Thoughts on Memorial Day

Memorial Day 2014

I often talk about how Israel and the Jewish community have helped so many around the world.

Today on Memorial Day, I want to talk about how much America has done for the Jewish people.

From the very beginning of our country, we have been treated as full and equal citizens by our most important leaders, starting with George Washington.

This is from the letter that sent to the Jewish community in Rhode Island:

The Citizens of the United States of America have a right to applaud themselves for giving to Mankind examples of an enlarged and liberal policy: a policy worthy of imitation. All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship. It is now no more that toleration is spoken of, as if it was by the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights. For happily the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection, should demean themselves as good citizens.

May the Children of the Stock of Abraham, who dwell in this land, continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other Inhabitants; while every one shall sit under his own vine and fig tree, and there shall be none to make him afraid.

May the father of all mercies scatter light and not darkness in our paths, and make us all in our several vocations useful here, and in his own due time and way everlastingly happy.”

Abraham Lincoln extended these protections and rights. According to Harold Holzer Lincoln was the first president to appoint a Jewish military chaplain. Until then, all chaplains had to be Christian. He rescinded Grant’s Order 11 that would Jews from Union territories under the general’s control.

Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise said at the time: “The President fully convinced us that he knew of no distinction between Jews and Gentiles and that he feels none against any nationality and especially against Israelites.”

At Congregation Shearith Israel in Manhattan the mourners’ Kaddish was recited for the first time in memory of a non-Jew. They called Lincoln “Father Abraham.”

The Jewish War Veterans were established in 1896.The group holds a congressional charter under Title 36 of the United States Code. They were the very first veteran’s group in the United States.

In the preamble to its National Constitution the purpose of the JWV is stated:

To maintain true allegiance to the United States of America; to foster and perpetuate true Americanism; to combat whatever tends to impair the efficiency and permanency of our free institutions; to uphold the fair name of the Jew and fight his or her battles wherever unjustly assailed; to encourage the doctrine of universal liberty, equal rights, and full justice to all men and women; to combat the powers of bigotry and darkness wherever originating and whatever their target; to preserve the spirit of comradeship by mutual helpfulness to comrades and their families; to cooperate with and support existing educational institutions and establish educational institutions, and to foster the education of ex-servicemen and ex-servicewomen, and our members in the ideals and principles of Americanism; to instill love of country and flag, and to promote sound minds and bodies in our members and our youth; to preserve the memories and records of patriotic service performed by the men and women of our faith; to honor their memory and shield from neglect the graves of our heroic dead.

Many people know how much the American army did to liberate the concentration camps at the end of the Holocaust, and how General Eisenhower ordered every available camera to be used to document the enormity of the tragedy. He knew in the future that people would challenge the truth of the Nazi crimes and he wanted to make sure there was an incontestable record.

What is not widely known is that the army was not just concerned about the physical well being of the survivor, but their spiritual and emotional health, as well. They commissioned a special full nineteen volume edition of Talmud especially for the survivors, call The Survivor’s Talmud.

The title page of each volume depicts a Nazi slave labor camp surrounded by barbed wire. Above it are palm trees and scenes in Israel. These images are connected by the Hebrew words: “From bondage to freedom, from darkness to a great light”.

In the first volume of the Talmud, this dedication appeared in English:

In 1946 we turned to the American Army Commander to assist us in the publication of the Talmud. In all the years of exile it has often happened that various governments and forces have burned Jewish books. Never did any publish them for us. This is the first time in Jewish history that a government has helped in the publication of the Talmud, which is the source of our being and the length of our days. The Army of the United States saved us from death, protects us in this land, and through their aid does the Talmud appear again in Germany.[1]

Each volume of the Talmud also included this dedication in English:

This edition of the Talmud is dedicated to the United States Army. The army played a major role in the rescue of the Jewish people from total annihilation and after the defeat of Hitler bore the major burden of sustaining the DPs of the Jewish faith. This special edition of the Talmud published in the very land where, but a short time ago, everything Jewish and of Jewish inspiration was anathema, will remain a symbol of the indestructibility of the Torah. The Jewish DPs will never forget the generous impulses and the unprecedented humanitarianism of the American forces, to whom they owe so much.

(Signed) Rabbi Samuel A. Snieg, Chief Rabbi of the U.S. Zone

America tried to return Jewish books and ritual items after the Holocaust. The army hired a scholar to go to Europe and identify and catalogue all these books. Most of the original owners had perished, and the communities had been wiped out.The books were given to the Jewish community in America or housed at the Library of Congress.

The Library of Congress now has more than half a million pieces of Judaica and Hebraica, the largest collection outside of Jewish institutions.

There would be no state of Israel without America’s enduring friendship. No other country has consistently supported Israel or has recognized its right to survive.

America is also the place of the greatest Jewish creativity of the last several hundred years, including egalitarian approaches to prayer and community. We have been free to create our own communities, while still being fully loyal citizens.

Veterans have given so much for all of us to be free. However, we as a country have failed them in so many ways. Tremendous percentage of those who are homeless or unemployed or facing psychological or physical traumas are veterans. This is unacceptable. Support groups like Wounded Warriors. Call your representatives and demand better treatment.

I want to share the names of the most recent casualties, to at least put a name on the people who defend us.

The Department of Defense announced today the death of soldiers who were supporting Operation Enduring Freedom.

Spec. Adrian M. Perkins, 19, of Pine Valley, California, died May 17, in Amman, Jordan, from a non-combat related injury.

He was assigned to 1st Battalion, 67th Armor Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, Fort Carson, Colorado.

Command Sgt. Maj. Martin R Barreras, 49, of Tucson, Arizona, died May 13, in San Antonio Military Medical Center, Joint Base San Antonio, Texas, from wounds suffered on May 6, in Harat Province, Afghanistan, when enemy forces attacked his unit with small arms fire.

He was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 5th Infantry, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division, Fort Bliss, Texas.

I pray that those who served will all get the help and recognition they deserve.

I pray that the families of all those who gave their lives feel our eternal gratitude and respect.

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