Memorial Day Sale! Everything 25% off!
This is how I viewed Memorial Day growing up. Memorial Day was a day set aside by the US Government to honor our veterans. In my family, we had veterans from the Revolutionary War (both sides), the French and Indian Wars, the Civil War (one died as a result of an illness contracted during his service and one was captured and tortured), World War I, and the Vietnam War.
However, Memorial Day, that last weekend before the last Monday in May was the time for the inaugural events of a Midwestern Summer. Memorial Day was the first barbeque, with all the family gathering around to eat just about anything that could be cooked over coals. You put on your bathing suit (even though it was still too cold) and ran through the sprinkler. I remember Memorial Day barbeque at my Auntie Judy’s with its requisite tour of the garden and what would be growing by the time we regrouped on July 4th. The men drank beer, the women worked in the kitchen and us kids enjoyed a stress-free day wandering the neighborhood with our cousins and, of course, playing games.
When we got older, the sales and shopping took over. I never figured out if the switch happened because of a grand cosmic disturbance in American culture or because I was a teenage girl or because our family moved East away from the simple Midwest of my early childhood. This was Memorial Day for my family in the United States, despite our veterans.
Both of these realities are a far cry from the Memorial Day which my family experiences now in Israel. Memorial Day in Israel is a day to remember those who lost their lives for our country. I currently have 3 sons in the army and by next fall, will have 4. Four of my children will be occupied with defense of the Jewish State. Four out of 6. Last summer we went through a war which touched every resident of our tiny state. So, how do I mark Memorial Day?
Each community has a ceremony marking the beginning of the Day in the evening (Jewish days start at night like in the creation story in Genesis). This starts with a siren where the entire country stands in silence for an entire minute. It’s hard to imagine a whole country coming to a stop for a minute – no cars on the roads, no one talking/texting/whatsapping on his phone, no one watching anything on a screen. The evening is so sacred that there are no restaurants open and no movie theaters screening films.
Our community ceremony is on the basketball court and I sit and watch as my friends and neighbors gather to mark the day. I feel connected. These are the people whom I have known for the last 21 years. I sit embraced by the familiar surroundings and the familiar faces. Maybe this is why we are able to face this pain year after year – because of the implicit support we feel all around us.
The rabbi of our community speaks. He more or less says the same thing year after year. Something about rebuilding the State, about the importance of welcoming immigrants, rebuilding Jerusalem, the important role of children and youth in the flourishing of the People of Israel in the Land of Israel according to the Laws of Israel.
And then comes the tough part, the actual program which is done by the 11th grade class. They always get me. If it is through the overacting, the crying, the scenes which trigger all kinds of “what if’s” and fears I have about my own children, I don’t know. The11th graders depict situations in a simplistic way, which cuts to the core and makes you feel the issues more deeply. They talked this year about their friends, the boys who were kidnapped last summer and brutally butchered on the way home from school. They read letters from lovers who were never able to realize their love because the war stole their future. And through simple pantomime depicted families who would never be able to live normal lives because of the ravages of war. They talked about the volunteers who come from oversees, like Max Steinberg. And I cry – I always do.
At the end of the ceremony, there are a few prayers sung before we sing the National Anthem. Those prayers are asking God to have mercy on our soldiers and to bless them. I have an additional request this year. I would like a Memorial Day Sale.
God, please lower the prices for us this Memorial Day. Let the cost of being a free nation in our land be drastically less. We haven’t lost hope, but we sure could use a discount.