I love the July 4th holiday! It brings me great joy and pride. And, since so many of you will be off the next few days enjoying the long weekend, I wanted to send my Marc’s Remarks today.
Jews have been integral to the American story since we first started arriving in large numbers some 160 years ago. In 1883, Emma Lazarus wrote in her sonnet, The New Colossus, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free …” that sits upon the Statue of Liberty. For centuries the Jews were landless and stateless, leaving an indelible mark on our collective psyche. May we continue to feel comfort and peace in this great nation of ours.
We, as Jews, are deeply involved in the social and political fabric of our country. And that is perhaps why we feel so concerned over any matter that looks to marginalize anyone or anything. So, whether it is the environment or gay rights, civil rights or immigration reform, tax policies that hurt the poor or matters related to women’s bodies … Jews are there as organizers, supporters, sign holders, and letter writers.
That is one of the reasons for our sending out the resolution earlier this week about what is happening at our border. I got many responses – on both sides of the issue. One thing that makes our country special is the ability to voice our thoughts and opinions. Most importantly, it is okay if we do not always agree.
We celebrate the 4th of July because we know how unique this country is, how inspiring it can be, and how concerned we are for what it might be if we do not take an active role.
Here is an interesting history fact about July 4, 1776 and where it fell on the Jewish calendar. What was happening in the Jewish world while the Declaration of Independence was being signed?
Jews were fasting. You see, our Founding Fathers created the miracle of democracy and religious freedom on the 17th of Tammuz, 5536.
The 17th of Tammuz? It is a Jewish fast day commemorating the breach of the walls of Jerusalem before the destruction of the Second Temple. It marks the beginning of the three-week mourning period leading up to Tisha b’Av. The day also traditionally commemorates the destruction of the two tablets of the Ten Commandments.
How ironic that the United States was founded on one of the saddest days on the Jewish calendar.
As part of our history, many have written about the important role Jews play in our country:
John Adams, second president of the United States, wrote in an 1808 letter criticizing the depiction of Jews by the French Enlightenment philosopher Voltaire, “How is it possible [that he] should represent the Hebrews in such a contemptible light? They are the most glorious nation that ever inhabited this Earth. The Romans and their Empire were but a Bauble in comparison of the Jews. They have given religion to three quarters of the Globe and have influenced the affairs of Mankind more, and more happily, than any other Nation, ancient or modern.”
Mark Twain wrote in Harper’s Magazine in March 1898, “If the statistics are right, the Jews constitute but one percent of the human race. It suggests a nebulous dim puff of stardust lost in the blaze of the Milky Way. Properly the Jew ought hardly to be heard of; but he is heard of, has always been heard of. His contributions to the world’s list of great names in literature, science, art, music, finance, medicine, and abstruse learning are also away out of proportion to the weakness of his numbers.
He has made a marvelous fight in this world, in all the ages; and has done it with his hands tied behind him. He could be vain of himself and be excused for it. The Egyptian, the Babylonian, and the Persian rose, filled the planet with sound and splendor, then faded to dream-stuff and passed away; the Greek and the Roman followed, and made a vast noise, and they are gone; other peoples have sprung up and held their torch high for a time, but it burned out, and they sit in twilight now, or have vanished.
The Jew saw them all, beat them all, and is now what he always was, exhibiting no decadence, no infirmities of age, no weakening of his parts, no slowing of his energies, no dulling of his alert and aggressive mind. All things are mortal but the Jew; all other forces pass, but he remains. What is the secret of his immortality?”
Perhaps there is a message of why Independence Day fell on the 17th of Tammuz. Freedom is a double-edged sword. Yes, in America, we Jews (and others) have the right to observe the faith of our ancestors. We are entitled to be accommodated in our needs to follow the dictates of our religion. However, we also have the right to throw it away. To be sure, we are seeing a renaissance of Jewish life in America, including here in Portland. Unfortunately, we are seeing tremendous levels of assimilation, as well.
As we celebrate 243 years of our country, we are reminded of a song written during World War I for an army camp show. Supposedly, the show’s producers rejected the song as being too jingoistic, so its writer, Irving Berlin, placed it in a trunk of rejected manuscripts. When asked, 20 years later, for a patriotic piece for Kate Smith, who was going to sing something for the 20th anniversary of the Armistice of 1918, Berlin grabbed these words:
God bless America,
Land that I love.
Stand beside her,
and guide her
Through the night with a light from above.
From the mountains,
to the prairies,
To the oceans, white with foam
God bless America,
My home sweet home
Have a wonderful July 4th holiday and an early Shabbat shalom.