My country, ’tis of thee…sweet land of liberty…

What is true freedom?

Do we really understand that word?

Today, on the birthday of this nation, on the day we celebrate red-white-and-blue pride, patriotism, star-spangled flying free, do we understand the gift we’ve been given?

If we were born here, my guess is we don’t quite get the magnitude of it.

The other day, while hiking through waterfalls with my children, I ran into an Israeli couple and their grandson. I love Israelis – for the poetic way they speak, for the unbridled & fierce patriotism they exhibit, and for their unwavering optimism.

In the media, we hear all the negative what-ifs, the disparaging stories of person fighting person, community against community. The couple and I spoke of the current tenor in Israel, where ultra-religious are pitted against the secular, the internal threat of combustion greater than that of Israeli vs. Arab.

Sure, they said, but we will come together. Like there is no other choice.

Because there isn’t.

Here in America, we wax poetic and philosophical and critical about our political parties, about our neighbors, about the behaviors of our communities and our leaders and our elected officials. In my community, people walk to synagogue in their religious attire on the Sabbath, on holidays, and expect that their employers will, of course, give them days off for their own religious holidays, even if it’s not the holiday of the majority.

Only in America.

Only in America, can we expect, demand, assume that what is important to ME will be understood and respected by everyone else. Only in America can I wear what I want, say what I want, cover my hair with a head-scarf or wear side curls and black fur streimel or wear the dress of a bygone era in the name of religious freedom and expect not only not to be taunted for it, nor shamed, nor asked to wear what everyone else is wearing, to be like everyone else.

Only in America can we be truly who we are without fear of repercussions.

That’s a freedom sought-after around the world and by many who do not celebrate the same freedoms of expression and choice as we do.

Today, on the 4th of July, I hope we all realize what it means to live in a melting pot, what the laws of this land guarantee us. What it actually means to be entitled to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness…

To understand that what we take for granted should never be taken for granted and that what the fireworks represent is something we should throw up to the sky and celebrate every single day of our lives.

No small task, but a very important one.

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