The Jewish year reminds us of our history. Beginning in the spring, at Pesach, we commemorate the exodus from Egypt. Seven weeks later, we mark the giving of the Torah at Shavuot; months later, Sukkot reminds us of the 40 years the Israelites spent wandering in the desert.
Other holidays remind us of less foundational but still deeply people-building episodes in our history. Chanukah is about our struggles with the Romans, Tisha b’Av about the destruction of the Temples. More recent holidays – Yom
HaShoah, Yom HaZicaron – document the horrors of the recent past, and Yom Ha’Atzmaut memorializes the triumph of the creation of Israel.
The American calendar is surprisingly similar. We relive our history each year through our civil holidays. Columbus Day (and yes, I know about its checkered history and symbolism, but I’m going old-school with it here) marks the West’s discovery of the New World, and Thanksgiving allows us to feast on its plenty. Martin Luther King Day celebrates one of our martyrs, Lincoln’s Birthday another; Washington’s Birthday allows us to remember a founding father who died naturally. All three of those men were almost unimaginably brave, and each of them shaped the course of this country. Memorial Day gives us a chance to remember the people who gave their lives to keep us free.
The Fourth of July, all summer sun and marching bands and fireworks, celebrates this country’s birth. We do hold these truths, the truths laid out in the Declaration of Independence, to be self-evident. It is because of those truths – the acknowledgment that we all are created equal, endowed by our Creator with the unalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness – that the United States is the beacon of hope and freedom that it has been for two and a half centuries. Later in the summer, Labor Day gives us a chance to honor the workers whose sweat built this land.
So now, here we are at Veteran’s Day, which falls on this Tuesday. It shares some of its DNA with Memorial Day, but while that day, ironically at the beginning of spring, is a chance for us to honor the servicemen and women who died for us, while the world flowers around them, Veteran’s Day pays homage to veterans who lived through their military service. As we do that the days shorten, the last leaves drop, and the cold enters our bones, but our veterans remind us that we, like they, are still alive.
We would like to thank the veterans who put themselves in danger to keep us safe. Those of us who have never been in the military are awed by their courage, their commitment, and their sacrifices.