Ray Charles: America The Beautiful
America needs a July Fourth Seder
Posted: July 3, 2007
By Dennis Prager
Perhaps the major reason Jews have been able to keep their national identity alive for 3,000 years, the last 2,000 of which were nearly all spent dispersed among other nations, is ritual. No national or cultural identity can survive without ritual, even if the group remains in its own country.
Americans knew this until the era of anti-wisdom was ushered in by the baby boomer generation in the 1960s and '70s. We always had national holidays that celebrated something meaningful.
When I was in elementary school, every year we would put on a play about Abraham Lincoln to commemorate Lincoln's Birthday and a play about George Washington to commemorate Washington's Birthday. Unfortunately, Congress made a particularly foolish decision to abolish the two greatest presidents' birthdays as national holidays and substituted the meaningless Presidents Day. Beyond having a three-day weekend and department store sales, the day means nothing.
Columbus Day is rarely celebrated since the European founding of European civilization on American soil is not politically correct.
Memorial Day should be a solemn day on which Americans take time to honor those Americans who fought and died for America and for liberty. But, again, fewer and fewer Americans visit military cemeteries just as fewer communities have Memorial Day festivities.
We come, finally, to tomorrow, the mother of American holidays, July Fourth, the day America was born. This day has a long history of vibrant and meaningful celebrations. But it, too, is rapidly losing its meaning. For example, look around tomorrow – especially if you live in a large urban area – and see how few homes display the American flag. For most Americans it appears that the Fourth has become merely a day to take off from work and enjoy hot dogs with friends.
Our national holidays were established to commemorate the most significant national events and individuals in our history; they now exist primarily to provide us with a day off. This was reinforced by the nation's decision to shift some of the holidays to a Monday – thereby losing the meaning of the specific date to give us a three-day weekend.
National memory dies without national ritual. And without a national memory, a nation dies. That is the secret at the heart of the Jewish people's survival that the American people must learn if they are to survive.
When Jews gather at the Passover Seder – and this is the most widely observed Jewish holiday – they recount the exodus from Egypt, an event that occurred 3,200 years ago. We Americans have difficulty keeping alive the memory of events that happened 231 years ago.
How have the Jews accomplished this? By the ritual of the Passover Seder. Jews spend the evening recounting the Exodus from Egypt – and as if it happened to them. In the words of the Passover Haggadah – the Passover Seder book – "every person is obligated to regard himself as if he himself left Egypt." The story is retold in detail, and it is told as if it happened to those present at the Seder, not only to those who lived it 3,200 years ago.
The Seder achieves the feat not only through detailed recitation of the story, but through engaging the interest of the youngest of those at the table (indeed, they are its primary focus), through special food, through song and through relevant prayer. Obviously, just as secular Jews tend to avoid the prayer part of the Haggadah, so, too, secular Americans are free to avoid the prayer part of an American Seder Book.
But someone – or many someones – must come up with a July Fourth Seder. A generation of Americans with little American identity – emanating from little American memory – has already grown into adulthood. The nation whose founders regarded itself as the Second Israel must now learn how to survive from the First.
Independence Day Messages From John Adams
By Michael Medved
On July 2, 1776, after long and wrenching debate, the Continental Congress voted to declare independence from the Mother Country and the next night John Adams went back to his rooming house in sweltering, sticky Philadelphia to write, by candlelight, two of the most famous letters in American history. Addressing his beloved wife Abigail in far-away Boston, he exulted in the birth of a new nation: The second day of July, 1776, will be the most memorable epocha in the history of America. I am apt to believe it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty.
It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forevermore. You will think me transported with enthusiasm, but I am not. I am well aware of the toil and blood and treasure that it will cost us to maintain this Declaration and support and defend these states. Yet, through all the gloom, I can see the rays of ravishing light and glory. I can see that the end is more than worth all the means. And that posterity will triumph in that day’s transaction, even although we should rue it, which I trust in God we shall not… It may be the will of Heaven that America will suffer calamities still more wasting, and distress yet more dreadful. If this is to be the case, it will have this good effect at least.
It will inspire us with many virtues which we have not, and correct many errors, follies and vices which threaten to disturb, dishonor and destroy us. The furnace of affliction produces refinement, in States as well as individuals...But I must submit all my hopes and fears to an overruling Providence, in which, unfashionable as the faith may be, I firmly believe. The prophetic nature of his vision still makes the heart race and takes the breath away, some 231 years later. Predicting “illuminations” (the 18th Century term for fireworks!) to celebrate Independence Day from “one end of the continent to the other” remains almost freakishly prescient. When Adams wrote those words, the colonies occupied only a narrow, intermittent strip of settlements along the eastern seaboard; the very notion of a true continental nation looked wildly implausible, all but unimaginable.
The one mistake in Adams’ view of the future involved his assumption that future generations would celebrate the Second of July (the date of the adoption of the resolution for Independence) rather than the Fourth of July (the date Congress approved the specific wording of the Declaration which Adams had helped his friend Thomas Jefferson to write. In any event, those who insist on dismissing or denying the nation’s deeply religious heritage should ponder the words of this “Atlas of Independence.” Adams expects that we will celebrate the nation’s founding through “solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty” (don’t tell the ACLU!). After bitter, exhausting political battles in Philadelphia (corresponding to simultaneous -- disastrous -- military battles conducted by Washington’s army in New York) he recognized the role of Providence in the ongoing struggle and, at a moment of exultation, proved himself not just a far-seeing leader, but a prophet.
In a prior letter to Abigail (in 1775), Adams went even further in emphasizing the association of patriotism and religiosity – a connection maintained with interruption from his time to our own. “Statesmen may plan and speculate for liberty, but is Religion and Morality alone which can establish the principles upon which freedom can securely stand,” he wrote. “A patriot must be a religious man.” With his words in mind, it makes sense for so many churches to sponsor special July 4th programs, and to emphasize the always appropriate messages of “God bless America” and “America, America, God shed his grace on thee.” The last verse of “The Star Spangled Banner” contains the lines – “And triumph we must/As our cause it is just/And this may our motto/”In God is our trust.” May we observe our nation’s founding in the spirit of our founders – combining celebration with solemnity, and expressing our devotion to God and to country. Happy Independence Day!