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Last year, it was not until a few days before July 4 that I realized Independence Day was approaching.

No, I wasn’t unaware that it was the end of June and that the fourth day of July was a few days away. But I had not focused on the fact that it would soon be Independence Day here in the United States until I heard some ad for a lawn chair or a barbeque.


I was a bit upset with myself for forgetting, and I recalled a story of my great-grandmother. The story begins about one hundred years ago when she came to this country. Over fifty years later, in 1964, she finally became a citizen. When she went before the judge with the other applicants and he told them to raise their right hand, she raised both her hands. The lawyer present said to the judge, “If we had more citizens like Clara, this county would be a better place.”

The concept of respect and appreciation for our country is not only a civic value, it is an important Jewish one as well.

We read in last week’s parshah about how the Jewish people were nearing the end of their wandering in the wilderness and began their ascent to the Promised Land, the land of Israel. Hoping to shorten their journey, they asked permission from the Edomites to travel through Edom, but their request was denied. They promised to abide by all the laws, and even offered to purchase water on the way to make it lucrative for the Edomites, but their request was still denied.

In fact, Edom responded with aggression and threatened to attack the Jews if they came too close. The passage ends with three simple words: “Vayeit Yisrael mei’alav” – “Israel turned away.”

On the surface it seems simple. In fact, however, this was a very difficult moment for the Jews. Their reasonable request was denied for an invalid reason. The result was that they had to travel back seven encampments to circumvent the land of Edom. It was also demoralizing for them. But their response clearly demonstrates their respect for the nation of Edom even when Edom was wrong.

You don’t have to look far or deep to recognize the sour sentiment toward government in the United States today; it’s all over the news. But it’s important that we not lose perspective. We live in a country that has protected us and that safeguards our civil liberties and religious practices in a way that is completely unprecedented in our two thousand years of exile.

We have so much to be grateful for and to pledge our allegiance to. July 4 comes out on Shabbos this year, and on Sunday we observe the fast of Shivah Assar B’Tammuz, so this Friday let’s all make a barbeque – before Shabbos, of course.

And, as we lift our hands to turn a hot dog, let’s make sure, like my great-grandmother did more than half a century ago, to lift our other hand as well.

Let’s lift our right hand and pledge allegiance to the United States of America.


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Rabbi Shmuel Zuckerman is rabbi of the Young Israel of Pelham Parkway Jewish Center in the Bronx and a chaplain at Calvary Hospital. He can be reached at
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