She was wearing a ribbon
“Family member of a soldier.”
“Thank you for his service, “said I
“and thank you for supporting your family
and making the sacrifices you do.”
Her face reflects many feelings
All at once
As she expresses appreciation for this recognition.
I mention my dad,
Who served in WW II
He did two “tours,”
Clearing the beaches in the South Pacific
Beaches, tours – sounds like vacation
More like a living nightmare
Still haunts him, his dementing mind
holding on to these ”unforgettable” memories
Why is trauma what we remember most?
Her husband has done seven tours in Iraq
“PTSD,” I state.
“Yes,” she replies with resignation and without complaint.
“It is really tough for him…and us”
I can’t even imagine being in the war
Not the same as being at war.
And still young men and women join the armed forces.
What I have learned as a “lay chaplain”
For the Jewish program at the
Navy’s Great Lakes Recruit Training Command
Has given me insight into recruits and their dreams.
They seek jobs, not war.
Many have been raised by family members
Other than their parents.
A percentage sign up
Because serving is intergenerational
Others, to escape a difficult past
College degrees, GEDs and high school diplomas,
First and seventh generation Americans,
Every race and religion,
Geographically and culturally diverse,
Married and so young,
Raising children or expecting,
Older recruits seeking a second chance
The privileged and less fortunate,
Learning to support one another
All loving this country.
All seeking a better life.
They search for meaning more openly
Than their non-military peers.
My dad began believing in God
In the midst of war.
My friend, a Rear Admiral,
Told me one needs faith
To make it through.
The Navy chaplaincy program supports this by
Offering a wide and diverse range of
worship services and study.
On Friday nights
Shabbat service attendance ranges from 8-35.
Jews, though never the majority,
From every background and none,
Children of the intermarried and of Jewish clergy,
Some in the process of conversion,
Some because a sibling has married a Jew,
Some because a grandparent was Jewish,
Messianic Jews, knowledgeable and Jewishly observing,
Atheists and seekers,
The curious and
Those supporting a Jewish shipmate.
Christians and Hindus and …
All defy our stereotypes
They all love Shabbat.
Open to the journey of prayer,
We chant, meditate and pray,
Seek to understand the messages of Torah,
Ask hard questions,
Discover commonality and difference,
Find a bit of peacefulness,
If only for a short while.
Walking out of the chapel,
I overheard some recruits talking about
The gas chamber exercise –
A somber reminder of
The cost of war
For all of humanity.
Today we remember those
Who gave their lives
For the sake of this great nation,
Especially as we struggle through
What has become a disturbing search
For a new leader.
Inequality, intolerance and prejudice
Have been outed.
The news is not journalism.
Everyone is shouting over one another;
Respectful discourse seems off the table.
We have much to learn –
From the unknown soldiers
To the highest ranking officers
Who yearned and still yearn for peace
Ours is an angry, hurting and increasingly dangerous world.
Discipline, respect and process
Lay an important foundation for leadership.
But it comes at great sacrifice for all.
We have much to do
For the survivors who suffer from PTSD
And their families.
We pray for their complete and speedy recovery –
A healing of soul and body.
More needs to be done
To help them and their families
find hope and meaning once again –
These courageous lovers of our great country.
For those who gave their lives in service-
May they be remembered as a blessing.
And may we honor their memory
Through our own renewed commitment
To the pursuit of
“Liberty and justice for all.”
Rabbi Nina J. Mizrahi, Community Rabbi
Memorial Day, 2016