Rabbi’s Message: Jul. 1, 2015

I’m Never Gonna Quit on the 4th of July

Sheva yaful tzadik vakam. / A righteous person may fall seven times but still gets up.
Mishley (Proverbs) 24:15
Tzarikh adam l’chachazik tova l’makom sheyesh lo ha’nah mimenu. It is necessary that a person demonstrate appreciation by strengthening the goodness of a place that he has found contentment.
Yalkut Shimoni, Parshat Vayishlach

I’m never, ever gonna quit
‘Cause quitin’ just ain’t my shtick
I’m gonna stay right here with you
Do all things you want me to
“Never, Never Gonna Give You Up,” by Barry White

There are only a few places that I have been to that have brought out a spontaneous emotional reaction from me that almost transcends words.  The first time I landed at Ben Gurion Airport in Israel, as soon as I took my first step on the tarmac, I fell to the ground in tears and kissed the ground of the Land of Israel.  I never expected to have this reaction when I traveled to Israel to study for my smicha (rabbinic ordination). Traveling to Israel had been planned for a rational and practical reason.  However, the realization that I was now stepping foot on the Land of Israel, that this was so real, instantaneously overwhelmed me with emotion and I found myself prostrate on the ground in tears.  The second time this happened in Israel was perhaps more conventional and the experience of many people before me: When I first touched the Kotel, the Western Wall, which is the remnant of the Beit HaMikdash known also as the “Wailing Wall,” I again swelled with an emotion both cathartic and joyous and tears rained down my cheeks.  The third time this occurred in Israel was a mobile experience. As I rode the Egged bus from Zichron Yaakov in Northern Israel to Tel Aviv, the bus stopped at every small town along the way.  As the scenery of Eretz Yisrael, the scenery of our Ta’Na’Kh, passed before my thirsty eyes, at every stop a parade of Jews of all colors, languages, and origins entered the bus and joined each other as passengers journeying together—these travelers conversing in a diversity of languages that blended into a delightfully indecipherable cacophony.  I thought about how the State of Israel really is our long awaited, hoped for, longed for, and prayed for ingathering of exiles. And again the tears spontaneously flowed.
Recently I visited for the first time the 9/11 Memorial at the site of the Twin Towers. Rivka and I had gone there to meet my sister Marcy and her husband Steven, who were here in New York for an event.  On the way there I contemplated what my reaction would be.  I actually had no expectations of what would be there and had never even seen photos of the memorial.  As may be the case for many Americans, the events of September 11 had galvanized my patriotism and will to defend and strengthen the precious freedoms we enjoy in this incredibly wonderful and unique nation.
When visiting Washington, D.C., many years earlier, I had a reaction similar to those I had experienced in Israel.  As I stood at the Lincoln Memorial, I welled up with emotion and wept as I looked out at that inspiring symbol and the other profound symbols of freedom and patriotism on display and recalled how my father shared with me his memories of the emotions he experienced as he first saw the Statue of Liberty while the ship he traveled on to the United States approached the land that would grant him the freedom, prosperity, and healing that this Holocaust survivor deeply cherished and appreciated every day of the rest of his life.
Unfortunately the 9/11 Memorial did not move me as I had expected. I expected to see inspirational symbols of freedom and patriotism being displayed proudly and defiantly in honor to those lives that were lost through terrorism perpetrated by freedom-hating Islamist fanatics. Instead I found a pretty park with some polished stone with names engraved and some artfully constructed flowing water displays.  Perhaps there was something more inspiring in the museum that we didn’t wait in the long line to enter.  Perhaps the inscribed names of those who died offer consolation or comfort to the families and loved ones of those who lost their lives on that day, a day that is surely indelibly stamped in the memories of most Americans.  However, to me the 9/11 Memorial seemed to not have been designed to inspire emotions or thoughts of patriotism but designed instead not to offend.  There wasn’t even a proudly waving American flag to be found in the vicinity of this memorial. Unless one was told explicitly what it was, the 9/11 Memorial might only be recognized by some as some kind of a park.
The 4th of July is our time to celebrate those precious freedoms we enjoy.  I love being a Jew and I love being an American. In my opinion, the designers of the 9/11 Memorial failed in making a symbol or monument to freedom.  However, we can each and every one of us dedicate ourselves to be living monuments to freedom.  We can do this by actively contributing to protecting and strengthening our precious American freedoms.  We can’t take them for granted. For in this world our freedoms are unfortunately the exception, not the rule.
I’m never gonna quit, cause quitin’ just ain’t my shtick.