Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Toward a Patriotic Celebration of Israel Independence Day

I am an American citizen and a Jew. I take both of these elements of myself very seriously. Not that this relationship is always perfectly smooth, but I strive to keep both of these parts in harmony and will even go so far as to say that each is enhanced by the other. As a Jew, I bring a minority outsider element to our culture. This goes above and beyond that of other minorities in that America was founded by Christians with a strong sense of themselves as being the heirs of the biblical Children of Israel. Other minority groups may have their legitimate complaints against the United States. As a Jew, I can be nothing but eternally grateful for what America has done for us. As an American, I bring to Judaism an experience and a comfort in living in a free society, peacefully with members of other creeds.

While I may be an American, I believe that the State of Israel has an important role to play for Jews. The State of Israel itself (to be differentiated from the land) may not have any religious significance to me, but I still support it on secular terms. Even Jews who do not live in Israel can hold their heads up and feel safer in their home countries knowing that there is a Jewish State to stand up for them. Furthermore, any Jewish spiritual renewal, whether Orthodox or otherwise, is likely to come from Israel. I do not live in Israel nor do I have Israeli citizenship, but it is something that I might consider in the future. This would in no way be a rejection of America. I would be following in the footsteps of Michael Oren, who had to be supported by friends as he gave up his American citizenship in order to become the Israeli ambassador to the United States. Ambassador Oren never stopped being a loyal American. He is loyal to the Jewish people and to the State of Israel as well and has acted to serve both the interests of the United States and Israel.

Even if the political State of Israel does not hold any religious significance, I still see the establishment of the State of Israel and its survival during the War of Independence to be of religious significance. After the Holocaust, the Jewish people needed something. Without Israel, I do not believe that any Jewish renewal, even in America, could have been possible and Judaism would have faded into oblivion. So Israel Independence Day should be celebrated by Jews as a secular community holiday and a religious one to thank God for being delivered.

I say all this to frame what I am about to say so I am not misunderstood. I do not wish to attack the notion of American Jews being attached to Israel and celebrating Israel Independence Day. That being said, there was something that happened yesterday at my school's Israel Independence Day celebration that bothered me. There was music and dancing in the gym. As can be expected the room was full of Israeli flags. There was, though, not a single American flag. If this would have been an informal thing with people bringing in flags, I would not have thought to make an issue of it, but the school had several representatives from the State of Israel, who came into the gym in their Israeli military uniforms and, with full ceremony, hoisted the Israeli flag, while everyone stood at attention.

According to article 7c of the American flag code:

No other flag or pennant should be placed above or, if on the same level, to the right of the flag of the United States of America, … No person shall display the flag of the United Nations or any other national or international flag equal, above, or in a position of superior prominence or honor to or in place of the flag of the United States or any Territory or possession thereof.

If it is considered a disgrace to the American flag to honor the flag of another country above it, it is certainly a disgrace to honor the flag of a foreign country, even to the extent of having foreign citizens dressed in the uniform of a foreign military standing on ceremony, without even having an American flag present.

I managed to pester a member of the administration to allow me to go over to the auditorium and bring over the American flag there so this event could be honored by the presence of an American flag as well.

For those of you who think that I am making a big deal out of nothing, I ask you: what line would you place for Israel Independence Day events? What would American Jews have to do in order for there to at least be the appearance of disloyalty to a country that they owe so much in gratitude to?

I was pleased to note the number of people who came over to me afterwards to tell me that they also were not comfortable with what was going on and thanking for doing something.


Anonymous said...

Way to go Izgad!

How does live music work with sefirah again? Whatever.

The Bray of Fundie said...

stop being such an uncle Todros. The USA, medinah shel chesed that it is it has still been a mixed blessing for the Jews.

The Bray of Fundie said...

I blogged about it here

and here:

Clarissa said...

For me, a flag - any flag - is a piece of painted fabric that is used for brainwashing purposes. If people start experiencing emotional attachment to it, this means the brainwashing has succeeded.

