Today was not only Memorial Day here in the United States, it was also the second day of Shavuot, AKA Pentecost, AKA the Feast of the First-Fruits, the Rodney Dangerfield of Jewish holidays. This meant that it was one of the four days a year when our religious services include the special Yizkor memorial service.
We Jews are very good at remembering the dead. Perhaps it’s because so many of us are.
Our rabbi made an interesting observation during one of his sermons. Both Israel and the United States observe Memorial Days on which people honor the memory of those who lost their lives in service to their respective countries. But there are a few crucial differences.
In the United States, Memorial Day is the unofficial start of summer. Southerners break out their seersucker suits; Northerners their white shoes. It’s a day of solemn remembrance, of ceremonies at military cemetaries... but mostly it’s a day of backyard cookouts, picnics, watching the Indy 500, and of sales of every description. Wanna buy a mattress? Memorial Day’s a great time to do it. Everyone who isn’t home grilling a few hot dogs and burgers in their backyard is stampeding to the mall.
In Israel, Memorial Day - Yom ha-Zikaron - is the solemn day that immediately precedes the festivities of Independence Day. Shops and other businesses are closed. Twice a day, sirens sound and the nation comes to a standstill... literally. It’s a day of introspection, a day to think upon those who made the ultimate sacrifice so that the nation’s very existence - to be celebrated the very next day! - could be realized and preserved.
We Red Sea Pedestrians may overdo the solemn stuff at times. Our New Year, rather than a time of drunken revelry, is similarly a time of introspection. (We save our drunken revelry for Simchat Torah and Purim.) Maybe that’s why we don’t spend much time proselytizing. What’s the point of trying to recruit converts when your sales pitch includes Not Getting Drunk on New Year’s Eve, Circumcision (ouch!), and Bacon-Avoidance?
But I do believe our priorities are exactly right when it comes to Memorial Day. The mall can wait... but our honored ones have waited long enough. Remember them.