I had a conversation a few days ago with a member of the JCC who is from Israel. She asked me what exactly the story is with our Memorial Day; in particular, she wondered how people could say “Happy Memorial Day.” Isn’t it supposed to be sad?
There is a huge difference between how we observe (or don’t) this day in the USA as opposed to Israel. It is much more solemn in Israel, with a moment of silence when Israel comes to a standstill.
No matter what you are doing, you stop and stand at attention in memory of the fallen soldiers and victims of terrorism–even if you are in the middle of a supermarket, even if you are driving your car, even if you are studying. Here, there are the occasional memorial services; Jewish War Veterans often arrange these or they are done town by town. Otherwise, it is barbecues, picnics, opening day at the swimming pool, and, of course, lots of sales at the mall!
What makes for the difference? I don’t know for sure, but in a country as small as Israel, every one knows someone or knows someone who knows someone who was killed in the military. Nearly everyone who lives there has served in the military as well. This close connection to war and what it really means plays an important role in the mind of individuals and in the psyche of the country. It is a time for remembering and reflecting–definitely, not a “Happy Yom Hazikaron,” now lets get the grill fired up!
Here in the US, depending on the circles in which we travel (social, socio-economic, political) we may not know anyone who served in the military–especially after the mandatory draft was dismantled. I have a good friend who serves as a Chaplain in the military, but I would imagine it is a rarity to know someone closely who serves. We may know veterans, but we all know how well we (as a nation) have treated them.
Our notion of Memorial Day is not fit at all. It does not fit at all. This should be a day of really remembering those who gave the ultimate sacrifice for the ideals that we hold so dear. It should also be a time to reflect upon and work for those who have served and currently serve in our armed forces. How well do we take care of them? They risk their lives for us. What are we doing for them?
I never got to meet my Uncle Harry Miller. All I know of him are a few pictures and the letters he sent to my grandmother when she was a teenager during WWI. Some day soon, I hope to visit his grave and say a prayer for him.
In the meantime, I will think about the best ways to honor him and his sacrifice. Maybe not a barbecue or new fitted sheets….
A Meaningful Memorial Day to all!