In less than two days I will board an airplane to return to my other home, the U.S., where in less than a month we will celebrate Memorial Day. “Celebrate” seems a strange word for a holiday meant to remember its fallen. Those who have suffered the loss of loved ones who have served our country, grieve alone. Those who attend parades marking this day mainly do so to see their children marching with scout troops and school bands. Veterans’ groups and town mayors attend brief ceremonies. The President lays a wreath at Arlington Cemetery. For most of us, Memorial Day celebrates the beginning of summer. We grill hamburgers, prepare picnics, scan the paper for Memorial Day sales, and celebrate warm weather, giving little thought to those who have fallen.
Memorializing does not come easy in the U.S., where the vast majority of us have not lost loved ones to war. We live in a country, where most of the economically privileged do not serve, and where too many economically disadvantaged young people enlist to pay for an education and pay with their lives or where the scars of war disable veterans for life. I am not a flag-waving, “my country right or wrong” American. I would much rather spend our military dollars on education and health care than on guns and bombs. Yet, my experience in Israel has taught me the importance of memory and sacrifice. A country that collectively mourns its fallen is a country that has the capacity to be united in the values that underlie its creation.
Memorial Day can be an opportunity to remember the lives of soldiers that were cut short; flowers that never had the chance to bloom; dreams, hopes, aspirations never realized; and the broken-hearted connections to their world that remain. As in Israel, this should also be a day to remember those whose lives were suddenly severed by terrorism; whether foreign or domestic, whether madmen who machine gun our children or those who kill innocents to avenge their hatred of the U.S. Memorial Day presents us with the challenge to affirm human life, both in memory and through future efforts to put a stop to killing. We need a Memorial Day that forces us to put all else aside in order to honor and remember.