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The Rabbi on the Beach @ The Shul on the Beach

How Should Memorial Day Be Celebrated?

In the U.S.A. we have another National Sale Day Holiday today. Today is Memorial Day.

How should this day be celebrated? We have gone down this road before on Earth Day.

According to Wikipedia:

Memorial Day is a United States federal holiday observed on the last Monday of May (May 25 in 2009). Formerly known as Decoration Day, it commemorates U.S. men and women who died while in the military service. First enacted to honor Union soldiers of the American Civil War (it is celebrated near the day of reunification after the Civil War), it was expanded after World War I to include American casualties of any war or military action.

Today, Memorial Day is more known as a barbecue, beer and baseball (and for me Basketball) day. This bothers some people. Maybe, rightfully so.

Some like to contrast the American Memorial Day with the equivilent Yom HaZikaron in Israel.

In Israel, on their Memorial Day, there are moments of silence and a very somber tone. There is no partying. The focus is completely on those soldiers who were felled for the sake of their country. This leads to a day of seriousness. Immediately following Yom Hazikaron, the country breaks into song and dance in celebration of Yom HaAtzmaut, Israel’s Independence Day.

Here, in America, critics decry the frivolity and partying associated with Memorial Day. On the surface they certainly have a point.

This morning, following services, one of our Co-Presidents, Alan Danziger provided a breakfast for the community. Ironically, his father, a veteran, passed away on today’s Hebrew Date. We call this the Yartzeit and it is commemorated on a loved one’s Hebrew Calendar date of passing each subsequent year.

How is Yartzeit commemorated? In addition to extra Torah study, the lighting of a memorial candle and charity there is usually a celebration with food. Sometimes a Siyum is made but very often just a L’Chaim is made with some cake and cookies.

Why is a Yartzeit a celebration? The idea is that we believe that death is not an end, rather a transition. When someone dies they move from the material world in which we live to the spiritual world. We are sad because we miss our loved ones that are no longer here. Also, after death it is not possible to grow any more spiritually. This is also a reason for sadness.

Mostly, we want to celebrate the person’s life and their accomplishments. We want to remember their greatness and how they impacted us.

Thus, Judaism does not treat the Yartzeit as a sad moment in time. It may be emotional but not objectively sad.

Turns out a Memorial Day barbecue may be just the right way to celebrate the sacrifice of our Veterans…!

There are no hard and fast rules, no right and wrong in this situation, but I want to provide some “food” for thought. No matter what you do, it is necessary to appreciate the sacrifice of our armed forces for the freedom that we enjoy today.

What is your opinion of the right way to celebrate Memorial Day?

Filed under: All Posts, Musings & Observations, , ,

4 Responses

  1. disinter says:

    Memorial Day, when we pretend that we live in a free country because of all the people who were killed in the government’s senseless wars.

  2. Jack says:

    when we pretend that we live in a free country

    The same free country that won’t arrest you for making comments like the last one. It is not perfect, but it is among the greatest ever for a long list of reasons.

    Not trying to be a flag waver, there are lots of things that can be improved, but no country is perfect and no country offers absolute freedom.

  3. Jack says:

    Rav Fink,


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May 2009

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