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.
Christmas has become less nationally meaningful as exemplified by the substitution of "Happy Holidays" for "Merry Christmas."
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 in order 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.
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