Rabbi J. Frances said...

In previous years (about 9 years ago) the Kollel (in it's infancy) wanted to remove the American flag from the flagpole at the front of the building and replace it with the Israeli Flag to have a "flag raising" on Yom Ha'atzmaut.
It took an employee at the school who was a retired non-commissioned officer in the US Air Force to point out to the administration that this was illegal (and highly inappropriate) according to the code you cited. I recall there was grumbling by the Israelis at the time, but sof davar, the "flag raising" did not take place as they planned. I agree with your analysis of the situation. We have an obligation of hakaras hatov to the US and cannot discount that even as we celebrate the founding of the State of Israel. While I was not present, I commend you for your initiative.

Izgad said...

If that is how you feel about the United States then forget about whether non-Jews should trust you to allow you to be a citizen and have equal rights; I do not trust you. You should do the honest thing and hand in your citizen and agree to live as a legal alien or leave the country.

People are sentimental about the metal and carbon called a diamond engagement ring. Does this mean they are being brain washed? I would compare being a citizen to being married. You love the person whom you are with not because you are unaware of their flaws, but despite them. A good example of moderate nationalism, the kind that does not put down other people for theirs’, is C. S. Lewis’ discussion of the topic in his book, Four Loves.

Rabbi J. Frances
Thanks for the background. My experience growing up going to the Columbus Torah Academy was standing in line every morning to recite the Pledge of Allegiance, “Oh Beautiful,” and “She’s a Grand Old Flag,” followed by “Hatikvah.”

The Bray of Fundie said...

we ought to outgrow our elementary school level organization of reality.

PS in my Kheder we also began each afternoon (secular studies) with reciting the Pledge of Allegiance and singing "My Country 'tis of thee" . When I grew older I discovered that the latter was, paradoxically, sung to the tune of "G-d Save the Queen"

Anonymous said...

As a student of yours about to take your final in Jewish history this really bothers me. You pointed out to me in class the day of Yom Ha'atzmaut that America has done a lot for us and you are right. My family personally has a lot to be thankful for. We came to this country escaping the hardships in Iran. In the 12 years we have been here we have benefited at lot for what this country has done.

HOWEVER that dose not mean for me, AS A JEW, that Israel my homeland has to take a back seat to this country. even though i do not have a Israeli citizen I still consider my self more Israeli then American.

This bothers me greatly because for the past month you have been teaching us in class (though i might not always be giving my full attention) how to fight for Israel and Israel's right to exist. That was what we were doing in that program!!! For me as a senior and the role models for the other children, I felt a sense of pride dancing with the little kids(lower and middle school kids) instilling within them a sense love for our Land, our Nation, out Country Israel. If theses little kids dont have this love for Israel then what we spent time learn in class the past few week will be pointless because if they do not continue fighting for Israel then what we fought for would have been pointless. If we tell them that America is your country first and Israel is good too, why would they fight. God willing , and my parents willing I want to go to the Israeli Army and be a soldier on front lines and fight for the existence of the Jewish Nation and their country, my country but if the Jewish Children here see America do not see Israel as their country want would i be fighting for. So if you have an American flag flying higher at the very celebration that shows the Jewish communities' connection to our country ISRAEL, what massage are you sending to the children that first American then if you want Israel????

Izgad said...

Yes I do know who this is. I do not hold it against you for holding these opinions. On the contrary, I acknowledge that your position is easier to defend and has fewer difficulties. I can only congratulate you on your decision to make aliyah. You have the right to view America as secondary as you are following through and accepting the consequences of that belief that you should either give up your American citizenship or live as a resident alien or you should leave the county. My problem is with people who do not put their American identity up front, but still wish to reap the benefit of being an American. I fully acknowledge the difficulties of my position; it is very possible that one cannot be a religious Jew and an American. Since I have no immediate plans to leave the United States, I try to justify it and make it work.

