"I don't want churches to honor America, and I don't want churches to give glory to war or warriors, and I don't want the flag to gain any semblance of iconic or liturgical value. I want to give glory to God, the God who brings justice, and who gathers us justice-shaped and peace-shaped people of God's together to celebrate and to worship."
Today we also have the opportunity to welcome others into these blessings, and to share them with future generations. Today we have the chance to work for "justice for all." It is a gift to be an American; but it is an even greater gift to be a citizen in the Kingdom of God. That citizenship bears a freedom which no man can seize, and no nation can give.
Independence Day in Siberia
By HILARY KRIEGER
My "there but for the grace of God" moment came on March 30, 2005. On that day, I found myself in the musty, bare apartment of 75-year-old Josef Katz, a former Soviet army truck driver who lived in the industrial wasteland of Achinsk, Siberia.
I had come to learn about the Jewish aid organization that provided him basic necessities each week, but what touched me most wasn't his present poverty. It was the story he told me about his past, of the steps that carried him to a cramped and crumbling apartment with a vista limited to the concrete courtyard separating his warehouse of a building from the others just like it—and how it could have been my own family's.
Like the many political prisoners who made Siberia synonymous with exile, Katz was born elsewhere. In his case, it was Ukraine, where he lived in a small town until World War II. Then, in 1944, he was packed onto a train, sent to a concentration camp and separated from his family. He managed to hang on until the next year when, at the age of 15, he was liberated by American soldiers.
Being just a boy, when the GIs—"angels" he called them—offered to take him to the United States, he thought only of finding his parents. So he turned down the soldiers' offer. Half-starved and penniless, Katz could barely walk. Yet he made it back home, where he discovered that he alone from his family had survived.
There was a neighbor who recognized him and took him in. She spent a year nursing him back to health, and he in turn spent two years after that working to repay her. By then he was old enough to realize what he had lost by not going to America. But it was too late. He entered his mandatory military service in the Soviet army and was sent to a base in Siberia.
After his release Katz found work as a driver in Achinsk, where the grayness of the buildings, streets and perpetual slush penetrates the bones more deeply than the chill. It was in Achinsk that he, as he put it, "lived, worked and grew old."
Katz's decision was long made by the time I met him in his apartment five years ago. But that didn't mean the wound of a life that might have been wasn't fresh. When I asked him whether he regretted his choice, tears welled up.
"It was the biggest mistake I ever made," he answered. "Many times I was crying in my heart that I missed that chance."
My eyes weren't dry, either. But I can't claim it was solely compassion that moved me. It was also deep gratitude.
My own family lived in parts of Eastern Europe that later came under Soviet control. And they, too, were buffeted by historic forces of tragedy and opportunity.
The discrimination and hardship visited on Jews in the Czarist army caused my great-grandfather's parents to have him smuggled out of Russia at the age of 14 before he could be conscripted. Against a backdrop of anti-Jewish pogroms, the prospect of building a better life convinced my great-great-grandmother to sell her home so that she, her husband and their 10 children could join the huddled masses reaching the New York shore in 1895.
Had they wavered, they and their offspring would also have grown up to face the ravages of World War II and—had any survived—a life of stifled hopes under Soviet Communism.
As their descendant, I would not have had the superlative public education where even as a student journalist I was able to test the bounds of free speech. I would not have gained the entrée and financial aid at Cornell, one of the country's finest universities, that opened the door to the career of my choice. I would not have been able to worship freely as a Jew, to recite the Passover declaration loudly and publicly that "on this festival of freedom we pray that liberty will come to all."
On Independence Day, I am acutely aware of the remarkable gifts I have been given because of decisions my forebears made, risks they took because of their conviction that America would receive and favor them. Because they were able to seize opportunity rather than let it slip away.
In a godforsaken apartment in Achinsk, I understood the blessings of being an American.
Ms. Krieger is the Washington bureau chief of the Jerusalem Post.