Rabbi Mitch's Weekly Teachings

July 3, 2015


On July 4th, 1976, my Zadye z’l (my grandfather, of blessed memory) gave me a gift in celebration of America’s Bicentennial.

It was a two dollar bill that featured our Founding Fathers signing the Declaration of Independence.

Before that day, I had never seen a two dollar bill, and to this day I keep it in the wallet that also belonged to my Zadye z’l. Both bill and wallet, evocative of many warm and gentle memories, remain among my most cherished possessions.

As an eleven year-old at the time of the Bicentennial, I recall bits and pieces of the celebration. Our neighborhood held its annual July 4th potluck cookout on the court of St. Michael Drive in Palo Alto, California. That night, all the neighbors watched together as fireworks illuminated the sky above us. Fireworks also lit the skies above Washington, D.C., during the special national celebration over which President Gerald Ford presided. Also being broadcast live from New York Harbor was an event of special interest to my father, a former Navy man: the legendary gathering of tall ships from around the world known as Operation Sail.

July 4, 1976 was not a typical summer holiday. Rather, it provided us with the chance to celebrate the story of how a young nation, born of the desires for revolution and renewal, could grow into a democracy striving to achieve the highest ideals of human potential.

And although two of our country’s most painful episodes, the Vietnam War and the Watergate scandal, were in no way distant memories in 1976, the Bicentennial helped to give our nation perspective on these events.

Instead of shaking our heads at the ineptitude of our leaders, and loudly voicing a sense of disappointment in our government, the Bicentennial was a time when Americans felt connected to one another, and also felt a sense of pride in our heritage. It was a return to a simple, straightforward love of America.

I remember naively thinking in 1976 how “neat” it would be to live to see the 300th anniversary of America­—our Tricentennial!

But even with miracles of modern medicine, I’m not holding out much hope for the chance to see fireworks in 2076. I do, however, love the idea of my children and grandchildren experiencing such a wonderful occasion, and I enjoy imagining what America’s birthday celebration will look like to them.

I have always loved the 4th of July, but as a Jew, it holds an extra-special memory for me. On July 4th 1976, just as we celebrated our American Bicentennial, Israel gave us, and all the democracies of the world, an extraordinary gift of courage and heroism in defense of liberty and the combating of terrorism. On June 27th, an Air France jet was hijacked flying from Tel Aviv to Paris, after a layover in Athens, Greece. The hijackers, members of the Palestine Liberation Organization, forced the crew to fly first to Libya and then ultimately land the plane in Uganda, where they had the full support of the dictator Idi Amin.

In Uganda, the P.L.O. terrorists separated the Jewish passengers from the non-Jewish passengers, freeing the non-Jews, and keeping the Jews as hostages. The flight crew, who had refused to leave their Jewish passengers even when given the option, were also held hostage.

On the morning of July 4th 1976, the Israel Defense Forces launched one of the greatest modern rescue missions in human history.

They succeeded in freeing the hostages, and flew them back safely to Tel Aviv. Eight of the terrorists were killed, and, tragically, three hostages lost their lives. The commander of the mission, Jonathan Netanyahu, brother of Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, was also a casualty of this mission, which saved 98 lives and demonstrated Israel’s refusal to negotiate with terrorists.

On that day, the entire world witnessed the miracle of what it meant to have a Jewish sovereign State that took care of her own.

Israel, the Jewish democratic State, would be there for world Jewry.

I love America, and I treasure the blessing of being a citizen of the United States; it is a blessing that I never take for granted.

And I am also extraordinarily grateful that Israel is, and always will be, a constant and reliable friend to our country. Both Israel and America share a common historical narrative that embraces the ideals of justice, liberty, and peace.

As an American, I feel secure, knowing that my country, my home, is always here for me. But as a Jew, I feel even better knowing that Israel is right behind me as well. As we celebrate our America’s independence, we also celebrate the American ideals that make us who we are, a nation proud in her historic embrace of democratic ideals and God’s truths which are self-evident. We also celebrate the symbiotic relationship between America and Israel, and add an extra prayer of gratitude for this amazingly compatible and mutually supportive friendship.

My Zadye z’l was born in an era that believed in Israel as a messianic, utopian dream. He passed away knowing that the “messiah” was real; it just happened to be a Jewish country reborn in freedom, from the same origins of liberty and justice that also gave birth to the remarkable nation that is the United States of America.

Shabbat Shalom and happy Fourth of July,
Rabbi Mitch


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