I often ask my students: Are you an American Jew or a Jewish American? More specifically, I want to know what defines them first, their Jewish identities or their American identities. I was reminded of this question, celebrating the fourth of July, America’s Independence Day with family, friends, and community.
On the fourth of July, we celebrate more than just swimming pools, hot dogs, and fireworks. On America’s Independence Day, we celebrate freedom and equality, for these were the principles our country was founded on. The Preamble of the Declaration of Independence begins with these words:
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.
This is what we celebrate on the fourth of July. We celebrate our belief that we are all made B’Tzelem Elohim, in God’s image, and that each human being is equal in the eyes of God. As I sat by the pool on the fourth of July, I asked myself the same question that I often ask my students: am I an American Jew or a Jewish American? Which aspect of my identity speaks to me most? The true answer is both. The ethics and morals of my faith make me proud to be an American and my belief in God and humanity’s relationship with God is echoed in the Declaration of Independence.
So it really doesn’t matter if I refer to myself as a Jewish American or an American Jew. I am proud to be both. I celebrate both.
– Rabbi Jesse M. Olitzky