What is independence? My dictionary gives me the words: liberty, freedom, and self-rule. Which only conjures up more questions: Independent of what? Liberated from whom? And who is the self that is ruling us anyway?
Perhaps by understanding better what freedom is, both at the national and the personal level, we can appreciate the day more deeply.
Life has given me a deep understanding of what it is to be enslaved. On the night of September 5, 1995, an Arab terrorist broke into our home in Ma'aleh Michmas, north of Jerusalem. My husband, Danny Frei, while saving my life and that of our baby daughter, was killed along with our unborn child.
In the blink of an eye, literally, I went from being a happy wife and mother of a little family, to a maimed widow with an orphaned daughter. I was enslaved to the pain, and imprisoned by my new position in life, restrained at various levels physically and emotionally.
With the help of God and of family and friends, I am managing to rise above the deep river that constantly threatens to pull me under. Almost five years later I am re-married to a kind, gentle soul; my daughter Rachel is now six years old, and I also have twin babies and a beautiful bayit ne'eman b'Yisrael, a "faithful house in Israel," in another Jewish town.
I've worked hard at finding my smile, and with it, freedom from my wounds.
Today, I took our kids to an indoor playground in Jerusalem. Rachel was at a friend's house and I was helping my toddlers play in the large box of colorful balls. There was a 6-year-old boy who insisted on playing there, too, and playing hard. Cute as he was, I was there to protect my children. An elderly Israeli gentleman who was looking after the boy tried to coax him into the other areas designated for bigger kids, or to at least be careful of those around him. But a little while later, the boy managed to jump on my kids quicker then I could stop him, and both of my toddlers started crying at once. Like any mother bear protecting her children, I acted fast. I couldn't remove both of them from the danger at the same time, so instead I acted to remove the danger.
I wasn't gentle, and the grandfather didn't hesitate to tell me so.
Words ensued and the tough-looking Israeli had a stunned look on his face. I believe he was shocked that a woman with such an American accent could think to answer back a man of his stature - and in Hebrew, no less.
For the first time, I was seeing up close the Israeli attitude of: "I drained the swamps. Give me respect."
And in one sense it's a legitimate attitude. How many veteran Israelis have lost dear ones or have been physically maimed in war? And what have we Anglo-Saxons really gone through, anyway?
Yet if only he could see my scars, I thought to myself. If only we had the ability to see into others' backgrounds, and thus be able to better appreciate their position. That's what I really wanted to say to this man and to all the onlookers. How long does it take to say, "I've made it"? Ten, 20 or 30 years? Must I lose a husband through a terror attack? Or a child in war? Only then do I have the right to demand respect?
That is what part of me felt like saying. But I held back. Because I have been working on freeing myself of that bondage. If what I have to say is important and has meaning, then it doesn't matter who I am. I want it to stand on its own. If I had said today that I, too, am a veteran -- with all its ramifications -- they would have looked at me differently, and I would have gained respect. But how flimsy such respect would have been.
We all stayed a while longer at the indoor playground. I approached the gentleman and apologized for being rough with his grandchild, saying that I have little doubt that my baby, too, will one day have to learn the meaning of "gentle," just as his grandson did. He accepted the apology and walked away.
A group that supports victims of Arab terror has approached me on numerous occasions to inquire about my state and ask if I need help in any way. It is a fantastic group. But I never became active or used their services, and it's only recently that I realized why.
My approach is different. I am not a victim of Arab terror, but rather a survivor. My first husband, Danny, of blessed memory, is a victim. I am growing independent of the enslavement of terror. I try to liberate myself from using my background to further my needs.
I am ruling myself with God as my Master. No one person or country rules over my destiny. When we celebrate our freedom from slavery on Passover, the physical part is the fluff. Our spiritual freedom of thought and choice are the key points. When the State of Israel celebrates Independence Day, we need to realize what the "rule of self" is and, in turn, Who it is that is sovereign over us.
I was only able to learn this lesson because I am here in a Jewish state. I recognize my good fortune in learning this lesson and growing from it.
King David writes in Psalms:
Out of my distress I called out to God. God answered me with liberation... O give thanks to God for He is good. His unwavering love endures forever.
This is what I would really have liked to say to that grandfather at the playground.