For American Jews, this coming Monday, May 28, is a double holiday. In a rare coincidence, Memorial Day and the second day of Shavuot fall on the same day.
Over the years, Memorial Day devolved from a strictly patriotic holiday — originally called Decoration Day to commemorate the fallen Union soldiers of the Civil War — to a day of barbecues and swimming pool openings. Only after the post-9/11 resurgence of patriotism and the grievous losses in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars did the American public’s attention return to honoring the memories of those who have given their lives to defend our country.
In synagogues, the liturgy of the second day of Shavuot contains yizkor, the prayers that are recited by those who have lost or both of their parents or another close relative. (Reform congregations celebrate only one day of Shavuot, and yizkor is recited then.) Yizkor is recited four times a year: Yom Kippur, Shemini Atzeret, the last day of Passover and on Shavuot.
This Monday is a memorial day times two for American Jews. This unusual juxtaposition has not gone unnoticed by Denver’s rabbis and the Jewish War Veterans. Special commemorations and additional prayers are planned at 10 area synagogues, including the reading of the names of Colorado’s historic Jewish war dead, from the list compiled and maintained by the Intermountain Jewish News for decades.
The coincidence of Shavuot and Memorial Day has historical Jewish significance. In addition to commemorating the giving of the Torah, Shavuot is also the anniversary of the birth and death of King David, who is known for his prowess as a warrior.
Let Monday, May 28, 2012, be a day to honor both America and Jewish tradition. If you do not normally attend synagogue on the second day of Shavuot, do so this year. (You’re going to be home from work anyway.) In traditional synagogues, the custom is for those worshippers who are fortunate to have two living parents to leave the sanctuary after the rabbi’s homiletic remarks and general memorial prayers, before the recitation of the actual yizkor prayers.
If you have lost a parent, stay in the synagogue, listen to the words on behalf of our fallen heroes and say your private yizkor prayers for your loved ones.
If you are fortunate enough to be leaving the sanctuary, rather than using that time to chit chat in the lobby, take those few moments to reflect on the men and women — Jewish and non-Jewish
who gave their lives in all of America’s armed conflicts, and those who served in the military and died later in life. Think about them; think about those who are saying yizkor for them.
Strive to emerge from the initial sadness of yizkor and memorial reflection to celebrate the gift of the Torah to the Jewish people, and to appreciate the privilege of living as free people in the United States of America.
Copyright © 2012 by the Intermountain Jewish News