Jewish July 4th
Do you remember where you were on July 4th, 1976? This was the day of America’s Bicentennial and Operation Sail, the country’s largest floating parade of tall ships, was circling Manhattan. I was 11 years old. I remember waking up at 3:00am, when it was still pitch dark, so we could drive to JFK airport to drop off my older brother, Sam, who was flying to Israel on a NFTY summer trip. We left early because we were told that many bridges and roads would be closed by the traffic associated with Operation Sail. We successfully made it to the airport. As we said goodbye, my parents asked Sam to call us collect from the Ben Gurion Airport to let us know he arrived safely. When Sam called us later that night, my parents and I huddled around the phone to hear Sam’s voice amidst a huge commotion. My parents asked him, “what was all the noise?” Sam told us people were dancing in the airport. The Israeli planes that had rescued Jewish hostages from Entebbe had just arrived and the airport was full of people celebrating.
This July 4th we celebrate 45 years since that daring rescue that came to be known as Operation Yonatan, in memory of Yonatan Netanyahu, the young Israeli commander who died leading the mission. Till this day, July 4th is a holiday in Israel celebrating the bravery of the Israeli soldiers who flew over 2,500 miles to Uganda, under radar, in the dark of night, to save Jewish lives and bring them to safety. That Jews were threatened with death simply for being Jews, and then rescued, should not be taken for granted. Thirty years before that day on July 4, 1946, nearly 50 Jewish survivors of the Holocaust who returned to their home town in Kielce, Poland were murdered in their beds by neighbors who did not like that the Jews had returned to their pre-war homes.
The difference between 1946 and 1976 is the creation of the State of Israel. In 1946 Jews were powerless to protect themselves. In 1976, Israel showed it is not just the homeland of Israelis. Israel is the homeland of the Jewish people and will protect Jews whenever they are threatened. Israel rescued more than a million Jews from Russia in the 1990s. Israel rescued tens of thousands of Jews from Ethiopia. Whenever and wherever Jews are in danger, Israel is ready to help physically and spiritually.
This summer many Jewish camps in America are staffed by young Israelis. This is through an official program of the Israeli government to help strengthen Jewish identity worldwide. The Talmud teaches “Kol Yisrael Aravin Ze be ze,” (All of the people of Israel are responsible for each other.”) This ancient Jewish teaching is alive today in the hearts of the people of Israel.
This July 4th may we remember the Israeli rescue from Entebbe. May we not take for granted that we are blessed and fortunate to live in the time of the rebirth of the State of Israel. May we celebrate July 4th not only as Americans, may we celebrate July 4th as Jews.
Rabbi David Wilfond