by Ray Lenarcic

I love the Fourth of July. Always have and could share with you numerous experiences on that special day that combined to kindle that love. Of them all, one continues to stand out. It was in 1954 when I was eleven. The day began with one of mom’s special holiday breakfasts followed by meeting up with the Furnace Street Gang (in the good sense of the word). We hightailed it up to the corner of Main and Ann Streets, the best place to watch the parade. I always loved the Little Falls Military Band, its colorful wool uniforms (that’s right-wool), and martial music, especially the trumpets. I had just begun private lessons on my own horn. Following the parade, we tore butts up to Western Park for fresh buttered popcorn and the annual program-emceed by the iconic man in the sport coat and bow tie-Clarence Hotaling.

During his recitation of Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence, I recall “shushing” my buddies who were yakking it up. I was old enough to understand and appreciate the meaning of those words and, at the time, actually believed them. Mr. C. finished the program by introducing local singing sensation Shirley Leon who performed “Somewhere Over The Rainbow.” I was not only mesmerized by her voice, but also by the lyrics which I later learned and which had a profound impact on my life.
Somewhere was the product of two sons of Jewish immigrants, Yip Harbug (nee Isidore Hochberg) and Harold Arlen. Their masterpiece earned several awards including an Oscar in 1940 (Best Song-Wizard of Oz) and being voted number one song of the 20th century by the Recording Industry Association of America and the National Endowment for the Arts. Its global popularity, even today, was not only due to the fetching melody, but also because the song is about hope, that the bad times will one day end, and that beyond the storm is a golden sky highlighted by a rainbow.

When all the world is a hopeless jumble
And the raindrops tumble all around,
Heaven opens up a magic lane.
When all the clouds darken up the skyway
There’s a rainbow highway to be found,
Leading from your window pane.

I have experienced “dark days” numerous times over my 80 years and often have been able to cope by listening to Judy Garland’s rendition of Somewhere. It always buoys my spirits, calms my fears, and motivates me to look to the future rather than dwelling in the past. As I think about how grateful I am to Harbug and Arlen, I am reminded of how grateful we all should be on this nation’s birthday for the coterie of Jewish-American contributors to the American culture. I mean-imagine no Rodgers and Hammerstein (Oklahoma; Sound of Music) or Irving Berlin (White Christmas; Easter Parade) who justified a Christmas tree in his home because it was as American as apple pie or Jerome Kern (Showboat) or George Gershwin or Steven Sondheim or Milton Berle or Jack Benny or Steven Spielberg or Leon Uris or Herman Wouk or Paul Newman or Sophie Tucker or Joel Grey or Neil Sedaka and on and on and on. And when you consider the fact that these contributors and so many more in so many other areas (industry-banking-government-medicine) whose dreams came true did so in the face of virulent antisemitism, their accomplishments are even more remarkable.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness” (Jefferson’s famous words in the Declaration)-all secured by a government deriving its just powers from the consent of the governed. Because of unbridled hatred by individuals and groups, many Jews lost their lives, had their liberties denied, and found the pursuit of happiness difficult at best. Despite being “created equal” they certainly weren’t treated as such and still aren’t. In light of ex-President Trump’s vilification (“most Jews are disloyal”), hypocritical condemnation by many evangelical Christians who conveniently forget that Christ was a Jew, and vitriolic antisemitic comments made by white supremacists like the KKK, it’s little wonder that an Anti-Defamation League report in 2019 indicated that hate crimes against Jews were at “near-historic” levels.

As you and your family and friends prepare to celebrate our birth as a nation, promise that you’ll work to help make TJ’s words a reality. If we all do so, then regardless of color or creed, today’s youngsters who dare to dream will have a realistic opportunity to make them come true. If we all do so, Francis Bellamy’s words in his Pledge of Allegiance – ”with liberty and justice for all” – might at last ring true.

My Fourth of July in 1954 continued with me attending a magnificent fireworks display at Moreland Park, a wondrous place located high above the “Rock City.” Under a sky filled with stars and exploding bottle rockets, the crowd broke into a rendition of God Bless America-our 2nd National Anthem- written by none other than WWI Jewish-American veteran Irving Berlin. A fitting end to a memorable day.

Somewhere over the rainbow, bluebirds fly.
Birds fly over the rainbow; why, then, oh why can’t I?
If happy little bluebirds fly beyond the rainbow,
Why, oh why can’t I?

You can.