We The People
Of late, I find myself thinking back on the meaningful ways I have marked America’s Independence Day over the years. At camp, barbecues and carnivals captured the spirit of America—while special pride was taken in the shared anniversary of Israel’s heroic rescue of the hostages taken aboard the hijacked Air France jet at Entebbe in 1976. For me and countless others at Jewish summer camps from coast to coast, these two commemorations became inextricably linked.
This year, it is hard not to take note of truly momentous events in both the United States and Israel. A week ago, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, a decision that for 50 years guaranteed a woman’s right to choose. Just days thereafter, primary elections were held in seven states, a step towards what is expected to be a dramatic mid-term election season this fall.
At midnight yesterday, Yair Lapid, one of the architects of Israel’s historic coalition government that came to power little more than a year ago, took over as Prime Minister from Naftali Bennett. That government, facing discord and turmoil harmful to the interests of the State, chose to dissolve itself calling for new elections in early November—the fifth national election in only four years. Prime Minister Lapid heads a caretaker government until a new coalition can be formed, amidst questions about whether Israeli voters prefer a right-wing, religious coalition led by former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu or another diverse coalition, this time under the leadership of Prime Minister Lapid.
Heightened vitriol and increasingly acerbic recriminations have defined much of political discourse in recent years, raising concerns about the health and vibrancy of democracy and society in both countries, where a fiercely combative political arena has found too many core institutions in the crosshairs. The courts. A free press. Foundational rights to free speech, privacy, worship, and assembly.
The headlines are relentless. Sound bites and slogans. Rallies, demonstrations, and hearings. It is easy to feel dispirited—and to wonder about the course of our respective democracies. And yet, I find myself hopeful. With the pending elections, a free and empowered citizenry will make its wishes known and its voices heard. Both Americans and Israelis will choose who will lead and adjudicate the balance of power between and among competing parties and platforms. Our elected representatives will deliberate and debate the issues and have the opportunity to legislate accordingly, knowing that their continued service will be dependent on our continued confidence and support.
Checks and balances between branches of government codified in the U.S. Constitution and the non-constitutional framework of Israel’s political system will both stymie and frustrate us in moments of outrage and disagreement. But the framers anticipated such strife and discontent and built the foundation of our democracies with a longer view. The durability of our societies, predicated on both the protection of individual rights and commitment to common cause and purpose, are ideals which draw substantially from Jewish tradition.
Individual rights and our collective accountability to God, above leaders—even kings—are codified in the covenant to which we bound ourselves at Sinai. Similarly, the sanctity of those rights as individual citizens is conjoined with responsibilities to and for one another—a shared commitment to community and society, to which we subordinate our differences and personal concerns. And it is a covenantal commitment to something greater than ourselves that is the foundation of who we are as nations.
In moments of our own despair, we find signs of hope in the anguished longings of others. Tens of thousands of refugees fleeing war-torn Ukraine, to begin new lives in safety in Israel, where Israelis are welcoming them with full hearts and open arms.
Americans, meanwhile, mourn the horrific deaths of 53 migrants who risked everything, putting themselves in the hands of criminals in hopes of starting new lives in America—the object of longing for untold millions of people worldwide who aspire to the same American dream that brought our parents and grandparents here from foreign shores.
Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, z”l, in Morality: Restoring the Common Good in Divided Times, reminded us that “covenant can bring an underlying sense of moral community that holds a society together at times of stress, which is why Lincoln seems to have thought about it so deeply during the crisis years of the Civil War. For although he was deeply committed to the abolition of slavery, he was equally committed to the preservation of the Union. Only by shifting his thought to a higher plane could he reach an understanding of what it would take to achieve both, by speaking to the deepest moral commitments of Americans…”
Israel and America enshrined in their founding declarations a commitment to individual liberty and common cause.
“THE STATE OF ISRAEL will be open for Jewish immigration and for the Ingathering of the Exiles; it will foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; it will be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture.”
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
Eleven years later, America’s Constitution underscored that commitment to common cause in its poignant and powerful preamble:
“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”
We can’t know what the future will bring, but this weekend, as Americans and Canadians mark among the most important dates on our calendars in celebration of Canada Day and American Independence Day, we do so mindful of both the issues, concerns, and ideas that divide us—and of the recourse that our two robust democracies, like Israel’s, provide for their resolution, subject to our broader, binding responsibilities and obligations to one another in all three counties.
President and CEO
JCC Association of North America