My country ’tis of thee on Election Day, 2020

My country ’tis of thee,

Sweet land of libertyUSA flag - 1

“My country ’tis of thee / sweet land of liberty…”

Most Americans are familiar with these opening lyrics penned in 1831 by Reverend Samuel Francis Smith for his hymn, “America.” To this day, I thrill every time I hear a recording of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr’s 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech, in which he repeatedly quotes Smith toward the thundering conclusion of his great oration.

brass bell ringing on chain

“Let freedom ring!”

“Let freedom ring” should stir the hearts and souls of every American. It represents the absolute best and greatest potential of the United States of America, no matter how human and imperfect we may be at a given moment.

But the less well known third verse speaks loudest to me today as my fellow citizens go to the polls. I already voted by absentee ballot this year due to the pandemic.

Let mortal tongues awake;
Let all that breathe partake…”

I voted Election sticker - 1

“Let music swell the breeze,
And ring from all the trees
Sweet freedom’s song.
Let mortal tongues awake;
Let all that breathe partake;
Let rocks their silence break,
The sound prolong.”

This election has been more rancorous than any other I’ve known. For the first time in my life, I fear a night of violence and civil unrest instead of an evening of more-boring-than-average television viewing as the polls close and results roll in from the East Coast to the West.

And yet! In spite of! I carry hope like a tiny flame in my cupped hands against the breeze. I can hear sweet freedom’s song over a susurrus or a partisan gale.

USA flag flying on pole WA San Juan American CampI believe that mortal tongues will waken, and that my countrymen and -women will, in fact, partake of the opportunity to raise their voices today and be heard. We will vote, and we will take notice of those bad actors who stand between the populace and each one’s right to cast his or her ballot free from interference.

I reject and repudiate those wicked cynics who would choose to disenfranchise others in hopes of clawing back power being lost to legitimate changes in our nation’s demographics and priorities. Those who prefer to enforce their will upon an enslaved population should take up residence in a country built upon the primacy of an all powerful dictator. The United States of America was founded in direct opposition to such despotism.

Here’s to the prolonging of sweet freedom’s song today, and every day, in the USA, and around the world. May peace and justice prevail for everyone.

Until I did a little research for this post today, I was only vaguely familiar with the much longer back story of the melody to which we sing Smith’s lyrics. I knew about “God Save the Queen,” of course, but not earlier American adaptations of the tune and its use by classical greats such as Haydn and Beethoven. This Library of Congress page was my main source.

*It’s not a new phenomenon—Paul Weyrich, the conservative who founded a group laughingly calling itself the Moral “Majority”—was filmed addressing a group of religious leaders in 1980 and literally admitting that his bullying minority’s “leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down.” That’s an insult to mathematics as well as to our founding fathers’ stated intent in the Declaration of Independence to create a new nation in which:

“Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”

It is clear to me that any true patriot must balk at disenfranchising other citizens.

Larry Levine’s Meats & Deli saves our pandemic Passover with Seder in a Box

If it weren’t for the generosity of local Jewish charities and businesses like Larry Levine’s Meats & Deli of Peabody, Massachusetts, my family would not have had a proper Passover seder this year.

Larry Levine Kosher Meat Market & Deli contact info

Yes, I, too, was googling “how to make matza at home”… but I don’t keep any wheat flour in the house since we cut gluten out of our younger son’s diet due to his autoimmune disease and a relative’s diagnosis with celiac. Things were about to get really artsy-crafty around here. Oh, yes, and I was a nutcase!

On Tuesday, April 7th, I left my house for a public space other than the park/a sidewalk for the first time since March 12, 2020. I went out to pick up a “Seder in a Box” kit at Larry Levine’s kosher deli.

Seder in a Box Larry Levine 2020 pandemic letterOur “Seder in a Box” was organized by the Combined Jewish Philanthropies group out of Boston. I’ve received email from CJP and other local/regional Jewish organizations for years as our family has gratefully enjoyed programs like PJ Library which offers amazing, free monthly Jewish books for kids of Jewish and interfaith heritage.

In case you are wondering, a “Seder in a Box” includes all the elements that need to be represented on a seder plate, a box of matzah, and a small bottle of Kedem grape juice. You’ll still need to prepare the “festive meal” to go along with the kit to make a full and proper Passover seder.

seder plate with bitter herbs, charoset, shank bone, etc.More properly described as a “seder in a paper bag,” the package had everything one needs for the seder plate plus approximately enough grape juice (8 oz.) for a skimpy* solo seder.

crystal goblet filled with wine on silver salverHere’s Elijah’s cup on our table. Poor Elijah, like me, had to make do with mostly grape juice this year.

Manischewitz kosher wine bottle, mostly empty, on silver salver

Luckily, I had a bit of Manischewitz sweet kosher wine in the house and one 32 oz bottle of organic concord grape juice to supplement. The one full box of matzah included in our kit was sufficient for our family of six to celebrate a Passover seder, though I rationed matzah in a way I’ve never done before.

My hope is that each of us can eat at least a bit of the matzah we received in our Seder in a Box every day throughout the eight days of the Passover holiday to fulfill the commandment to eat unleavened bread. Luckily, I feel confident that God will understand if we fall short of orthodox religious interpretation this year amidst pandemic and societal chaos.

I’m not sure if a financially comfortable family like ours is the most deserving recipient of any beneficence, but I clicked through and requested a Seder in a Box immediately when I got the email offer from CJP. I would not have gone into a grocery store for these items; not at this time, not this year. My family would not have continued our tradition of celebrating this very important Jewish holiday in the traditional fashion if we hadn’t had access to this gift.

Here’s what I know: I can’t get a grocery delivery slot from anyone these days, and I am unwilling to visit stores in person while I have ample calories available in my house. The health of my family—especially my septuagenarian in-laws downstairs—demands that I sacrifice all trivial wants at this time.

Passover, to me, isn’t really a trivial pursuit. To be fair, I wouldn’t risk the lives of anyone in my household to honor the holiday, but I will certainly go outside my comfort zone to do my very best to host a meaningful seder.

This year, the Seder in a Box was a lifeline for observing Jewish traditions that date back for millennia. I’m so grateful for what I received, and I hope the people at CJP and Larry Levine’s are aware of how meaningful their gift was to me and my inter-generational household.

* Strict interpretation of Jewish law says we should pour each of the four required cups of wine for a seder into a cup that holds 3.5 oz, and each of us should drink at least ~50 cc per cup. 4 cups x 50 cc = 200 cc = ~7 fluid oz per person.

Note: if you need to drink grape juice instead of wine for health reasons, that is totally okay! If you’re diabetic, I’m less certain. Maybe Passover will kill you unless you’ve got some insulin to inject?