Flying the flag, expressing our patriotism, and appreciating our country and the liberties it affords us – these are the sentiments and feelings that surround us as we approach the July Fourth weekend.
For me, this year’s July Fourth weekend carries with it an extra special measure of meaning and calling. This is because this year it follows two most significant dates; dates that, I believe, express the greatness of our country, dates that effected change on a global scale, and dates that have deep personal relevance to me and my family.
The first date was this past Thursday. On this day in 1941, my spiritual mentor the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, of righteous memory, miraculously arrived safely on the shores of these United States, after narrowly escaping the Nazi onslaught in France.
On the very day of his arrival, the Rebbe assumed responsibility and leadership of the outreach and educational arm of Chabad that was now to be based – for the first time – in the U.S.
The future of the American Jewish community at that time was uncertain. European Jewry was being decimated and many people had given up. Gone were the walls of the ghettos. For some that meant that gone were the traditions of their ancestors. This was the “golden land” and assimilating into the American melting pot was their only option – so they thought.
Others longed with nostalgia. They sought to rebuild the Jewish ghettos in this country; seeking to isolate themselves and retain what little Jewish spirit and tradition they had left.
Yet, from that first day, the Rebbe was relentless. Not only would Judaism continue on these shores, the Rebbe personally took the responsibility upon himself to ensure that the Torah – its joy, its lifestyle, and its beauty – would thrive in this country like never before.
And so it has been.
Since the destruction of the temple nearly 2,000 years ago, no other country has seen more Jewish schools, more synagogues, more open display of Jewish practice, and more kosher restaurants! Never before has practicing Judaism been so trouble-free. Out of the ashes of the holocaust, we are witnessing nothing short of a modern-day miraculous rebirth and explosion of genuine Judaism.
And so as we celebrate our country’s birth this coming weekend, we ought not to take for granted the luxury we have. The Rebbe saw the potential our country would offer and today we see the fruition of that dream. The responsibility is ours. Will we take advantage of the holy opportunities this great country affords us?
Which brings me to the second date of significance: This coming Tuesday, marks the 20th anniversary of the passing of the Rebbe.
Physically the Rebbe is no longer with us but his teachings and the impression he has made remain timeless. Though the Rebbe had no children, he left behind a generation of orphans. A generation that today lives his legacy. His relentless call to increase in acts of goodness and kindness and make the messianic cream a reality, echoes across the globe.
To learn more about the Rebbe and his teachings, get the recently published by Harper Collins, New York Times-bestseller, “Rebbe: The Life and Teachings of Menachem M. Schneerson, the Most Influential Rabbi in Modern History.”
Rabbi Chaim Zaklos is the executive director of Chabad Jewish Center of Solano County and can be reached at [email protected]