“I will walk about in freedom, for I have sought out your precepts.” Psalm 119:45
On Saturday, America will celebrate the Fourth of July, its Independence Day. This year the holiday marks the 239th anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence, which was signed on July 4th, 1776, by several of America’s founding fathers, including Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson.
The original 13 colonies decided to declare independence from Great Britain after suffering punishing taxation and organizing a rebellion that turned into the Revolutionary War. They had had enough of another power controlling their destiny as a nation. For the patriots who fought to defend the rights laid out in the Declaration of Independence, there was no other choice.
The act of declaring independence was not about the Tea Tax or the Stamp Tax, but about America’s right to self-determination. It was about a young new country, full of vigor and hope, taking what was rightfully hers: the freedom to decide how to live and how to govern in her land.
America, with its relatively small population and lack of organized military, seemed no match for the British Empire, a huge and sprawling network of nations and colonies with a large standing army and navy. Yet the colonists rose despite all of this, determined to defend the principles of liberty and justice that they prized above all.
The price for these principles was high. At least 25,000 American patriots died of battle wounds and disease during the Revolutionary War, and the land was invaded and ravaged by British troops.
But when the dust cleared, the Americans had won. They had fought, not in a foreign war, not for a distant cause, but for themselves. Their motivation was one of the key factors that brought about their victory: they wanted it more. Living under Britain’s rule was not an option. They would be free, or they would lay down their lives to ensure freedom for their countrymen.
67 years ago, Israel, a tiny, infant nation made up of farmers and refugees, declared independence and then immediately went to war with a host of enemy armies, all larger and better-equipped – and won. They, too, were fighting for the right to live and be free on their land. And they, too, were ready to die for the cause – not because their commanders told them to, but because their very right to exist was at stake.
Both of these wars were, in a sense, holy wars: the besieged Americans and the new Israelis were filled with religious fervor for freedom. They believed God was on their side, and they were right.
America and Israel were built on the same foundation of patriotism, pride, and courage. They didn’t wait for anything to be handed to them. They took it for themselves, and with the help of God, they succeeded.
On Wednesday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu joined US Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro and other American officials to commemorate Independence Day. At the Tel Aviv event, Netanyahu spoke about the deep connection between the two countries, saying, “This is a great day because on the Fourth of July, all Israelis unite with our American brothers and sisters. It’s our celebration, too. That’s because the history of our two countries is remarkably intertwined.”
He drew attention to the ideals that the US and Israel share. “Zionism has always been about freedom, about national freedom, the Jewish people returning to our ancestral homeland to rebuild our one and only sovereign state. But it’s also been about personal freedom. We built the State of Israel on the same democratic foundations upon which the United States was built.”
Every Fourth of July is celebrated with fireworks, barbecues, parties, and parades, but most of all – with joy. The kind of joy that can only be felt when you know you are free. Independence Day is a day of exuberant joyfulness, of relief and celebration. It is a day to give thanks to your nation and to God. (And to the guy manning the grill.)
Israel and the Jewish people wish the US a happy Fourth of July. God bless America!