July 4, or Independence Day, has always been that moment which marks the long-awaited arrival of the gentle days of summer. On this national holiday, most Americans are afforded a day off. And this year, it couldn’t arrive a second too soon.
These are the most uncertain days in America since World War II. The pandemic has upended so much of what many of us took for granted just a few short months ago. Back then, few could even grasp that the key to one’s survival might be minimizing in-person contact with nearly everyone – including your loved ones. Younger baby boomers who had heard stories from grandparents about pograms, abject poverty during the Depression, the murder of 6 million Jews in the Holocaust; the fight for Civil Rights, Women’s Rights and the protests to end the Vietnam War and nuclear proliferation, had lived in their own Golden Era. These tumultuous times had led to improved civil liberties and a new tolerance in parts of our country. But with these changes came the realization that most of these baby boomers 60 and under had been given much but had been asked to sacrifice little to maintain our democracy.
And for Jews, it was a time of unprecedented acceptance in America. In their former countries in Europe, Jews were sent to the front lines to fight wars. But by the mid-1970s, the U.S. military had ended the draft, and that opened up new opportunities at colleges and companies that were previously restricted or had imposed quotas. And with this, Jews were free to move where they wanted, enter once-restricted professions and intermarry.
The pandemic – which seems like a physical manifestation of the strife and polarization that this country has played out daily over the last 3 ½ years – affords us an opportunity to be grateful to our country’s founding fathers for creating a system of checks and balances that is called democracy. It is not a perfect system and many Americans have been left behind. Still, it is a pliable platform that when nourished, provides a freedom that evolves from generation to generation.
No one knows when this pandemic will end. But on this Independence Day, let us pause and reflect on what we can do to strengthen our democracy and civil liberties. It could start on our front steps – simply smiling and saying hello to a neighbor or being unafraid to speak up when injustice occurs. On this day, let us renew our commitment to democracy. It is our firewall that prevents the darkness of oppression.