As we move through summer, we welcome the preeminent seasonal holiday that celebrates our uniqueness as a country: The Fourth of July.
Unfortunately, this year the fireworks seem less connected to the joy of this day and more to the reality that a different kind of fireworks have been set off: the explosive burning up of values for which America is renowned, respect for the rights of every individual to the pursuit of life, liberty and happiness. Who could imagine that it would be our country that would allow for a leader at the top to dismantle so many important principles upon which we stand: truth, caring, kindness, compassion, respect, integrity…pretty much every decent value that the Judaic system accentuates as our responsibility to live in partnership with God, by the way we treat God’s Creation, and all of life?
The tragic actions of separating parents and children at the border and creating conditions that make it doubtful many of these families will ever be reunited is a story more familiar to us out of what our people experienced during the rule of Nazi Germany. That such is happening within our borders, with children forcefully removed and placed in locations throughout the country, with virtually no paperwork that could enable families to ever find each other again, is unconscionable and contradictory to the principles upon which our country is founded, given its guarantees to vouchsafe everyone’s safety through the structure of our constitution.
This year the Fourth of July should serve to remind us of the importance and significance of calling our leaders to accountability for the values we are supposedly celebrating on that day.
How ironic, that 18 days later, a second “holiday”, actually better identified as an “observance”, is commemorated in the Jewish system, serving to remind us that unchecked and cruel power at the top destroys societies. The Jewish people were on the receiving end of the infliction of such unwarranted power. Sunday, July 22, we will observe Tisha B’Av, the ninth day of the month of Av, when Jewish sovereignty and independence was destroyed twice. It happened on this date, separated by hundreds of years: first by the Babylonians in 586 BCE and then in 70 CE by the Romans, with the First and Second Temples, respectively, destroyed, the city of Jerusalem laid in ruins, and Jewish governance brought to an end.
Human hatred for cultures and societies that are different sowed the seeds of this destruction. It took until our own times to regain balance enough to restore Jewish sovereignty in the rebuilding of the third Jewish commonwealth in 1948, with the reemergence of Israel as home for Jews, the few that survived the Shoah, along with Jews not welcomed in other lands.
Given the change in direction at the top of our country, reflecting a flouting of the values upon which America was established, a muted Fourth of July is more appropriate this year. And, accordingly, a heightened sense of inner reflection of the sadness of these times is called for in our observance of Tisha B’Av, which we will share in lamentation when we gather at CBI on Sunday, July 22 at 10 AM.
In all the years I have observed Tisha B’Av, this is the first time the focus takes us home in lamenting so much that we have lost in this last year and a half of what we always have counted on here in the country that built itself on biblical principles of kindness, caring, compassion and justice.
May observances of the Fourth of July and of Tisha B’Av serve as a call to Teshuva, return to the principles that has made the U.S.A. home to immigrants since its inception. It has been challenging enough to heed calls of conscience to respect and restore the rights of Native Americans, those who were at home in this country before the first of any immigrants arrived. That challenge is now overshadowed by the call to honor the principle of remembering that a nation founded by immigrants must continue to do right by immigrants, especially those in need of sanctuary, regardless of their appearance or country of origin.