flagBY RABBI SHLOMO PINKUS / AJT //

Life remains wonderful in the U.S. Even now, during tough economic times, we share in an abundance that most other nations can’t come close to matching.

Freedom rings most everywhere, and opportunity still exists. Just as importantly, we live our lives free of fear and threats – domestic and foreign.

But what’s the cost?

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America has a long and colorful history filled with sorrow and tears. Many have suffered at the hands of bigots and institutionalized evil. The problems began in the country’s infancy, when Native Americans were slaughtered for their land and Africans stolen from theirs to be brought to this country as slaves.

And even well into the 20th century, women’s rights were considered an oxymoron and children were badly abused. This, at least in part, is the truth of America.

But all these problems would eventually fall away. Such change can be traced to a group of men – mostly wealthy and mostly religious – who stood up against the tyranny of the time and said “enough.” A declaration was pulled together, announcing that America would become a land of freedom, that persecution would be shunned and that “we the people” would pull together for the good of all citizens.

What these patriots hoped for wasn’t easy to create, nor were their efforts supported by everyone. A great war ensued, and there were many casualties and deaths. Families were broken and children were lost.

And while that war was eventually won, some battles still rage on today. I can readily admit that the history of America isn’t perfect, but the journey to this point is one that no other nation has been willing to take. We have battled and bled; sometimes, we have stood as brothers on the battlefield, and at least once we faced one another as foes.

But we’ve always remained a family and a nation in search of freedom. Few saw that as clearly as did one Revolutionary War veteran, a slave owner who would go on to become the nation’s president. In his memoirs, he questioned how he could go about the business of owning other men while leading this great nation. He would eventually free all his slaves.

He, like all our founding fathers, knew what had to be done for freedom to take hold in America. It would take generations for liberty to wrap its cloak around all who lived here, but eventually that day came.

The patriots that fill our history laid the groundwork for future generations to also question their leaders. This way of thinking eventually put an end to slavery, gave women a voice and the right to vote and established child labor laws.

All of these things happened because “we the people” understand that if any of us lack freedom, all of us suffer.

It’s been 237 years since the first Fourth of July, and I thought it fitting this year to visit Arlington National Cemetery outside of Washington, D.C. It was a moving experience to see the rows of tombstones spread out to the horizon, many of the graves filled with men and women who offered up their lives that our nation might remain great.

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