On Shavuot, Jews all over the world recited Yizkor in memory of loved ones no longer with us. In many shuls, memorial prayers were added for the six million lost during the Holocaust. In others, readings were included for those killed defending the State of Israel and, in some, for American soldiers lost all over the world defending this country.
Remembering is a positive act, according honor to those we recall. That is why the commercial orientation of the U.S. Memorial Day is such a shanda, treating those who made the ultimate sacrifice as a backdrop for discounted prices at shopping malls.
Also shameful is the behavior of the French government in not inviting England’s Queen Elizabeth to attend the 65th anniversary observance of the D-Day landings in Normandy.
(Interestingly, President Obama received an invitation and will attend the event together with French president Nicolas Sarkozy. Also – in the wake of the furor surrounding the snubbing of the queen – Prince Charles was belatedly invited.)
Apparently, the queen was furious at not having been included. She had reason.
D-Day, June 6, 1944, brought together American, British, and Canadian forces in a bloody invasion that resulted in some 10,000 casualties, with soldiers from all three armies killed, wounded, missing, or captured. (See page 9.)
Queen Elizabeth, as it happens, actually served in uniform (before ascending the throne) during World War II – in the words of one commentator, “to save the French, who are now not inviting her.” This is not media overreaction. Memorial ceremonies ought not be photo ops but rather honest tributes to those who served.
Jews should care about this. As a people who, throughout our history and across the globe, have been unfairly accused of not supporting the countries in which we live, we should take tributes seriously. According to a spokesperson from the Jewish War Veterans, the group is often called upon to challenge the myth that Jews did not participate in the military. In fact, he said, some 600,000 Jews served in the armed forces during World War II, about 10 percent of the American Jewish population at the time.
As a community, we are keenly aware that the number of survivors in our midst is rapidly decreasing. Similarly, World War II veterans, the majority of JWV members, are now in their 80s or 90s and, accordingly, less active than in the past. For whatever reason, veterans from subsequent wars are less interested in joining the organization. Unless such groups get a second wind, it will fall to the rest of us to remind our country, and the world, that we have served loyally and well as citizens of the nations to which we belong. It is a job we must accept willingly – and with pride.