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Proud to be an American

Friday, 5 July, 2013 - 11:46 am

Yesterday we celebrated July 4th, the day that the United States of America delcared its independence, thereby establishing a place of religious freedom. Millions of people have come to these shores in search of these freedoms. One of the highlights in the life of an immigrant is becoming a US citizen. Usually this process takes place in a courthouse or government facility. In 1949 a special law was passed to allow the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneerson, to become a citizen in his home. A group of Federal judges came to 770 Eastern Parkway to facilitate the procedure. A video of the event was filmed - can be viewed at www.chabadneworleans.com/471239. 

The previous Rebbe dressed in special clothing generally reserved for Shabbos and holidays. Wearing his fur hat (spodik) and silk coat, the previous Rebbe took the oath of citizenship and sigen the documents that would render him a citizen of this blessed country. His son-in-law the Rebbe often talked about how special it was to be in the US, a country he referred to as a Malchus shel chesed - a sovereign nation of kindness. Why was this such an important experience for the Rebbe, which he regarded as a holiday?

I would venture to say there was a twofold reason. Firstly, as a person who had experienced the worst of persecution against the Jews in Soviet Russia and then in Nazi occupied Poland, the ability to live in security as a Jew in the US was extremely precious to him. He saw people being shot and killed or sent off to Siberia for teaching Aleph-Beis or giving a child a bris. He saw Jews crammed into a shelter in Warsaw as the bombs were being dropped on the city. He lost his daughter and son-in-law to the killing machines in Treblinka. Thousands of his chassidim were murdered in cold blood by the Nazis, not to mention the other millions of Jews about whom he cared for each of them as a father. Such a person could truly appreciate the value of the freedom offered by the US.

In addition, the previous Rebbe viewed America as the next frontier of the battle against assimilation. In his mind the general needed to be on the front lines to conduct the battle. Being a citizen afforded him a symbolic and practical advantage in the fight to preserve Yiddishkeit. Having stood up to Stalin and survived Hitler he was ready for the final battle - and this citizenship was an important step toward victory.

We must be grateful to live in a place that allows us the freedom to worship our G-d as we please without fear of persecution. Where we can light our Menorahs for all to see with pride in our heritage without worrying about what others will think or even worse do. Where a Jew can walk the halls of power proudly dressed in "Jewish garb" and be respected for it. For all of this I declare, I am proud to be an American and I offer a prayer to G-d asking Him to bless and protect this wonderful land of freedom until that great day when the entire world will come to acknowledge G-d while living in peace and harmony with liberty and justice for all. 

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

 

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