Tuesday, July 04, 2006
Posted by Daniel Greenfield 4 Comments
The character of a nation is born out of strife and struggle. It can be seen more clearly in its darker hours than its times of prosperity. As adversity brings out the true nature of a man through seeing how he copes with his trials, so too adversity brings out the nature of a nation as the men who compose it rise preserve their homeland.
Wars and revolutions define the character of a nation and for the United States of America the War of Independence was both a war and a revolution. The character of the United States of America is marked heavily by it as the scars of the conflict, cannon, shot and bayonet, covered its countryside and the bodies of those men who had fought in it.
It was a nation born against impossible odds. Farmers gathered in bands to fight the trained soldiers of the greatest world power of its age and stood their ground. The British redcoats had been famous for holding the line no matter what but at Bunker Hill it was the British lines that broke and the American ones that stood. The British had been famous for their naval fleet yet it was the American naval hero John Paul Jones who in a battered merchant ship responded to the British Captain's offer of surrender with, "Sir, I have not yet even begun to fight," and proceeded to win the day.
The British had been renowned for their colonies yet America, their largest possession, was the first colony they could not hold and in losing America, they also lost their empire. The end of the British Empire began not in Asia or Africa as modern liberal revisionist accounts would have it but at Yorktown where General Cornwallis surrendered to George Washington as the British military band played a children's song; World Turned Upside down. And indeed the world had been turned upside down. The richest share of the American continent would go not to the empire with the greatest guns but to the bands of ragged men; the farmers, tinkers and merchants the Empire despised who would build there a nation the like of which the world had never seen.
The Jewish people too are marked by their trials and adversities. Our history is one of struggle against impossible odds. We exist by faith, not by rationality or right. We exist though we should not exist at all. Who had ever heard of a nation taken out of slavery from the world's greatest power? Who had ever heard of a nation conquered and broken by the world's greatest empires of the day yet rising again and again? The feet of the great kingdoms of history have marched across our soil and yet here we are ruling over our land with the flag that bears the banner of our king overhead. David melech yisrael chai ve'kayam. One only needs to look up at the blue and white Israeli flag to see that. Greece and Rome, never mind Babylon and Persia and Assyria, are museum relics and yet here we are building factories, printing up newspapers, honking in traffic and praying to the G-d in heaven who gave us all this under the banner of a king whose rule predated them all and post-dates them as well.
We found our kingdoms on faith not on right. By right we should not exist. The historian Gibbon called us a fossil of history. Islam and half of Europe clamors that we should be gone and have no right to be here. For a thousand years and more the Catholic church insisted that we were remnants of a people whose only use was to serve as tax farmers and remind good Catholics of the punishment for rejecting Jesus. Only the hand of a watchful God who neither sleeps nor slumbers kept us from the mortal hands of these enemies and more.
Faith too is what founded America. Faith in a god unrecognizable to the Anglican church, itself an illegitimate offspring of the Catholic church, acknowledged only much later by its natural parent. Faith is what compelled men who were by trade farmers or silversmiths or whiskey importers to take up arms and storm the positions of an enemy in red whose armies crisscrossed the world like whips of fire.
It is no surprise that the Jews were always here then even before there was an America. When good King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella who founded their kingdom of a unified Spain on Jewish wealth and expertise began burning those same Jews at the stake, Columbus with charts provided by Jewish mappers and Jewish crew on board sailed west to find a new land. When the equally zealously Catholic Portuguese overran the Dutch in Brazil, the Jews of that land sailed North landing in New York. They fought determinedly for their rights and Asher Levy became the first Jew to serve in the militia of New York. It was the 1660's. In Europe the Jew was an unwanted slave. In the Arab lands a beaten servant. In New York Asher Levy stood at the fort with a musket in his hand. When Jewish immigrant children would come to the United States over three centuries later they would be educated in a school named after Asher Levy who had paved the way for them here.
The revolution came and Jews fought in it. There were only a few thousand of them on American soil but still they fought in it and died in it. When the revolution ran out of money another Jew named Chaim Solomon who had come with the Polish General Casmir Pulaski from the Polish Winters to brave the equally harsh American ones, funded it. The British took him and he rotted in a cell in the same New York Asher Levy had guarded musket in hand until the war was over. Then George Washington raised his sword for Evacuation Day as British troops and their Tory compatriots departed New York like rats from a sinking ship. Solomon's loan to America was never repaid to him or to his children but a measure of repayment was found in the Jews who made this their home and safe harbor when they had none other.
We as Jews represent the world's oldest nation and the world's oldest kingdom. America represents the greatest young nation on earth. Both our existences are the products of faith. The existence of both is revolutionary. Out of nothingness came forth nations and out of a song and a dream a land was settled. As Chanukah represents not the physical victory over the Syrian-Greeks but the spiritual victory over them in the lighting of the Menorah and the spread of the light of G-d across his land; so too the fourth of July represents not the national victory of American forces against British troops in the revolutionary war but the date on which the first representative body of the nation still aborning adopted the Declaration of Independence; the moral framework of a nation whose light of freedom would shine across the seas and oceans and beyond.