When Jews gather at the Passover Seder -- and this is the most widely observed Jewish holiday -- they recount the exodus from Egypt, an event that occurred 3,200 years ago. We Americans have difficulty keeping alive the memory of events that happened 231 years ago.
How have the Jews accomplished this? By the ritual of the Passover Seder. Jews spend the evening recounting the Exodus from Egypt -- and as if it happened to them. In the words of the Passover Haggadah -- the Passover Seder book -- "every person is obligated to regard himself as if he himself left Egypt." The story is retold in detail, and it is told as if it happened to those present at the Seder, not only to those who lived it 3,200 years ago.
That has to be the motto of the July Fourth Seder. We all have to retell the story in as much detail as possible and to regard ourselves as if we, no matter when we or our ancestors came to America -- were present at the nation's founding in 1776.
The Seder achieves the feat not only through detailed recitation of the story, but through engaging the interest of the youngest of those at the table (indeed, they are its primary focus), through special food, through song and through relevant prayer. Obviously, just as secular Jews tend to avoid the prayer part of the Haggadah, so, too, secular Americans are free to avoid the prayer part of an American Seder Book.
But someone -- or many someones -- must come up with a July Fourth Seder. A generation of Americans with little American identity -- emanating from little American memory -- has already grown into adulthood. The nation whose founders regarded itself as the Second Israel must now learn how to survive from the First.
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