In Every Generation: What Independence Day Means to Me By Carol Smaldino

Okay, Carol, let’s not get carried away. Thinking of July 4th as Passover seems quite a stretch. “We” were not slaves to England before 1776, except of course those who were. And celebrating the holiday through experiencing as best we can an appreciation of slavery so we can appreciate freedom—and so we can honor the obligation to help those who are still in slavery—well it seems so idealistic.

Many Jewish people celebrate Passover on different layers; some really dive into the existential meditations on imprisonment and freedom. (Passover=the Jews being freed from slavery with the help of God and Moses). And this year seems as good a time as any to consider the deeper analogies and connections to almost anything that will help.

In a year in which so many Americans have applauded a man and other politicians, that see freedom as getting rich without any significant sharing of resources, it can be easy for some of us to identify with slavery. As it feels important to play on the various meanings so as to challenge our assumptions, let’s do it.

Many of us in the West especially (I won’t forget the princes etc., in the Middle East) are in fact slaves to money. The more the merrier, right? And for so many, the more there is money the more there is the right not to share. Whenever we are under the spell of one group or one person or one possession (i.e. money) we are in fact enslaved, in a kind of cult where we remain as long as we can for fear of falling from a precipice if we change directions.

My way of celebrating Passover has for over 35 years now, been quite alternative. I have developed a different kind of Haggadah, including the telling of the story of Exodus and some way—it has differed each year—of considering how in ways we are not in fact free: we are at best works in progress.

For some weeks I’ve been thinking of this July 4th. I celebrate, if at all, in Italy, where pasta and wine can be interrupted for a hearty meal of burgers and fries, perhaps with a beer. The Italian friends we have know July 4th is the American Independence Day, and they have said yes to dining together and marking the day in some way. I usually don’t think much of it; it’s easy to bypass in a country for which it is just another day, what’s more a country that does not have the custom to march and parade with Italian flags much as many Americans do. Of course there are many for whom the holiday—the Holiday—becomes a central weekend in summer and others for whom it becomes a chance to purchase new furnishings for a house. You know, the sales and all.

This year I am particularly intrigued by the “we are all slaves” or we were all slaves, since I do think there is benefit from meditating on what it would mean to be free. For me there has to be some freedom of choice and for this to occur there has to be the freedom to question and even distance from at least some of our assumptions. This means we have to be able to consider liberation from the compunction to think (if it is thinking at all), to react and to act as puppets in a polarized atmosphere in which we instinctively take sides and cling to our own arrogance at any cost.

It’s okay if you rain on my temporary parade here. Yes, okay, I realize, sort of at least, that July 4th isn’t Passover. And to be honest, I never really wrote my own Haggadah, which would have taken too long and required more energy and chutzpah than I had, and I had a bit.

But I have talked with people at our table and in my writing of our part in slavery, also from a personal point of view. That is about the notion that the more we bury our past, and some of our emotions and awareness that feel inconveniently shameful or brutal or tender even, the more we are prone to exploding in fear or rage, or to projecting our own evil onto others. Does this sound familiar?

We don’t exactly live in an age of great introspection. Where we can blame others for taking away our rights, our money and our freedom and our safety, we tend to do so. This would be one key thing I’d try to question, and suggest that we question at our July 4th table of burgers and beer and fries or whatever your specialties or dietary needs mandate or suggest.

I said I know July 4th isn’t Passover, but maybe I’m reluctant to give up the comparisons. Not at all a religious Jew, I am inherently drawn to the deeper layers of somber joy some of the holidays have. As in Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year has a somber resolve along with a festive set of wishes (yes, of course the food and here, the honey) for a sweet New Year, I have longed for a secular New Years that has a similar spirit of import and meaning, along with noise and feasting. Maybe it’s not a bad idea to fuse the moods, to put a little meaning, even into July 4th, that doesn’t have to be blind patriotism that insists on our greatness only.

I want to keep my wish to enjoy the freedom to share our own resources with others. And to study the effects and the effective ways to address racism and injustice, economic and otherwise, in ways that will make all of us freer. I know this: and to me it is self-evident. We will never know if a social program, addressing climate issues, getting out from under hating each other, can work, unless we study how it can be done.

Happy Passover.

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