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The Systems of the Jewish Year

CHARGE! (Memorial Day)

By Rabbi Sender Haber

As the home of the world’s largest naval base as well as several important Army, Air Force and Coast Guard bases, our shul is privileged to be host to many veteran and active duty members of the military. As a matter of fact, we even had an admiral come to the kiddush this Shabbos.

In honor of Memorial Day, the following Drosha was dedicated to all of the military personnel, both past and present, in our community:

As the Jewish people prepared to travel through the desert, Hashem commanded Moshe to create silver trumpets. They were used to begin travel and to stop travel. They were used to call meetings and to announce Yamim Tovim. They were also used as a call to war.

Every army in the world has trumpets when they go out to war, but ours were different. The Torah says (10:9) “you will blow on these trumpets and you will be remembered by Hashem”. Every war had to begin with a prayer to Hashem. Just as we stand on Rosh Hashana and think about coming closer to Hashem as we hear the shofar, we need to begin every war with a desperate cry to G-d. On Shabbos, when we could not blow shofar, the Gemara (Taanis 14) says that we would replace the Shofar with loud prayers.

Before we take out the Torah we describe the amazing effect that it would have. Our enemies would scatter and those who hate us would run away. We would blow the shofar and win the war. We blew the shofar and took down the walls of Yericho. When we blow the shofar and acknowledge our faith in Hashem, we can do anything.

The sefarim even say that by blowing the shofar and connecting with Hashem in war we can protect ourselves from becoming inherently violent or uncaring.  We do what we need to do but we are connected to Hashem.

On Thursday night I went to hear David Makovsky at the JCC. He was once in a meeting alone with President Abbas of the Palestinian Authority.  They were discussing a “two-state solution” and Abbas couldn’t understand why the Israel Army insisted on staying in the Jordan Valley indefinitely. Abbas just wanted all of the Israelis out. David Makovsky explained that the name of the program is “Land for Peace” not “Land for rockets” and that it was very important that we maintain a military presence in the area. Abbas persisted and asked why we couldn’t use NATO to ensure security. Makovsky explained that we aren’t as confident in NATO as we are in our own sodiers, whereupon Abbas came up with the most impractical solution:

“Why don’t you insist that all of the NATO soldiers be Jewish?”

As impractical as Abbas’ solution was, he does have a point. He understands that all Jews are connected and he understands that when Jews fight we fight differently. Particularly when we are protecting our holy land we will do a better job than anybody else because we are able connect with the land and understand that it is a gift from Hashem.
We all need to take a moment to thank those who have worked hard to revive the Jewish War Veterans organization here at B’nai Israel. The Post and the flag are almost one hundred years old, but they have been in disuse for a while. The post has contacted tens of veterans and really organized something nice here. They have about thirty members who have attended meetings. Some of these veterans might not come to shul and hear a D’var torah otherwise. W have also had several high profile community leaders express interest and even come to meetings. We are still working on getting everyone to come to a meeting at once and also on publicity to recruit more members.

The JWV has had some great speakers. At the last meeting, we had a leader of a marine FAST platoon who returned from a world tour that included training with Israel outside of Gaza. It was clearly the first chance he had to talk about what it meant to be a Jew visiting and helping to protect Israel. He wasn’t allowed to talk about what he did, but it was the first chance he got to talk about how it felt. It was a great experience for everyone.

One of the former members of the JWV was Sonny Werth. Sonny used to go around to all of the Jewish Veteran’s graves on Memorial Day and install flags on their tombstones. He would charge the families a onetime fee of $25. There was no expiration date. Right before Sonny passed away he went to his friend Jim and asked him to take over the flag laying. Jim got up at the JWV meeting and said that he simply does not have the energy to do it all and asked for help.  We will be doing that tomorrow.

All of us have seen the flags on the gravestones. We know they didn’t get there by themselves. How many of us took a moment to wonder who was going around to every Jewish cemetery in the area, installing brackets, and putting flags up to remember people who had been long forgotten?

Flags are not something that is mentioned in the Shulchan Aruch regarding grave stones, but they are mentioned quite prominently in this week’s parsha. Each tribe identified themselves with a flag and each flag represented the uniqueness of those who carried it.

More important than flags, how often do we really think about those people who put their lives on the line to keep us safe? Forget about the cool stories and the big names. Think about the fact that one of our members wore the same socks for two weeks while fighting in Lebanon. Think about all of those sailors who come home to see their newborn babies for the very first time.

We are blessed to live in a country where allegiance to our flag and allegiance to the Torah is not a contradiction. They complement each other beautifully and they allow us to live the lives that we live and allow others to make sacrifices so that we can live the lives that we live.

We honor and remember and thank all of you. May all of those who work and have worked to protect us be blessed with health, with safety and with nachas from their families. May all of continue to move forward in difficult situations, never forgetting about the Shofar that blasts at that most crucial moment to connect us with our Father in heaven.

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