May 24, 2024
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‘I Pledge Allegiance to the Flag’ or אני מתחייב אמונים לדגל

(After the American Revolution there were many who wanted Hebrew to be the language of the new United States of America! Some people believed a linguistic separation would follow the political separation of the United States from Great Britain. Consider these facts:

1. In 1620, William Bradford was the leader of the pilgrims who set off to the New World on the Mayflower seeking to find freedom from religious persecution. They saw their journey as a re-enactment of the Jewish exodus from ancient Egypt. Bradford sought to unify the group before they disembarked and suggested Hebrew as the official language. In a vote taken by the Pilgrims, Hebrew apparently lost by only one vote.

2. Ezra Stiles was president of Yale College and gets credit for proposing that Hebrew replace English as the official language of the United States of America. Stiles made a course in Hebrew a first-year requirement. By then, the Hebrew words Urim and Thummim (the oracular will of God) were already on the Yale seal, along with the Latin Lux et Veritas (light and truth).

3. Hebrew was taught in many of the top American universities in the late 17th and early 18th centuries and the “Ivy League” colleges even gave students the option to deliver commencement speeches in Hebrew, Latin or Greek.

4. In the end, it was Noah Webster who helped create a uniquely American language with his blue-backed speller and dictionary. Webster harbored no fantastic notion of abandoning English altogether, but he was eager to set up American as a distinct and independent dialect.

5. In the 1650s the first in Jews in Colonial America began with the arrival of Sephardi Jews in New Amsterdam. Major settlements of Jews would later occur in New York, New England, and Pennsylvania.

Perhaps it’s time to consider hanging an American flag outside our homes on national holidays, demonstrating our patriotism and thanks to the country that has been more welcoming and kinder to us than any in our long Jewish history.

Rav Shlomo Freifeld was once being driven by a talmid in an old car. As the rosh yeshiva entered the car, the young man sought to cover a gaping hole in the seat, from which stuffing had poured out. He reached for the American flag he kept handy to cover and fill the hole.

Reb Shlomo lifted the flag and gently folded it. “Here,” he said. “This represents the country you live in. It is not meant to be used that way. Treat it with respect.”

 

Then There Is the Famous Rav Pam Story

Every year on July 4th, Rav Avrohom Pam would hang an American flag in front of his home. The story is told that one year, after he had become weak and unwell, a granddaughter arranged to have a date pick her up at the home of her grandparents. Since the date was set for July 4th, she asked her grandmother if she could convince Rav Pam not to hang the flag that year, since it was an “old-fashioned” thing to do and would cause her embarrassment.

Rebbetzin Pam assured her that since Rav Pam was not feeling well, he wouldn’t be hanging the flag that year and there was no reason for concern.

The boy came to the house and rang the bell. Rav Pam answered the door and welcomed the boy. Then he asked him for a favor. “Before going inside, would you mind helping me with something?” The boy was happy to oblige the rosh yeshiva.

Rav Pam brought the American flag, and the bochur proceeded to help him fly it like every year. Thanking the boy, Rav Pam remarked, “I have to show my hakarat hatov, even if I am not feeling well.”

 

That Is Who We Are

This year, in addition to learning Torah on our day off, let us also remember the meaning of American Independence Day—freedom for all (even though Hebrew is not our official language). Yes, we are still in golus, however, the United States has been most accommodating to Jews through the years. There are some pockets of antisemitism, but that is minor compared to our history.

Maybe it is time to hang the flag of the United States from our porches! Yes, you can also display the Israeli flag, however, it must be with the American Flag, which must fly higher.1 It is a time to study and contemplate, resolve to review the laws and halachas, ponder our situation in golus, and endeavor to work to make ourselves better people and the world a better place.

There will always be those who see only the negative. We must use our eyes to see good, to focus on what we are doing right and build upon it as we rectify that which is lacking.

And to all I wish you a:

 

Happy Independence Day יום עצמאות שמח

1 Per US Department of Veterans Affairs Guidelines for Display of the Flag  https://www.va.gov/opa/publications/celebrate/flagdisplay.pdf

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