As a Canadian, I did not grow up celebrating the Fourth of July. We have our own independence day – which never seemed quite as fun as the one celebrated by our American neighbors south of the border. (We consoled ourselves with beer and hockey.)
I only began to experience a similar type of celebration when I came to Israel. Our independence day also revolves around a barbeque and culminates in fireworks. There are those that joke that the Yom Haatzmaut barbeque has attained the same obligatory status a Torah commandment. Like Americans, Israelis take their Independence Day seriously, as a day worthy of celebration.
The US and Israel have much in common beyond our Independence Day celebratory style. Our shared values are extensive. For me the line that resonates powerfully is from the American Declaration of Independence:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
As graduates of universities with strong and sometimes Hebrew-based Bible studies, the American founding fathers were deeply influenced by the Torah, but it is astounding how this sentence represents basic Jewish values that inform both Jews and modern Israel:
- Recognition of a Creator. The Jewish people were put into the world for that reason – as the PR company of the Almighty to teach and exemplify His values (to be a “light unto the nations”). The Israeli drive for tikkun olam (to repair the world), is an expression of this.
- Equality: The disruptive idea that Abraham brought to the world — the one that almost got him killed by Nimrod: Recognizing G-d and espousing a personal relationship with Him means that every person is empowered and equal. Despots like Nimrod found this terribly threatening. Equality is a constant debate in Israel – Do we have it here among our incredible diverse population? And if not, what can we do about it?
- Life: L’chaim is not just a toast. It’s what drives Israelis to innovate, create and rescue. Life is our greatest value, and we will risk our own to save the lives of others. (I wonder what ISIS and the Muslim Brotherhood would use as a toast?)
- Liberty: The Exodus story defined the term. The Jewish people’s redemption from the land of Egypt fits the Oxford English Dictionary’s definition of the very word “liberty.” The exodus freed us from “oppressive restrictions” which restricted our “behavior or political views” and were “imposed by authority.” The pursuit of liberty is what brought the Jews to the Land of Israel.
- Happiness: Despite being in a constant state of war for the past 60 years, Israel was recently ranked the 11th happiest country in the world. Seems counterintuitive. But visit here and you’ll see why. We’re a people who value family, love to celebrate (Shabbat is a weekly party) and embrace the moment. Living with sorrow has taught us to appreciate joy.
The Founding Fathers got it right when they established the country on Jewish values. There is a “special relationship” between Israel and the US. It was established at the birth of the nation.
And that’s a cause for celebration.