There are many ways to view holidays. They are celebrations and commemorations; they are occasions to bond with family, friends and community; they are opportunities for education and historical discussion; they are bound up in ritual and observance. These parameters can be applied to both secular and religious holidays. But I also think that some holidays can be looked upon as measures of or catalysts for reaching potential.

I have often viewed Rosh HaShanah as a holiday about potential. Certainly it is about the familiar prayers and tunes, the standard liturgy, but it is also about our individual and group hopes, dreams and aspirations. It is concerned with how we take stock of our days, of a year, of our behavior and our plans. Unless a person is just going through the motions, he or she cannot help but find Rosh HaShanah and the Yamim Noraim, the Days of Awe, to be a time of reflection. What potential does one have for the coming year? That is one of the ways in which I view "RH".

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And I also view the American secular holiday of Independence Day, the 4th of July, as a day of reflecting upon our potential as a nation. It is easy to see "The Fourth" as a day of fun and frolic, a day for pomp and celebration, for fireworks displays and parades, for red-white-and-blue decorations, clothing and accessories. Some see it as a day off from work, a day for store sales, or a day of heightened economic opportunities (especially if you sell fireworks or barbecue grills).

The Fourth of July is meant to commemorate the independence of the 13 original American colonies from Great Britain. The ground-breaking document the Declaration of Independence was finally approved by a rebelling governing body called the 2nd Continental Congress, and although purists then and now believe that July 2nd was more important (that was the day of the actual vote to approve a resolution of independence), the day on the document is July 4, and that has been the day we Americans adore.

But July 4th is more than concerts, picnics, and the ever-popular televised (and live) fireworks display sponsored by the Macy's stores, which take place in New York City in the evening. And yes, as a lifelong New Yorker, I have gotten swept up in the excitement of viewing these live, or more frequently, like most other American viewers, on TV.
I have tried to do "something patriotic" on July 4th each year. My husband, an American history buff as well, and I (and our kids, if they are not at Young Judaea sleep away camp) will visit Brooklyn sites that are connected to colonial America or to the actual war of Independence. There are also memorial sites and statues we have visited for their historical significance. I enjoy playing American music of various types throughout the day, as well. And we have often hosted friends and family members with a BBQ, or attended someone else's festivities.

This year July 4th falls out on a Shabbat, and perhaps because of that, I find the holiday to be more a day for reflection (although I do have my red-white-blue clothes and jewelry to wear). To me, July 4th is a day about the potential of the United States. This is actually a very heavy topic. Has the US lived up to its potential? It is supposed to be "the land of the free and the home of the brave." Are we? Have we been? Have "We the People" (to borrow the phrase that begins the Constitution) done what we should have done over the years, or even just this particular year? Or has the United States been little more than an experiment?

Should we spend this day reflecting upon what we have NOT done? What we do wrong? Who we have wronged? That list could certainly be quite long, quite painful. And with recent events in the United States, we have seen that there is still quite a bit of disunity, rancor, anger and fear in the United States. Most of us may look to July 4th as a bonding agent, but is it of temporary status?

This kind of rumination seems out of step, perhaps, with the enthusiasm and joy we typically associate with the holiday. I say that both have their place. I love the 4th of July but I also find myself intimidated by it. Perhaps this is a Jewish reaction to the 4th?

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