Fireworks, BBQ and beer: It's an American tradition. Yet, July 4 is about much more than that. It is celebration of our nation's independence, a celebration of freedom, and a time to reflect on the sacrifices that individuals and families have made to secure these precious gifts.
This week's Torah portion, Chukat, tells of the Israelites' victorious battles against the Amorites and the people of Bashan, whose lands they captured. It is one of the first references to an organized military action by the Jewish people. What is missing is the toll it took on the community. As Jewish Americans, we have a proud history of service to our country that began in the Revolutionary War and includes every war and conflict since. Our community like so many others has made sacrifices to protect and defend this great nation.
In anticipation of the holiday, I asked one of our Board members who has served in the military to reflect on his experience.
Lieutenant Ethan Goldman originally received his commission as a Second Lieutenant in the United States Army as a Field Artillery officer in 1978. A University of Pennsylvania ROTC graduate, he didn't know anyone who had served in the military when he entered. "I was going into something that was basically a complete unknown to me," he recalls.
Lt. Goldman joined our Armed Forces without expecting anything in return. "It was just something that I felt I should do," he says. It never occurred to him that he would continue to serve (mostly in the Reserves) for over 20 years. "Although I joined the Army to contribute, I have received much more from the experience than what I contributed in terms of time, effort, and opportunity cost."
I asked Lt. Goldman how his Jewish values helped to inform him as an officer, and he pointed to a few examples:
- Always take care of your people. "This means that you eat last and take care of everyone else's needs before you take care of your own. I carried tuna fish cans in my ammo belt - one, because I don't eat pork/shellfish products, and two, because I knew there would be times when the unit would run out of food."
- Complete the mission. Always keep your goal in mind. It can be difficult to balance taking care of your people and completing the mission, but success depends on it.
- Take orders seriously. "I always stress the importance of adhering to the Honor Code. At the same time, it's important to voice your objection to following an order that may be illegal," he notes.
While Lt. Goldman served exclusively Stateside, that doesn't mean he wasn't in danger. Much of his work was with highly explosive projectiles and large vehicles operating in difficult terrain. "There were risks in my time, but they are significantly larger in today's environment," he says.
"The one who really sacrificed was my wife who was left at home, worrying about me, the kids and everything else so I knew I didn't have to," he notes. "Now my oldest son has joined the military as a Second Lieutenant in the Field Artillery. While I am so proud of him, it is definitely a different experience as a parent."
On behalf of a grateful community, I want to thank both Lt. Goldman and Second Lt. Goldman, and their many fellow soldiers - both active duty and retired - for their sacrifice and service. We often take our freedoms for granted and forget how tenuous they are. On this July 4, let's enjoy the fireworks, eat a lot of BBQ, and thank those who make our celebration possible.
President and CEO