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God Bless America: A song and a prayer

 

The family of Israel Baline came from Russia and settled in New York in 1893 when Israel was five-years-old.

He was one of eight children born to Moses and Leah Baline.

His father, a rabbi, died soon after the boy turned 13.

Having only two years of formal schooling, Israel looked for various jobs to help his family survive.

He sold newspapers and worked as a street musician.

In 1907, Baline wrote the first of more than a thousand songs he would compose during his century of life.

In 1918, Baline was drafted into the Army, a few months after becoming a U.S. citizen.  One of his best-known compositions was written while he served in the military, but was not published until 1937.  It immediately became a popular patriotic song.  We know Israel Baline as Irving Berlin.  A misprint on published sheet music changed the spelling of his name.

This Jewish immigrant’s song, “God Bless America,” has been called our country’s unofficial national anthem.  Singer Kate Smith introduced it on a radio broadcast on Armistice Day (now called Veterans Day) 1938.  Since the terrorist attacks of 9/11, the song has often been sung at ballparks, stadiums, and other public events.

The lyrics composed by this self-taught musician could be described as a prayer, “God bless America, land that I love.  Stand beside her and guide her through the night with a light from above.”

There’s no doubt, when one considers the meaning of the verb bless, that God has truly blessed America during the 241 years since the birth of our nation.

The dictionary lists several definitions, one of which is “to make prosperous.”

No other country in the world has been blessed like America.

This nation that we love is wealthy compared to the rest of the world.

We have more food than we can eat and send tons of it to other peoples who are starving.

Our poorest citizens are rich compared to those in most countries.

Another definition for bless is “to ask for divine favor.”  The Bible promises, “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord” (Psalm 33:12).  Our country has drifted from Godly principles, as evidenced by our moral decay.  But we can turn things around, if God’s people will “humble themselves, and pray and seek His face and turn from their wicked ways,” God will hear from heaven and will forgive our sin and heal our land” (2 Chronicles 7:14).

The song goes on to describe the geography of our beautiful homeland that God created, “From the mountains to the prairies, to the ocean white with foam, God bless America, my home sweet home.”

 

Berlin wrote “God bless America” as a prayer for peace prior to World War II.  The only verse says, “While the storm clouds gather far across the sea, Let us swear allegiance to a land that’s free.  Let us all be grateful for a land so fair, As we raise our voices in a solemn prayer.”  Let’s pray daily that God will continue to bless America.

 

– Jan White is an award-winning columnist. She can be reached at jwhite@andycable.com.