A few weeks ago, my family and I joined the Fourth of July celebration organized by the Freedom Fest organization. As we enjoyed the parade and the beautiful weather, we met many community members and friends, all sharing in this beautiful, nearly 150-year-old Morgan Hill tradition.
As the floats rolled by, the celebration got me thinking about my gratitude to this country and the freedom we enjoy.
My grandfather was raised in the Soviet Union, where he was not free to practice his faith. He was not free to travel as he wished, to live and work where he pleased—so many things we take for granted were absent from his life. And the oppressive regime had another, chilling effect on its citizens: many of the people my grandfather knew became selfish, paranoid, just looking out for themselves. They had to, simply to survive.
And then, finally, my grandfather was able to leave the Soviet Union and came to the U.S. He found a country that—like today—had its shares of flaws and room for improvement. But he also found a country where he could live in accordance with his faith. And he found that just as Soviet citizens were influenced by the government they lived under, so were Americans—but in the opposite way.
The Rebbe—Rabbi Menachem Schneerson—often referred to America as a “Nation of Kindness.” It’s the nation that was a safe haven for the Rebbe—and so many others—from the persecution of the Old World. A nation whose laws are compassionate, but more than that: a nation whose people are kind. The numbers back it up: as of 2019, an estimated 30% of Americans reported they volunteered for an organization or association.
This culture of kindness is something I’ve come across time and again here in South County. Whether it’s the volunteers who will come early to an event to help set up, the community members who offered to deliver groceries and meals to homebound and immunocompromised people during the worst of the pandemic, or simply the young person who takes the time to help an elderly individual bring their shopping bags to their car, this culture of kindness is so pervasive we may not notice it—or recognize it’s even there.
What Independence Day reminded me was that I’m not just grateful for the freedom to practice my faith; the freedom to openly host prayer services and holiday celebrations without fear of reprisal. I’m grateful for the type of people that this country produces: friends and neighbors who go out of their way to be kind to one another.
I know it doesn’t always look like it, and surely, we have much work to be done to improve this country and right the wrongs, but it certainly is a Country of Kindness.
Rabbi Mendel Liberow is the director of Chabad South County Jewish Center in Morgan Hill, which offers Jewish education, outreach and social service programming for families and individuals of all ages, backgrounds and affiliations. For information, visit JewishMH.com.
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