By Simon

Click photo to download. Caption: Israeli and American flags. July 4, Independence Day in the U.S., is Thursday. Credit: James Emery.

Thursday, July 4, Jewish families all over the United States will join the rest
of the country and stare up in wonderment as the sky lights up in an explosion
of colors during Independence Day firework displays. But fireworks–like so many
things in life–are transient and will inevitably dissipate. Yet for those
fleeting moments in which they light up our world, they also shed light on that
which is wrong with it.

Declaration of Independence sought to rectify those wrongs. It sought to create
a country in which all men are created equal, in which every person has the
freedom to pursue his or her inalienable rights to life, liberty and the
pursuit of happiness.

For its own
part, Israel’s Declaration of Independence just more than a century and a half
later articulated many of the same aspirations. Israel promised to “uphold the
full social and political equality of all its citizens” and “guarantee full
freedom of conscience.”

It is
perhaps no coincidence, then, that the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia, Pa., the
iconic symbol of American independence, is engraved with the biblical passage
from Leviticus that introduces the concept of freedom: “Proclaim liberty
throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof.” Both nations
champion freedom. In the modern body politic, freedom became the guiding
principle of democracy that is so cherished by both nations.

In Hebrew,
freedom is translated in one of two ways–either as hofesh or herut. The
first definition, hofesh, denotes freedom from external restraints, or
the freedom that a slave acquires when he is released from bondage. The second
definition, herut, is liberty’s higher register. As Jonathan Sacks,
Chief Rabbi of Great Britain, posits, “Freedom in the sense [of Hofesh]
can never be the basis for a free society, for an obvious reason. Sooner
or later, my freedom will conflict with yours.” Rabbi Sacks goes on to explain
that only with the acquisition of herut–a “constitution of liberty” in
which the rule of law is operational–can a society enjoy true freedom.

Herut is what the signatories of both
America’s and Israel’s Declarations of Independence had in mind for their
respective nations. Herut makes it possible for my freedom to respect

Yet for all
their similarities, there is one startling discrepancy between the two

America set
out to define its vision of independence for all its citizens. Israel, on the
other hand, included even those who are not its citizens–namely, the rest of
the Jewish people. Israel makes an impassioned plea to Jews from all over the
world to “rally to our side in the task of development and to stand by us in
the great struggle for the fulfillment of the dream of generations–the
redemption of Israel.”

Americans, Independence Day marks the freedom we gained to pursue our
inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. But as
American Jews, we feel a sense of freedom not only because we are American, but
because a Jewish state exists. In this sense, then, it is possible for both the
American dream and the Zionist dream to work in tandem. It is a covenant that
Diaspora Jews …read more


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