view from central park

Happy birthday, America!


In 1984, when I was a little girl who travelled from Israel to visit my grandmother in Denver, we went to one of my great-aunts for a July Fourth barbecue.

Of course, I had never heard of July Fourth. But it was such a beautiful spread in an expansive backyard. Jade green grass. Delicious summer BBQ food in abundance. Music. Fireworks. Twilight. That vibe of old-school Americana.

Then it came time to cut the cake — yes, there was cake; a huge rectangle that looked like a cloud, enveloped in swirls of piped white buttercream and decorated with red and blue accents reminiscent of the stars and stripes. And there were number candles nestled in the buttercream: a 2, a 1 and a zero — 210.

Everyone sang “Happy Birthday.” I was so confused. A birthday? My great-aunt anthropomorphized America, saying it was her birthday and talking about the country like it was a person.

While her actual words expressed something personal, it all felt so removed from me. To my young mind, America sounded ancient. Two hundred and ten years old!

I was coming from humble Israel. She was 36 years old. It was a number I could grasp. Israel was around my parents’ age. Celebrating her existence always truly did feel so intimate, so personal. The country was young.

And the way it’s set up, with Yom Hazikaron preceding Israel Independence Day, with tears and heart-wrenching songs on the radio all day, such as “We Hail from The Same Village,” “I promise you, little girl, this will be the final war,” and “From the Summit of Mount Scopus,” approaching an independence day seems to come at a price.

Here in America, July Fourth was all light-hearted and fun. It was detached from anything too serious. There was a party in a backyard and everyone sang Happy Birthday. I felt like an outsider peeking in on a different culture, on a different emotional temperature. On a place that can have a country’s birthday without first crying.

The fireworks were beautiful. I was mesmerized. It certainly felt special. To this day, I never want to miss the chance to see July Fourth fireworks. Be it over the George Washington Bridge at the Hudson River, or over the Rockies, it is always magic.

Little did I know then that a few short years later we would move to Denver, and it would become my family’s new permanent home.

After we had moved back, the house at the end of the block had a slight rise in its front lawn. I remember sitting there quietly with my dad, in the still summer darkness, watching fireworks explode over Lowry Air Force Base.

Since then, I have never been an outsider at a July Fourth event. I am always up for a picnic, a hike, a barbecue. Why not? Thank G-d for America. G-d bless our America. It’s an opportunity to express that joy and gratitude. Nothing like a perfect New York or Denver summer night to meet up with friends or family and bring along some cold drinks or wine, sit on the grass and relax into the July Fourth fireworks magic.

But the truth is, I was forged in Israel. A part of me remains an outsider on July Fourth. Emotionally, intellectually, I celebrate it with true gratitude and joy in my heart. America is a home to me, a home that I love. The simplicity of the song “America The Beautiful” always touches me to the core.

But that part of me that was an outsider is always somewhere within me, deep inside.

This year, with the rise of anti-Semitism, and the two attacks on American synagogues, I approach July Fourth with my usual appreciation and celebration, but also with a touch of caution and awareness, that America as she is now is a special and precious place — yet one that I can only pray will continue to be the America as we have known it, for many more years to come.

Copyright Intermountain Jewish News