Remembering the real meaning of America’s Memorial Day
‘What is Memorial Day?’ I asked a friend’s teenager in America, and her answer shocked me. ‘A day off of school and sales at the mall,’ the 13-year-old answered, as my face turned white. Her mother wiggled uncomfortably and tried to find the simple words to explain this child’s naivety to me in terms my Israeli mind could grasp. “In America, we are disconnected from the meaning of this day,” she said sadly. And indeed, that is a sad reality to face.
Shocked as I was, I remember growing up in America and having a similar sentiment.
Memorial Day represented the long awaited public beach openings, great sales, and a long weekend.
Memorial Day represented vacations, crowded airports, barbeques, and fun.
Memorial Day represented many things to me as a child, but embarrassed as I am, one of the last things it represented in practice was honoring the righteous soldiers who gave their life to protect America’s freedom.
Much of America has lost the true meaning of this special day. Memorial Day services, visits to gravesites, and communal gatherings to remember those lost heroes are mostly reserved for army towns and bases. But as an Israeli who has experienced what it’s like for the entire country to truly observe Memorial Day, I believe that America — and especially its children — is missing out.
In this world of quick fixes, instant gratification, and abundance, parents across the Western world are trying to figure out how to pass on the traditional values of appreciation, obligation, and selflessness to our children. Indeed, it feels like an uphill battle. With the children often knowing more about technology, coding, and the modern world than their parents and grandparents, so many of us across the world are facing the same parenting crisis: What am I able to teach my child and how can I give over the values I was raised with, in a world which is so different from the one I was raised in?
Memorial Day is the perfect place to start.
Here in Israel, a country of just over seven million citizens, with mandatory army service, and the fact we are still fighting our War of Independence, sadly, Memorial Day remains personal to everyone.
Every day, my children walk past names on the wall of their school of soldiers who have died, who used to walk the same halls as them. My neighbor tells us stories of her 19-year-old son who was killed in war over 25 years ago. Victims of terror can be found in every single city in Israel.
As the siren in Israel blares on Memorial Day, piercing the air of every single inch of this land, children and parents alike stand in respect to remember and honor those who have paid the ultimate price, so that we can live in freedom.
The truth is, as a new immigrant to Israel dealing with the reality of Memorial Day was difficult for me to address with my children. I was worried I would scare them and create unneeded fears. As a parent, I want to show my children the beauty of the world; not the darkness.
But as I have learned, children are much stronger than we give them credit for. And especially in this generation, our children are searching for identity and meaning. Showing them the reality on the ground in an age appropriate way, while teaching them that they can be the beacon of light the world needs, gives our children pride, meaning, and motivation to fix the world in their own unique way.
As my children colored pictures for my neighbor ‘Grandma Yehudit’ on Memorial Day in memory of her son, we spoke about what it means to be a soldier. My children and I discussed the difficult reality that there is indeed evil in this world, and we laid out our obligation to always stand up for justice and freedom.
In both America and Israel, our soldiers gave up their life for us to live in freedom. One day a year, they deserve our uninterrupted attention, appreciation, and respect.
Furthermore, our children deserve to know on whose back their freedom lies. If they don’t know where they came from and who paved the path of freedom for them, they can’t know where they’re going nor feel the huge responsibility to pave that path for others.
This American Memorial Day, I am going to sit with my Israeli children and teach them about heroes who gave their lives so that Americans can live in freedom, peace, and prosperity. I will tell them about the 620,000 soldiers who died during the Civil War, which led to the need for this Memorial Day. I will read stories on American heroes to my children, so that they can know what a hero truly is. Because at the end of the day, we’re all connected.
Israel stands with the American people and soldiers in mourning and thanksgiving for your service.