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Haunts of July Fourth

Haunts of July Fourth

When I'll hear the thunderous claps of fireworks, the sound of bombs exploding in Jerusalem will immediately come to my ears.


If this year is anything like last year, I will weather July fourth at a family barbecue (though no one would ever accuse us of being a barbecue family, as evidenced by the bag of charcoal from 1970 used to light the grill). While the requisite hamburgers, hotdogs and watermelon will all be accounted for, as well as some jammin' tunes and (hopefully) a perfect summer breeze, I do not expect to feel any particular connection to the day.

Nor will it be just me. For my family and those around us, as I imagine is the case for many Americans, July 4th will simply be a day off from work to take advantage of huge sales at the stores and spend some quality family time -- and nothing more.

It won't be until the night, and the real fireworks display, that I expect to feel anything at all. I won't need to actually see any sparklers in the sky; I will just need to hear the thunderous claps of sound bursts, and immediately the sound of bombs exploding in Jerusalem will come to my ears.

I will be able to recall the exact spot I was in for each of the explosions I can remember, sometimes miles, sometimes mere blocks away; the momentary freeze as I realized what the sound was, wondering whether the explosion was on a bus or in the shuk or in the city center. I will think of all the bus rides, looking at each Arab as they boarded, eyeing their stomachs and chests for bulk, listening to the radio in silence as another bombing was announced, irrationally believing that if it wasn't the #18 bus (apparently the most often bombed), it was safe to ride.

We are just travelers here, sojourners on the way to there -- Eretz Yisrael.

As the fireworks continue, I will think of Gilad Shalit (Gilad ben Aviva), the Israeli soldier kidnapped this past week by Hamas-linked terrorists, and offer a prayer for his safety and recovery; I will think of my time in the Gush, where regular citizens were armed, and a hitched ride would often be offered by someone in a helmet and bullet-proof jacket. Tanks and checkpoints were regular sights; Arabs looked at you with contempt, and everywhere you went is somewhere a Jew had been murdered on their way to somewhere else.

It seems so far away, that life. And yet, it is so much more real to me than a barbecue in suburban Long Island. We are just travelers here, sojourners on the way to there. Eretz Yisrael , the Land of Israel, with all the hardships, all the pain, all the bloodshed, and life that sometimes felt like living in a militarized zone, is a place of connection, of history, of value -- personal value.

I don't need some Bob Marley tunes, a beach ball, salsa and 35 year old pieces of charcoal to commemorate what was fought for -- what is still being fought for -- over there. It is in the soil, in my bones. For all the fear that life brought, I want it back.

July 1, 2006

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Visitor Comments: 17

(17) Marcia Greenwald, July 11, 2006 12:00 AM

But let's not forget that America provided "a resting place for the soles of our {parents' and grandparents'} feet," when they fled their 'homelands' over the seas.
We are somehow obliged in 'hakorat ha tov' (gratitude and appreciation for the goodness bestowed upon us by this land at a time when it was so desperately needed.
Marcia Greenwald Brooklyn

(16) Chaya, July 6, 2006 12:00 AM

Ditto in Ohio

I watched fireworks with a few neighbors (before I read this article) and I had the same experience. I thought about Israel and Gilad. I love the United States and as long as my folks are still alive here, I probably won't move to Israel, but my prayers are with family members that are making aliya and I admire them.

(15) Nechama, July 5, 2006 12:00 AM

OK folks, let's stop the debate. As an American who made aliyah 43 years ago, I can truthfully say: We all love Israel and are all forever grateful for the United States.
About holidays: Holidays are not what is written on some piece of paper, they are what you feel in your heart. Independence Day in Israel has also become one big barbecue for a lot of people. If you believe in something, if you love your country, you will be happy and proud to celebrate it's birthday no matter how commercial it has become for some. America is a great country, founded on Torah principles, on love of humanity and freedom. If she sometimes falls short it's because she has embraced millions of people with various ideas and beliefs.
Michael, if you remember Israel so vividly on July 4 you probably remember on other days too. No need to use this example of devotion to Israel. G-d bless you all.

(14) Nachum, July 4, 2006 12:00 AM

July 4 is more than barbecue

The United States is a great country. It has been good to the Jewish people, a good friend to Israel, and continues to be a force for good in the world. No one should imagine Jewish identity prevents our acknowledging the greatness of this country our or debt to it.

(13) Aryeh Rudoffsky, July 4, 2006 12:00 AM


A well-written piece. I have to say that I am amazed at how anyone can see this article as anti-American. I think it speaks more to the lost meaning of a holiday - and finding new meaning in it - than to any U.S.-bashing. Nowhere does it say we shouldn't be grateful for what America has done for the Jews, nor that we shouldn't feel pride in being Americans. I find it very interesting how people take their own issues and emotions and put it on this piece. This guy has a love for Israel and the fourth of July reminds him of that. I think that's fantastic! Michael, maybe you should write a patriotic American piece next so people can say you are anti-Israel or anti-Jewish. How can people see things so starkly? Just because someone doesn't appreciate the original meaning of a holiday doesn't make them anti-American or unpatriotic. How many people actually think about the declaration of independence while they are shopping or drinking beer or stuffing their faces or setting off illegal fireworks on the fourth of july? I bet not many. But I also bet a lot of those same people love their country and the freedoms it offers, support our troops and feel proud to be Americans. Until the author weighs in on the matter, and explicitly states how he feels about the U.S., why put words in his mouth? Just because some people want him - and this article - to be anti-American doesn't make it so.

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