A Touch of the Divine on July 4th

Timing is everything.

It’s a platitude that excites me — sometimes with strokes of anticipation, and sometimes with strokes of dread — but never with  apathy. Time’s impact and influence on our lives is astounding, even in its inevitability. As I’ve often heard in R’ Aaron Rakeffet Rothkoff’s classes, every event in history – whether it’s international, communal, or personal –  comes down to the alignment of three factors:

1) the right person

2) in the right place

3) at the right time.

If you ever think about how timing must proceed ever so precisely in order for life’s opportunities to occur, it’s pretty mind-boggling. Divine, really. That’s how I know that G-d is paying full attention to my life, anyway.

Friday night, which also happened to be erev Fourth of July, after our guests had gone home and the leftover food had been wrapped and stored, my father pulled out two bulging manilla envelopes. He had recently gone to visit his mother (my Savta), and had come back with historic family photos and documents from her collection. We’re talking 80 year old family portraits, weddings invitations, Yiddish diaries, and a six-generation family tree with the names of family members I have yet to learn about. Where to begin?

My fingers first went for a yellowing, folded up piece of paper. My father had mentioned that among the assortment of documents was my great-great-grandfather’s naturalization papers from the State of Arkansas. I’ve heard many stories of Jechiel Tzvi Eckstein – how he came to America to serve as the rabbi in Little Rock, how he left half of his growing family behind in Jerusalem so that he could make ends meet, how he wanted nothing more than to return to Eretz Yisrael – but until that night, I had never held something in the original that was once his. And of all the things I got to hold that night, just hours before the Fourth of July, was the paper that granted him American freedoms.


Naturalization Statement from the State of Arkansas, c. 1927

Hilda, mentioned in the last line, is my great-grandmother.

Picking up that paper any day of the year would have been exciting, but picking it up to the distant buzz of Independence Day fireworks was Divine. Without the sacrifices my great-great-grandfather made in order to support his family, I don’t know if I’d be here, a Torah observant Jew in the 21st Century. Without the freedoms and opportunities allowed to him in this country, I wouldn’t have stood a chance. G-d bless the USA.

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