Red, White and Jew: Infusing Fourth of July with Jewish Meaning


This Fourth of July commemorates 242 years of the noble experiment we call the United States of America. Many of us can appreciate America’s founding documents as sacred texts. We can hear the echoes from Genesis, where humans are created “in the image of God,” and in the words of the Declaration of Independence “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

We can also hear the echoes of our sages’ preoccupation with tzedek  (righteousness) and the mission of tikkun olam (repairing the world) within the mandate of the Constitution: “We, the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

It is enough to make us want to run through the streets in fulfillment of the verse from Leviticus 25:10 (and on the Liberty Bell), “Proclaim liberty throughout the land, for all of its inhabitants!”

Many of us will celebrate the Fourth of July by enjoying parades, going to concerts, flying the flag, watching fireworks and eating the ritual barbecue in the backyard or at the beach. But is there a more meaningful way to both celebrate and acknowledge the good (hakkarat hatov) that this country has bestowed upon us?

We may find some useful rituals and traditions from the Jewish holiday comparable to the Fourth of July –  Passover – to deepen our appreciation of this national holiday. Passover, too, is a holiday celebrating freedom and redemption from tyranny, eventually leading to the establishment of the Jewish nation. The Passover seder is one of the most choreographed nights of the calendar. Every bite we take and word we say has a symbolic value for recognizing who we are as a people and reminding us, year after year, how important that is.

So, the good news is that much of the seder can be adapted for a Fourth of July celebration. Ritual foods still play a big part – hot dogs, hamburgers, lemonade and apple pie can evoke stories from our youth that illustrate values of family, freedom and community. The songs and hymns section of the Haggadah can be modeled through the singing of the “Star Spangled Banner,” “God Bless America” and “America the Beautiful.” Maybe also recite the Emma Lazarus poem, “The New Colossus” ( to remember how many “wandering Arameans” found refuge here in America. Fly the flag in front of your home and discuss what it stands for. You may also challenge the family and friends to create a “Dayeinu” (“It would have been enough”) song of appreciation appropriate to the history of Jews in America.

At this year’s barbecue, don’t let the politics of red OR blue get in the way of appreciating the red, white AND blue. Here are a few suggestions for activities that can strengthen the bonds of social responsibility and begin a legacy of sacred action:

  1. Create a family contract with rules for relating to each other through truth, justice and the American way. Of course, core Jewish values such as mutual kavod (honor) stemming from each of us being created in the image of God, should be included. (You might find inspiration for social action to undertake with your children through Federation’s new Doing Good Guides.)
  2. Form a tzedakah council to decide what to do with donations and spare change. Assign family members or neighbors to research causes and propose a set of percentages that will go to Jewish/general or local/global causes.
  3. Inspire a neighborhood service circle to vote on projects worthy of support (service learning, social justice activities, general volunteering, etc.). See guidelines for service on
  4. Work on voter registration campaigns and/or volunteer to help at your local polling place.
  5. Initiate an investment club to put your money where your values are, investing in funds that give profits to spread justice, Israel’s startup nation and companies that make green investments.

As we watch the fireworks celebrating America—including the fireworks of democratic political debate – we should remember that the saying “charity starts at home” also applies to many of the most important aspects of what makes us a society. Debate the national constitutional issues but create your own local covenants for they are truly of the people, by the people and for the people.

Wishing you a happy and meaningful Fourth of July!