by Rabbi Jared H. Saks
February 11, 2020 – 16 Shevat 5780
“When Irving Berlin (Izzy Baline) was a child on the Lower East Side [of New York], he heard his mother, who came to America with small children, and with no English and no skills, say over and over again, ‘God bless America; God bless America.’ It wasn’t a triumphant ‘God bless America over everyone else;’ it was a prayer, a petition, “may God bless America,” which immigrants of all shapes and sizes have said in gratitude when this country has lived up to its greatest ideals. Berlin wrote ‘God Bless America’ as a peace song. When it was first sung by Kate Smith on Armistice Day in 1938, [some] in this country criticized it. It didn’t have the triumphant militarism of ‘The Star-Spangled Banner.’ The Ku Klux Klan actually forbade its members from singing ‘God Bless America’ because it was written by a Jew.”
God of holiness, we hear Your message:
Justice, justice shall you pursue. (Deuteronomy 16:20)
God of freedom, we hear Your charge:
Proclaim liberty throughout the land. (Leviticus 25:10)
Inspire us through Your teachings and commandments
to love and uphold our precious democracy.
Let every citizen take responsibility
for the rights and freedoms we cherish.
Let each of us be an advocate for justice, an activist for liberty,
a defender of dignity.
And let us champion the values
that make our nation a haven for the persecuted,
a beacon of hope among the nations.
We pray for courage and conscience
as we aim to support our country’s highest values and aspirations;
the hard-won rights that define us as a people,
the responsibilities that they entail.
We pray for all who serve our country with selfless devotion –
in peace and in war,
from fields of battle to clinics and classrooms,
from government to the grassroots:
all those whose noble deeds and sacrifice
benefit our nation and our world.
We are grateful for the rights
of Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness
that our founders attributed to You,
We pray for their wisdom and moral strength,
that we may be guardians of these rights for ourselves
and for the sake of all people,
now and forever.
May God bless America.
 Siddur B’chol L’vav’cha, Congregation Beit Simchat Torah, New York, NY.