A Jewish Independence Day
Here’s my family’s July 4th ritual:
In the morning, we put out the American flag and sing Phil Ochs’ song “Power and Glory”:
Come on and take a walk with me thru this green and growing land
Walk thru the meadows and the mountains and the sand
Here is a land full of power and glory
Beauty that words cannot recall
Oh her power shall rest on the strength of her freedom
Her glory shall rest on us all
Yet she’s only as rich as the poorest of her poor
Only as free as the padlocked prison door
Only as strong as our love for this land
Only as tall as we stand
My wife and I get all choked up and struggle to make it through the song. This embarrasses our daughter, but she sings along anyway.
In our town’s parade, our daughter marches with the “Traveling Fish Heads of Northeast Connecticut” while I, being the rabbi, feel obligated to march with our Temple. Afterwards, there’s a Temple barbecue at a member’s home.
Ritual is important. Our deepest values are reinforced and transmitted by culture. This is what Mordecai Kaplan meant by calling Judaism a “civilization.” When July 4th rituals don’t refer to America’s greatest values, America is lessened.
Phil Ochs’ words help our family celebrate that our nation’s “power and glory” rest on its natural grandeur, on freedom, and on covenantal commitment. Our Jewish rituals should serve a similar function. But civilization and democracy happen in community. Gathering for parades and picnics, worship, Shabbat dinners and Torah study create the base out of which freedom, covenant, and tikkun olam grow.
Rabbi Jeremy Schwartz is the rabbi at Temple Bnai Israel in Willimantic, CT, and a 2012-2013 Brickner fellow. You can follow Rabbi Schwartz on Twitter at RavJeremyS.
Photos of the parade courtesy of WILI-AM radio station.