The history of many of patriotic holidays is not well known -- and in some cases, the differences between Veterans Day and Memorial Day is unclear. As a proud American I thought that I would share what I know about these two very important days.
Memorial Day has its roots in the aftermath of the Civil War. Originally called "Decoration Day," it was a time for families to decorate the graves of their loved ones, with flowers, tiny flags -- or with the stones we put on Jewish gravestones. (As an interesting note, there is only one Jewish military cemetery in the world outside of Israel: in Richmond, Virginia, for Jewish confederate soldiers who died during the war.)
After the Civil War American was called upon to fight overseas, away from the homeland. As a result, there were cemeteries thousands of miles from the United States. In addition, many military personnel had no graves at all. As a result, Decoration Day became Memorial Day, a day to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice. It is a time to remember those who died in service to nation in nation's military.
Veteran's Day began as Armistice Day, 1918, with the end of the World War I. We marked that day through ceremonies that often took place at 11:00 am on November 11, the time the armistice was signed: the 11th h of the 11th day of the 11th month.
That was the "war to end all wars," or so we prayed. But with other wars, there were other veterans -- and Armistice Day became Veterans Day. Veterans Day recalls those who died, but in the larger picture it reminds us to honor all those who served.
We have let down veterans in many ways over the years, and today more than 80,000 are homeless -- and many more are unemployed. We have come a long way since the worst of times, in the years that followed Vietnam, but we have a long way to go. I'm impressed with many new projects, including the "reverse boot camp" efforts that now help prepare military personnel for civilian life -- but more must be done. Ironically, many more veterans come home with severe injuries including loss of limbs, because we have learned to be so much better when it comes to saving lives on the battlefield: so many of these wounded would have simply died in earlier times.
On this Veteran's Day I would like to share a prayer. I hope that maybe you will share this with y family or friends at some time during the day.
Rabbi Amy Wallk Katz
A Prayer for Veteran's Day
By Rabbi Arnold Resnicoff
Almighty God, As we gather here, we recall
that more than 90 years ago - in 1918
-on the 11th day of the 11th month - at the 11th hour of that day --
an armistice was signed
to end the war
the war to end all wars, we said
and yet, other wars would come
and others would be called to serve
-so Armistice Day became Veterans Day,
a time to recognize and remember
those who would face new horrors
or answering the call to fight
we know too well
there have been times
when we have not honored those
who honored us
through sacrifice and service
in wars our nation chose to fight
today we pray that we have learned
to offer thanks
to show respect - and gratitude
to all our veterans - alongside those who serve our nation still
and to their families, too
today we pray
to mourn our dead
to help our wounded
to praise our heroes,
and to welcome home our troops
- with open arms -
when they return
we pray you give them strength
and grant us strength, as well-
- to keep our faith
that one day
-thanks in part - large part -
to the courage of those we honor with our words today -
one day, we'll beat our swords to plowshares
and war will be no more
...and let us say, amen.
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