In terms of what I have taught about Israel advocacy, if you recall, I never said anything about whether students should or should not live in Israel. There was nothing religious about what I taught. In general I teach as if I were addressing a room full of atheists. I make sure that there is nothing in my class that they would object to. The type of Israel advocacy I taught was “mere Israel.” I did not defend specific Israeli policies nor did I argue for any specific borders. What I sought to justify was Israel being a legitimate State with the right to exist just like Canada or the US. This is important if you are going to be defending Israel on college campuses. There is something dangerous, though, from a religious Zionist perspective. If we take these arguments seriously ourselves then Israel becomes no different than any other country. Of course just like Irishmen in this country still strongly identify with Ireland, I also claim the right to identify with Israel. If they can wear green and march in an Irish parade, I want to be able to wear blue and march in an Israel parade.

Anonymous said...


People like you are not acting in accordance with halachah and with the sentiment of our gedolim, who loved this country.

Reb Moshe paskened that the USA is a Medinah shel Chesed and that Jews have an obligation to vote and be good citizens.

The Rav, R' Yosef Dov Soloveitchik, proudly encouraged his students to join the military chapliancy, when necessary, as did the Lubavitcher Rebbe. Generations of American Jews in the Second World War, my grandfather zt'l, included, fought and pulled acheinu bnei yisroel, their brothers, out of ovens in the concentration camps.

People like you are happy to take advantage of this country, yet you have no appreciation for this country. You should get out immediately, if you are such a malcontent. We don't need or want people like you in this country. Perhaps you would be happier living under Ahmadinejad, yemach shemo vezichro, and would prefer torture, persecution, and anti-semitism over the United States.

I am an American Jew, not an Israeli. While I am a Religious Zionist and emphasize the necessity of yishuv ha aretz, the truth is that the State of Israel is in many ways an anti-torah and anti-Judaism entity, and is on a tailspin of self-destruction, with the abysmal policies taken towards Orthodox Jews and especially, those who live in Aza and Yesha. Do you think that we are supposed to support a state that does such things?

I love America and ERETZ Yisrael. I am pro-democracy and pro0freeodm, and I believe in the unending right of our people to the land. America is country worthy of the love and respect of all Jews. Without America, there never would have been a State of Israel in the first place, if you look at the history.

You are a Hillul HaShem, and I pray that HaShem has mercy on you. You are clearly a young, immature, misguided, and ill-informed individual, and you have a lot of heshbon hanefesh to do.

You say you want to fight in Tzahal- will you be one of the mosrim who expels Jews from their homes and destroys the Jewish nation?

Mordechai Y. Scher said...

Minor (maybe not) quibble here.

Rav Moshe did NOT 'paskin' this is a medinah shel hesed. He OPINED that it is. I agree, actually. But that is not a halacha! We do Hashem's Torah disservice when we confuse opinion/policy with halacha.

Also, I wasn't there; but I didn't hear that Rav Soloveitchik 'proudly' encouraged his students to be chaplains. They way I've heard it talked about (from a few who'd done it) he advocated military chaplaincy despite the halachic hardships, because of the necessity to serve the needs of Jews there, and not ignore them. I would even suggest that Rav Lichtenstein's perspective on Hesder as hesed might be an outgrowth of this. On the point about Rav Soloveitchik's stated position here I am willing to be corrected. I have no firsthand knowledge of this.

Anonymous said...

