its most formative years. The latter was a hero of Israel's desperate self-defense in the north against Syria during the Yom Kippur War in 1973 and served later and most heroically as the Unit Commander of Sayeret Matkal, the Israeli Special Forces Unit charged with developing and executing the plan to free the hostages at Entebbe Airport in 1976.

Though his younger brother, Benjamin, serves today a second term as Israel's Prime Minister, Yonatan's future ended tragically on July 4, 1976, as he sacrificed his life at Entebbe Airport. He died very much in service of his country's self-defense against forces of evil who claim openly for all to hear that their greatest strength is their de-emphasis of the importance of each individual human life and their resulting willingness to die, and even to kill their own, in order to achieve the death and maiming of Israelis and all Jews everywhere and the annihilation of Israel. They claim that Israel's greatest weakness is its unwillingness to deem acceptable even a single death of its citizens and that this weakness will ultimately bring Israel to its end. The values shared by George Washington and Yonatan Netanyahu would argue otherwise, no doubt, and their conviction, courage, and moral clarity in defense of those who would value and dignify human life is exactly that with which we must respond today.

George Washington and Yonatan Netanyahu are bound together in an eternal bond of life-affirming human liberty and dignity, just as The United States of America and The State of Israel must remain today bound by shared visions and values. The bond between Washington and Netanyahu was fashioned by their heroic acts in the course of their lives, though they lived centuries apart in time, as each championed ideologies and defended civilizations that value supremely each and every human life. Their eternal bond is cherished, no doubt, by our God, The One who loves life as God’s own creation and sustains all life every moment of every day.

On July 4th, Americans of all religions and races are joined in spirit by Israelis as we celebrate together a revolution of Liberty that began on the western shores of the Atlantic Ocean and spread not only from sea to shining sea, but, nearly two centuries later, to a tiny strip of blessed land, reaching from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan Valley and from the northeastern peaks and plateaus of the Golan Heights to the crystal-blue of the Red Sea. Indeed, the very vision that inspired America was one born of our Jewish forbears who learned from God and His servant Moses at Sinai the primacy of the value of all human life and dignity, who were reminded of these values in the compelling teachings of The Prophets, and who studied it throughout the ages, and continue to do so, as expounded upon by the Talmudic Sages and in subsequent teachings. The Divinely inspired vision that guided our Founding Fathers as they birthed our country and the modern-day miracle of Israel are born of a single Source.

Today, we celebrate freedom and, as we do so, we champion all who have worked so hard and sacrificed so much to bless us with every reason for our celebration. This week's Torah portion, Balak, reminds us that, if we are true to our most sacred values and to the essence of a heritage that champions above all else Life and Liberty, the words and deeds of those who seek to bring us harm can only serve to strengthen us in blessing (Mah Tovu O-ho-lekha Ya'akov ...). Our history's lessons and our future's hopes call upon us all to redouble our efforts to ensure that the eternal bond of Life and Liberty, envisaged and forged by great men such as Washington and Netanyahu, and inspired by The Creator and Sustainer of all life, remains an eternal bond, indeed. We must dream with vision, we must be prepared to fight with courage, and we must always defend with conviction. Great heroes have paved the way for us, God continues to entrust us, and the rest is up to us.

God Bless America, Am Yisrael Chai!