It’s the perfect American July 4th. I sit with my friends on the metro into DC, the train ferrying thousands of people to the national mall for the fireworks show.
A rowdy group enters the car yelling and laughing. Clearly already intoxicated, they snap open their beers. As foam drips onto the floor, one of the women pulls out a Grey Goose bottle and starts chugging. I have to video this, of course. Nothing like breaking a bunch of laws on the 4th (open containers of alcohol, drinking on the metro).
We get off the train with the mass of people, and as I move towards the mall in my outfit of blue, white, and beige (I forgot my red), along with thousands of other Americans decked out in the proper color scheme, I feel somewhat disconnected.
As I wait for the fireworks to start, I realize that these will be only my second Fourth of July fireworks in the past ten years. The beauty of the lights showering down in the background of the Washington Monument brings back faded memories from four years before, the only other time I can remember this holiday.
I am in the nation’s capital, during the most patriotic, most American moment of the year, but I do not feel completely a part of it. I am a mere observer of someone else’s joy and celebration.
I don’t mean to say I don’t feel American. I am American, and I am Jewish, in any order you would like to say it. In the future, I hope to call myself Israeli as well.
But I have spent every summer since the age of ten at a camp where the 4th of July comes and goes with barely a whisper. The staff talks among themselves,
“Don’t mention it,” they say. “It’s just a normal day.”
The campers silently remember, don their red, white, and blue, and go about their day.
Here, in my summer-land, July 4th is just another day, just the day between July 3rd and July 5th. It is another day that we are sitting in “shmutz la’aretz”, waiting until we are old enough to make our own decisions and jump ship to the Holy Land.
Israel should be every Jew’s ultimate goal, I won’t deny that. But whatever the circumstances that have brought us here, we live in America. We live in the diaspora, but we are blessed to reside in a place with freedom and equality, a place that allows us to be whatever we want: Jews, Zionists, Israelis.
This great nation gave us the opportunity to uplift ourselves, to build our lives, and to yearn for more. In 1947, it was the president of the United States, Harry Truman, that instructed the State Department to support the U.N. partition plan leading up to the creation of the Jewish state.
Without America, Israel would not exist. Without a world power built on the tenants of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, we would not have a flourishing democracy in our ancestral homeland.
We may be devoted first and foremost to Israel, the Jewish country, but we must give thanks where thanks are due. Judaism teaches, from the book of Shmuel, the concept of “dinah d’malchuta dinah”, that the law of the land is the law. In other words, we should respect the place that we live, and the laws under which we are ruled, even while we pray towards Jerusalem.
I am not a part of the independence day celebrations in the same way as the people around me. I don’t feel that surge in my heart, that pride I feel when Yom Ha’atzmaut rolls around every year. But I am honored to take these moments out of my busy life, and to spend July 4th the way I should, but the way I have not in a long time;
So I soak up the crowd and the lights, and the beauty of the coming night, and I thank the United States of America, the land of the free and the home of the brave, for making me who I am today.