The Shabbat before the Fourth of July. Any other year, I would be sitting on my parent’s back porch. I’d be drinking a gin and tonic and watching the kids play while the smell of grilled corn and steak filled the crisp New England air.
My family has always loved the Fourth of July, which is also my parent’s wedding anniversary. It always feels like a celebration not just of America, but of all our family has achieved since becoming American generations ago. This is true for many American Jews who found a safe harbor in America after centuries of oppression.
This Fourth of July feels different. There is precious little to celebrate. It isn’t safe to gather together.
130,000 Americans are dead. Approximately 40,000 Americans are infected with Coronavirus every day, and NIH Director Dr. Anthony Fauci warns we may soon see 100,000 new infections daily.
We are a nation at war with an invisible and deadly foe. President Trump has failed to lead our nation in the fight against Coronavirus, and that failure of leadership has trickled down into our local communities with cruelty and irresponsibility on full display.
Our president traffics in disunity and discord for political gain and therefore was uniquely ill-equipped to handle this type of national crisis. This moment called for the ability to bring this country together, and President Trump has never had any interest in that. This should have been a moment of bipartisan American leadership, from local school closings to global cooperation, and this administration has failed us at every stage on a monumental scale and continues to fail us every day. This should have been a moment that showed our ability to come together as a nation, instead, it demonstrated how weak we have become under this President. We are a nation that is deeply lost.
It would be too easy, too convenient, to blame all of our nation’s ills on President Trump. We have always been a nation capable of unspeakable cruelty, with a racist history many of us would gladly paper over with a hot dog and a flag. The heroes of the Fourth of July, our founding fathers, were by and large slave owners. It is a mistake to believe that President Trump is uniquely cruel in American history. Our country has always been capable of evil.
We saw the face of cruelty stare back at us, his knees on George Floyd’s neck. We saw how little we have changed when we watched Ahmad Aubrey lynched, with his murderers proudly recording the interaction for the world to see.
There are so many voices asking you to hear their stories of injustice in America. Do not lie to yourself, when we look at American cruelty, we are looking at ourselves, our history, and at the systemic racism that benefits some of us and swallows others whole.
Why even celebrate the Fourth of July at all? I celebrate who we could be. I celebrate the fight for an America that lives its stated values. I celebrate the protesters fighting for black lives, doctors on the front lines, organizers who won’t sleep until November, the Congressional aide with seven roommates who came to Washington to make change.
I celebrate the family that just arrived on our shores, and is dreaming of what being American can mean, and I remember that my family, like most Jewish families, came here as refugees looking for the American dream.
Rabbi Nachman writes that we must never despair, that we are forbidden to give up hope. This defines my relationship with my Americanness. I am angry, I am heartbroken, I am refusing to believe that this is the endpoint of the great American experiment.
I am celebrating those who give me hope this 4th of July, that we can still be the America our flawed founding fathers wrote about. That we can still form a more perfect union.
Shabbat is a time for hope. A time to rest and prepare for the big fights to come. Shabbat is a time to remember who we are and the world we are fighting for. Shabbat is a time to spend with those who inspire us to fight for a better world - our children.
So with a heavy heart, and eye towards the future, I am getting ready to celebrate Shabbat and with it the 4th of July. No need for slab pies this year. No big family gathering. Hand pies for just the three of us. Peach enveloped in warm spices and vanilla. A bite of sweetness in this bitter time and a brief rest in the fight for a better America.
Peach Handpies for the 4th of July Shabbat
This is an easy recipe, a ringer for a busy and exhausting week. You can save showing off your baking from scratch skills for tomorrow. I use store-bought puff pastry, a nice short cut for a busy summer when camp is canceled and marauding kids roam our homes in search of snacks and mischief. This vanilla and spice heavy sweet peachy crunchy goodness will hopefully ease the pain of having a smaller 4th of July celebration.
2 sheets thawed puff pastry
4 cups fresh or frozen yellow peaches sliced thin and peeled
4 tablespoons dark brown sugar
3 white tablespoons white sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
A dash of nutmeg
A tablespoon cinnamon (I like it warm and spice assertive. If that’s not your jam, cut back)
½ cup peach nectar
Dump peaches, both sugars, vanilla, and peach nectar into a small pot. Bring to a boil, stirring regularly. Turn to low and cook until the nectar is reduced, thick and brown and the peaches are fully cooked and soft. Turn off to cool.
Take your puff pastry sheets and gently unfold onto a clean and oiled surface. I like to use an oversized wood cutting board. Take a roller and give them a few good rolls to widen and flatten.
Don’t overdo it, you’re just flattening them a bit. Cut lengthwise into three long rectangles. Spoon two heaping tablespoons of cooked peaches in juices onto the right side of your rectangle. Line the puff pastry with water using a clean finger or thin pastry brush. Fold over and crimp closed with a fork. Repeat with two sheets of puff pastry, each making 3 hand pies per each sheet of pastry for 6 total.
Place hand pies onto parchment paper-lined cookie sheet. Stick in the freezer, just for 10 minutes so the puff pastry is good and cold when you bake it. While the pies chill you should steal a few moments to chill out yourself! Take that 10 minutes to just have a drink and relax. Have a little self-care during this stressful and frightening time.
Preheat the oven to 350. Grab the hand pies from the freezer and place it in the oven. Pretend to clean up while actually rewatching Cheers for 25 to 30 minutes, until the pastry is fluffy and golden brown. Eat one in the kitchen and claim the recipe only made 5. Warm, peachy, spiced vanilla deliciousness. You can make ahead and pop in the oven before Shabbat.