As i said before my family and i are forever great full to America for allowing us to come in and live in this country. I only became a citizen of this country about 4 years ago. i realize it is a privilege to be a citizen of this country and a lot of people would love to become American citizens however i do not believe that one has to love America in order to be a citizen. i remember my parents having to take an oath of that is there is a draft into the army they would have to join and that they have to be jurors if they are summoned, but i do not remember them having to swear that they did not love Israeli more. so i disagree with your assumption that if i love Israel more then America and believe that Israel is my country that i have to give up my American citizenship. as long as one follows the laws of the country then one can be a good citizen and i would say i am better citizen then any criminal who would die for America because the most important thing is following the laws of the country.
I think this is the Greatest problem with the Jews of America since America has been so nice to us they have made us feel like we are at home, WE ARE NOT!!!!!!! peasach has just passed and we said we are still in Egypt still in exile from our land. Exile Is A Punishment. I will give u an analogy a child dose something bad and the parents punish him/her by sending them to timeout in their room for an hour after the hour the parent opens the child s door to indicate the punishment is over, another hour passes and the parents see that the child is still in his room. the parent asks the child do u not realize you punishment is over you can leave your room there is candy, video game,toys in the other room. and the child says back but my room is just fine. god put us in time out over 2000 years ago and in the past 62 years go is opening the door for us to leave but we dont want to we want to stay in exile. the jews of America have to realize it is a punishment, granted seemingly a really good punishment, never the less still a PUNISHMENT!!!!!
To address your other concern about how The "State of Israel is in many ways an anti-torah and anti-Judaism entity, and is on a tailspin of self-destruction, with the abysmal policies taken towards Orthodox Jews and especially, those who live in Aza and Yesha. Do you think that we are supposed to support a state that does such things? "
YOU ARE COMPLETELY RIGHT that Israel is not so religious and some what anti-Torah. AND THIS IS EXACTLY WHY we have to move to said you are pro-democracy so is Israel if we, all jews, move to Israel we can vote and make it a more religious place. the Gemara in Taanit says that no place is in it self holy only who is living there makes it holy, this is why one is allowed to go up on har sinnai there is no Holiness to the mountain only when god was reseting on the mountain was it holy, and why the land of Israel was not holy Between the two temples god removed his presence after the first destruction, but after the second destruction GOD did not leave he stayed in the land waiting for us to return. this is why one is not allowed to go unto the the temple mount or why in Israel they still give terumah and maaser. is we all , all of beni Israel, we will make the land holy.
we have to give a lot of respect to America for helping establish Israel but it is not because of America that Israel exists it is because of god and if there was no America then God in his infinite power could have made the State of Israel to come about in another way.....

Anonymous said...

.....We can never think America is our land for one second IT IS NOT. GOD told our Abraham that is children will inherent THE LAND , The land of Israel. The Nations of the would after the Holocaust gave Bani Israel the LAND OF ISRAEL as an inheritance.but we are about to lose it once again. if you look at the demographics of the Israel you will see that the Arab population is growing exponentially at a much faster pace the the Jewish population, inorder for us to keep it a Jewish State the Jews in America have to pick them selves out of exile and move to Israel to insure that when the time for the next election come in Israel the majority will vote in a Jewish Government and not a Secular or Christian Or Islamic Government, God gave it to us as a JEWISH STATE and we are throwing it away.

Clarissa said...

"People are sentimental about the metal and carbon called a diamond engagement ring. Does this mean they are being brain washed?"

-Of course. They are brainwashed by companies who are desperate to sell this junk at incredibly high prices. Sadly, the diamond industry brainwashes people to the extent where they don't even care about all the blood attached to every stone.

Izgad said...

When I hand my bride to be her cubic zirconium ring, bought on my graduate school salary, I assume she will become attached to it as a token of my love and commitment to her.

Vox Populi said...

>but i do not remember them having to swear that they did not love Israeli more.

I'm not sure this is true. People who take the Oath of Allegiance

"absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen;"

I guess technically, if you had never been a citizen of Israel, you could still take the oath and have in mind to be ultimately loyal to Israel, but that's certainly g'neivat daat.

There's also a bit at the end about not taking the oath with any reservation of purpose of evasion - planning to be ultimately loyal to a foreign country probably meets that requirement.

Clarissa said...

"When I hand my bride to be her cubic zirconium ring, bought on my graduate school salary, I assume she will become attached to it as a token of my love and commitment to her."

-That sounds great. I, however, chose to become attached directly to my husband without any intermediary objects.

As an autistic I support anybody's right to get emotionally attached to any kind of object. :-) Just as long as they don't go overseas to die for the object in question, you know?