Our calendars can present us with challenging combinations. This year of 5772/2012 offers a good example. The Jewish festival of Shavuot the Feast of Weeks, or Pentacost occurs on Sunday and Monday, May 27th and 28th, and that same Monday the United States observes Memorial Day. Lets compare the two celebrations.
Sunday morning in synagogues throughout the world, congregations will stand in respect to hear the Ten Commandments read from the Torah, commemorating the anniversary of Moses receiving the Law on Mount Sinai. More about the Big Ten later. That same Sunday, in Israel and in Reform synagogues elsewhere, memorial prayers will honor the departed in Jewish families. In traditional congregations outside of Israel, however, including of course all Orthodox and Conservative synagogues in the U.S., that memorial service will be recited on Monday Memorial Day. So this year, many American Jews will actually be observing a double Memorial.
How appropriate. Say Kaddish in the synagogue, and then visit a soldiers grave. Certainly we all hold our memories sacred, no matter how our religious traditions may differ. Did your loved ones end their days peacefully in bed? Did they give their lives fighting for their country? Were they murdered in the Holocaust, or in a pogrom, or on 9/11? In any event we will remember them this Monday. We will try to sanctify that memory.
That thought brings us back to the Commandments. Specifically to the fifth one, the one that says honor your father and your mother. Family feeling crosses religious boundaries and gets to the foundation of our lives. And a day like Memorial Day reminds us that this great nation bases its character on the principles enunciated in the famous Big Ten. Oh yes, someone recently insisted that only the last 6 should be exhibited in public since they do not mention the Deity. Does our Bill of Rights say anything about excluding the Divine from our lives? Not hardly. Even our currency shows the message In G-d we trust. Our solemn pledges, from the courtroom to the oath of office, conclude with the words So help me G-d. That practice is neither Christian nor Jewish. It is American. Just like Memorial Day.
So whether you celebrate the rest of the day with kosher blintzes or barbecued ribs, remember that we all share a proud and sacred moment this year.