The impact of the American spirit...

... on the People and State of Israel

An American Independence Day fireworks display at the Washington Monument (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
An American Independence Day fireworks display at the Washington Monument
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
As a youngster growing up in the United States before World War I, future prime minister Golda Meir played the role of the Statue of Liberty in the “Yiddishe shul” Fourth of July celebration. She always noted that “Lady Liberty” helped fuel her love of Zion.
Meir was one of the American Jews in the early 20th century devoted to ensuring that there would be a Jewish state for those who were forced to flee, and for those who could choose to come freely to the modern State of Israel.
Although he never visited the Jews in the US, visionary Theodor Herzl’s intuitive sense helped him recognize how the American dream could inspire a Zionist dream.
“The individual who labors for the creation of a home for the Jews in Palestine, a home assured by the public law and recognized by the nations of the earth, will perform his duties as an American citizen with pleasure,” said the founder of modern political Zionism, relating this point to the American spirit.
“Jews will ever thankfully recall the noble spirit America has always manifested towards them, and but lately in the splendid intervention [in 1903] of president Theodore Roosevelt to further the cause of Russian Jews,” added Herzl. “Neither the American nor the non-American Jews will ever forget that the United States was an asylum for the persecuted.”
The US was so welcoming between 1881 and 1925 that the largest group of Jewish immigrants went to America and not the Land of Israel.
In a recent address, novelist Allen Hoffman, founder of the Shaindy Rudoff Graduate Program in Creative Writing at Bar- Ilan University, said, “We are beginning to realize that America was only an interlude in modern Jewish history. The grandchildren and great-grandchildren of those immigrants are flowing to Israel.”
Herzl wrote Prof. Richard Gottheil, the head of the American Zionist organization, the following in the early 20th century: “The American Jews aid their beloved fatherland when they aid an unhappy people from whom they spring. That is not disloyalty, as some American Jews had argued, but a double measure of loyalty.”
The wide base for the American love of Zion was eloquently stated by justice Louis Brandeis: “Let no American imagine that Zionism is inconsistent with patriotism. Multiple loyalties are objectionable only if they are inconsistent. A man is a better citizen of the United States for being also a loyal citizen of his state, and of his city, for being loyal to his college or his lodge.”
Brandeis, in 1915, used a contemporary example. “Every Irish American who contributed towards advancing home rule was a better man and a better American for the sacrifice he made. Every American Jew who aids in advancing the Jewish settlement in Palestine, though he feels that neither he nor his descendants will ever live there, will likewise be a better man and a better American for doing so.”
Those sentiments led 200,000 American Jews to join the Zionist movement in the World War I period. Those words of Brandeis have been the underpinning of American Jewry’s love for Israel to this day.
To use the soil of the Land of Israel to dramatize the American dream, settlements were founded by American Zionist groups with varied ideologies and some were even named for American Jews. On this July 4, go and visit Kfar Blum, founded in 1943 by American Habonim pioneers. Go to Moshav Beit Herut, where our children live, founded in 1933 by 35 American immigrants from Minnesota and other Midwestern states.
Visit Kfar Silver, named for Abba Hillel Silver, an American Reform rabbi who gave the opening speech at the UN when the debate on the partition plan began in 1947. Kibbutz Ein Hashofet was named for justice Brandeis when it was founded on July 4, 1937.
My personal favorite is Kibbutz Hasolelim, established in 1949. The following year my Hebrew school teacher in Atlanta, Georgia – Irwin Citron – did not appear in class one day. We discovered the following: A World War II veteran, he smuggled himself out of the US and into Israel, joined the American plugat aliya group and settled in the budding community of Hasolelim.
He voluntarily gave up his American citizenship and joined the IDF. He returned to the US a decade later and became a physics professor at Rutgers University in New Jersey, which today has 7,500 Jewish students.
For me, since my father was a judge advocate in the US Army in World War II and I was a US Army chaplain in the Vietnam War, the Fourth of July is a celebration of the American dream and the Israeli dream. My mother’s parents and my father’s parents, my wife’s maternal and paternal grandparents, came to American shores more than a century ago – enabling my wife and me to be alive today.
We are doubly blessed since Israel, first recognized by the US on May 14, 1948, has opened her doors to us and our family.
Our “interlude” – and we thank God for it – is complete.
The writer dedicates this article to Miriam Lifshutz, widow of chaplain Oscar Lifshutz, and her twin sister in Jerusalem, Shoshana Dolgin-Beer.