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An American Reflects on Independence Day from Israel

An American Reflects on Independence Day from Israel

American flag in background; fireworks in foreground

When I was growing up on Long Island, the phrase “Independence Day” was nothing more than two words strung together – with little understanding that America had fought for this independence, that the nation’s founders had crafted a declaration espousing what this independence would mean for this nation, and that the sacrifices our revolutionary ancestors made for this independence helped to cement the freedoms we as 20th-century Americans enjoyed.

As an adult, these seasonal memories seem so simple, innocent, and carefree. And now, living in Jerusalem, Israel, these same memories seem even more remote. The Fourth of July in Israel is just July 4th: a day during the first week of July, a day sandwiched between July 3 and July 5. There will be no marching bands, no red, white, and blue bunting decorating public spaces, no sales at the markets on fresh corn, burgers, or hot dogs. Yes, the embassy and consulate will have celebrations (reminding me of the year I sang at the ambassador’s residence in Tel Aviv), but here in Israel, July 4th is a day like any other. We’ll go to work, come home,  heat up the grill, and invite some other Americans to celebrate with us.

This observance of America’s independence contrasts greatly with Yom HaAtzmaut (Israeli Independence Day) festivities here in Israel when, back in April, Israel celebrated her 70th birthday. In Israel, we are keenly aware of the connection between the country’s fight for independence and the celebration of Independence Day. Our national day of remembrance, Yom HaZikaron, immediately precedes Yom HaAtzmaut. Almost seamlessly, the tears of memory segue into tears of joy. The collective communal sadness of Israeli Memorial Day gives way to massive celebrations, fireworks, parties, and, of course, barbecues throughout the country. The celebration in Israel is tempered, too, by the Arab citizens and residents of Israel who mourn, rather than rejoice, on Yom HaAtzmaut.

Maybe the difference is time. Today America celebrates 242 years of independence and Israel celebrated 70 years. The soldiers of the Revolutionary War are long dead and most of Britain has forgiven our independent ambitions. Not so here in Israel: veterans of the 1948 War of Independence are still alive, as are veterans of the other wars, incursions, battles, and conflagrations. And Israel remains surrounded by countries that are not exactly friendly. Seemingly, every day in Israel is a battle to ensure the nation’s independence.

When Israel is more than two centuries old, maybe the holiday will be a bit more mundane and will resemble the current July 4th celebrations in the United States. Until that day arrives (and I assure you, I will not be around to celebrate Israel at 242!) I’ll celebrate both countries’ days of independence the best way I know: by gathering with close friends and my husband Don on our mirpeset (balcony) to enjoy wonderful company, perfectly grilled food, a cold Israeli craft beer, and Merlin, our beloved cat, who waits nearby, hoping to catch some hot dog scraps as they fall to the ground.

Cantor Evan Kent is an oleh chadash (new immigrant) living in Jerusalem, where he is on the faculty of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. For 25 years, he served Temple Isaiah in Los Angeles, CA.

Cantor Evan Kent
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