What exactly is it that we Jews celebrate on American Independence Day? Why should we care that our host country celebrates its independence from foreign rule?
First we are citizens. But more importantly as a persecuted people throughout the millennia we should be grateful ones. We owe a tremendous debt of gratitude - Hakaras HaTov - to a country where we enjoy a historically unprecedented level of freedom.
Freedom to be a Jew in any way we choose. Whether as a Satmar Chasid or a Chasid of Modern Orthodox Rabbi Avi Weiss. This ideal of religious tolerance is one we all benefit from. Freedom of religion was a part of the philosophy of this country long before it was ensconced in the Bill of Rights - the first ten amendments to the constitution - which was ratified in 1791.
In 1790 President George Washington paid a visit to the city of Newport Rhode Island. He was welcomed in the form of a letter sent by Moses Sexias, the leader of that city’s Shul - now known as the Touro Synagogue. The following was Washington’s response:
Citizens of the United States of America have a right to applaud themselves for giving to Mankind examples of an enlarged and liberal policy: a policy worthy of imitation. All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship.
It is now no more that toleration is spoken of, as if it was by the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights. For happily the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection, should demean themselves as good citizens.
May the Children of the Stock of Abraham, who dwell in this land, continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other Inhabitants; while everyone shall sit under his own vine and fig tree, and there shall be none to make him afraid.
“May the father of all mercies scatter light and not darkness in our paths, and make us all in our several vocations useful here, and in his own due time and way everlastingly happy.”
God bless America. Happy 4th on the 5th