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.