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  • Shmuel Sackett, Chairman of Zehut International

What Did You Buy on Memorial Day?

Memorial Day was "celebrated" this week in the USA and, as you will see, was much different from the same day in Israel.

I can live to be 1,000 and I will never get used to the fact that Memorial Day in America is a fun, action-packed day for shoppers, beach goers and roller-coaster riders. As you know, this past Monday was the opening of the summer season, even though summer doesn’t actually hit for another few weeks. Memorial Day is like some kind of “Grand Opening party” which everyone loves to take part in.

I did some internet surfing and found some great Memorial Day sales in Sears, JC Penney, Kohls, Bloomingdales, Macy’s, Banana Republic, Nordstrom, Gap, Old Navy and Walmart. The JC Penney website actually said the following; “Enjoy our Memorial Day sales”. It even suggested that one should “Extend the fun to the whole family”...

Let me ask you a question. Isn’t Memorial Day supposed to be somber? A day of remembrance, mourning and reflection? A day to pay tribute to the hundreds of thousands of brave men and women who lost their lives fighting for the USA? Do you have any idea how many heroes we are talking about? I did some research and found that from the American Revolutionary War until today – are you ready for this? – a total of 666,441 American soldiers have lost their lives in battle. If it’s hard for you to think about war from 1776, let me break down that number in more modern times. In WWII – 291,557 soldiers were killed and in Vietnam the number was 47,424. After 9/11, American forces went to war in Afghanistan and lost 1,954 soldiers while a whopping 3,836 have been killed in Iraq. After all this bloodshed, do you really think you should spend Memorial Day - the one day a year dedicated to the memory of these men and women - by shopping for a microwave or jeans? Do you think you should “enjoy” sales on this day or that it should be a day of “fun” for the whole family?

One of the websites I looked at (a store called “Junees”) had an additional sale for people shopping on line. In order to qualify for the sale you needed to use a special coupon code during checkout. Any idea what the coupon code was? The word: “Memorial”. How touching…

The website was pushing online sales very hard and stated that by shopping online, there will be plenty of time on Memorial Day for other things. They suggested the following; “Break out your summer whites and fire up the grill”. I guess going to a military cemetery was out of the question…

The Disney World website homepage was full of wonderful suggestions on how to enjoy the park on Memorial Day even though large crowds were expected. “Start from the back” they suggested and “stay late” since most people don’t know the park is open late for your “Memorial Day enjoyment”. There’s simply nothing like bonding with Mickey Mouse on such a somber day…

DelGrosso’s Amusement Park (in Tipton, PA) had a great website that advertised their “Memorial Day Weekend Celebration” and even offered a coupon called the “Memorial Day Fun Pass” but stated that the discount was “valid on Memorial Day only”. I guess they don’t want you to have fun all year round, just Memorial Day…

And finally, I saw a few amusement park sites that offered “free admission to servicemen and women in uniform on Memorial Day”. Hey buddy, how come you are all by yourself? Oh, your 3 friends were killed in battle in Iraq? That’s too bad… well, at least you’re here – in uniform - so come for free and have a great time! Just one request, can you please wipe the blood off your uniform, it’s bothering some of our guests…

Let me say this loud and clear; A society that celebrates Memorial Day with sales, picnics and amusement park fun is a society in trouble. Actually, it’s worse than that. It’s downright sick. 666,441 soldiers gave their life for America and the country can’t take one day off to honor them??

Let’s pause for a moment and review how Memorial Day is commemorated (not “celebrated”) in Israel. All stores, except gas stations, are closed. Amusement parks are closed. Beaches are empty. Israeli Mickey Mouses (or is it Mickey Mice…) are home from work. Nobody is grilling and nobody is enjoying. Following Jewish tradition, the day begins the night before with a siren at 8pm and the entire country stands for a moment of silence. Some stand with heads down, others say Tehillim to themselves but everyone is quiet and respectful. About 30% of the country attend some sort of “Yom Ha’Zikaron” (that’s “Memorial Day” in Hebrew) commemoration in cities around Israel, while the rest of the country watches it on TV. There is an eerie silence in the air and most of the people shed tears for soldiers they never even knew. The next morning, there is a siren at 11am and military cemeteries from Eilat to Kiryat Shemonah are packed with people crying, hugging, praying and reflecting. While “The Gap” in New York is open on Memorial Day, the ones in Israel are closed.

People have told me that the reason for all this is simple. In Israel everyone knows someone who has lost a loved one in a war. In my shul alone, there are 2 regular attendees who each lost a brother; one in the ’56 war and one in the ’67 war. Add to that the people in my shul who lost friends and comrades and the number easily rises to over 50. Compare that to America. Who in your shul has a relative, friend or even a distant acquaintance who was killed in battle while fighting for the USA? Probably nobody. Yet, I am sorry to say, I do not accept that answer. Not having a personal connection to one of the 666,441 US soldiers is not an excuse to “enjoy” the day off nor use the word “Memorial” while shopping online at Junees.

If you live in a free country, you need to realize and appreciate that the freedom you enjoy came at a price. Yes, you may not personally know the heroes who sacrificed their lives so you can enjoy baseball and apple-pie but they were definitely there. They fought and died so that you can live in a beautiful home, have that good job and send your children to the yeshiva of your choice. The very fact that you can walk freely to shul, dunk in a mikveh and carry on Shabbat within your community eruv is because of these 666,441 men and women.

I firmly believe that every Jew must come home as soon as possible to Israel but until that day arrives, we owe a debt of gratitude to the land of the free and the home of the brave. Torah institutions have flourished in America and I am religious today because of the wonderful education I received in various NY yeshivas and shuls. To me, it’s not about knowing the fallen soldiers personally. Rather, it’s about acknowledging their commitment, their selflessness and their ultimate sacrifice.

I thank Hashem every day for bringing my grandparents to America in the early 1900’s. Where would I be today if they had stayed in Europe? Would I even be alive? And if I was alive, would I still be Jewish? 3 of my 4 grandparents emigrated from what is today Ukraine and the fourth was from Lithuania. When they came to America, they were allowed to practice Yiddishkeit without oppression. My parents of blessed memory, were both born in America, lived a Jewish life and sent my siblings and me to yeshiva day schools. My father fought in WWII and so did his brother, who was awarded 2 purple hearts. My mother’s 2 brothers also fought in WWII and we were raised on giving thanks and appreciating what others had done.

Today’s youth are far from appreciating anything. They focus, almost exclusively, on smartphones, selfies and Snapchat. I fear for their future but point the finger – not at them – but at a society that takes one of the few meaningful days a year and turns it into fun and games. We have a year to change that until next Memorial Day. Let’s make it happen.

#memorialday #wars

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