For many Americans, Memorial Day is the unofficial first day of summer. It’s a nice day off from work or school.
If we did a word-association test of sorts and we wrote or said “Yom Hazikaron” in our community, we’d talk about the solemnity—the sacred, soulful sadness of the day because of our connection to the IDF or because this day of observance is symbolically joined at the hip with Yom Ha’atzmaut, Israel’s Independence Day.
Memorial Day in the U.S. has, for many Americans, moved from that solemnity to mean resort traffic congestion, a family barbecue or a chance to save some money at the shopping mall.
For those family and friends of ours who have served in the U.S. Armed Forces, Memorial Day is a hallowed holiday. It is a day to fly the American flag with pride from our homes. For the Jewish community, it’s a day to remember that Jewish men and women paid the ultimate price for the very nation that in some cases accepted them and appreciated their service long before there was even a State of Israel. Jewish American immigrants sometimes found that an important way to become part of the fabric of our nation was to don a uniform. Jewish soldiers, some of whom could speak Yiddish better than English, served their new nation with honor, be it at Yorktown, Gettysburg or Normandy. In contemporary and current times, as our great nation takes on terrorism in all of its forms, Jewish Americans are serving with distinction, sometimes paying the ultimate price.
Indeed, Memorial Day dates back to the years just after the U.S. Civil War. The observance was known for many years as Decoration Day because Americans visited graves and adorned them with small flags or perhaps flowers. It became Memorial Day in 1971.
On Monday, it behooves us all to explain to our children that yes, this is a day to enjoy together, but it is also a time to pause and be thankful for every American who was willing to defend our freedom and our country’s way of life.
So enjoy the summer. But remember the real meaning of this day.