The Meaning of Freedom
“For a people to be redeemed from slavery is one thing, but for a people to reach its full freedom is another. The attainment of freedom for a people in its fullest sense is possible only when it is in its own land – when it is living upon its own soil.”
Rabbi Judah Nadich made these remarks on Passover 1965, when the State of Israel was not yet 20 years old. For 2,000 years, Jewish history was “shaped by others,” determining where Jews could live and under what conditions, the work they could perform, and how they were allowed (or not) to be part of larger society. The existence of the Jewish State now enabled Jews to decide how to live their lives – the true essence of freedom.
At the same time, in the Soviet Union Jews were physically free but were derided, persecuted for their religious beliefs, and frequently arrested. Russian anti-Semitism – whether from Czars, Stalin, Khrushchev, or Kosygin – remained a powerful force in the 1960s regardless of other political changes. In the mid-1960s, the “Save Soviet Jewry” movement took shape.
Just one month after Passover, the New York Board of Rabbis declared May 22, 1965 the “Sabbath of Concern.” Rabbi Nadich focused his words that morning on the plight of Jews in the Soviet Union and their lack of liberty as “slavery without chains.”
“And ye shall proclaim liberty throughout the land, unto all the inhabitants thereof … and the Rabbis asked, ‘what is liberty? What is freedom?’ And they answered, ‘freedom is when a man feels he is at home.’”
Eleven years later, on July 4, 1976, the Jews who had been held hostage at the Entebbe Airport in Uganda were rescued by the Israel Defense Forces and flown to Israel. Rabbi Nadich delivered stirring remarks at the first Shabbat morning service after the summer break.
“True freedom cannot co-exist alongside submission to the tyranny of terrorism . . . people rejoiced when the news broke … they admired, of course, Israeli guts and brains but they were also glad that Israel furnished an example to all the world that terrorist tyranny must be stood up to - else no one in the world is free!”