Taps — thoughts on Memorial Day

There are some advantages to being a rabbi’s mother-in-law.

My son-in-law, Rabbi David Vaisberg, leads Temple B’nai Abraham in Livingston, and my husband and I are sheltering in the house he, our daughter, and their young children share in Maplewood. On Monday, Dave delivered the benediction at the Memorial Day gathering in town, and the rest of us got to park really close, watch, and listen.

Any other year, everyone would gather in the park, bask in the glorious weather, stare at the flowers and trees and imagine patterns in the clouds and end up dreaming, far away, at least in mind, as a long list of officials, some more gifted at public speaking than others, would hold forth.

Despite the audience’s best intentions, it’s often hard to stay focused and feel the appropriate levels of gratitude and obligation as the beauty of the surroundings pull our attention away from the platitudes that often seem an inescapable part of the civil religion that we honor on Memorial Day.

I’m not saying that this is right, just that it’s true.

This year it was different. It’s amazing how much a pandemic can focus the mind.

This year, a very few observers stood, masked and socially distanced, and a very few speakers made a very few genuinely brief remarks. (The meeting hadn’t been publicized outside of a few small, carefully selected circles. This year, the goal was to keep the audience down.) There was a Boy Scout honor guard, young bright faces behind big masks. There were elderly veterans, standing gravely at attention next to their cars, masked and gloved. There were very few speakers; the mayor, acting as MC, carefully wiped down the microphone before handing it on.

After Dave spoke, a bugler played Taps.

And I cried, my tears running into my mask.

There were so many contrasts that morning; the beauty of the colors, the youth of the Boy Scouts, the straight-backed white-haired age of the veterans, the masks, the distancing, the elaborate dance of establishing a position that’s safe but still within earshot.

Youth, age, sunlight, darkness. Fear. Hope.


Please may we wake up to a brighter day. Let this plague end. Let us be able safely to drop the masks, take off the gloves, touch and hug and talk face to face once more. If we can really do that, not only physically by metaphorically, we will come out of this wiser and deeper than we were when we went into it.

And if not, well then, we all lose.

About the Author
Joanne is the editor of the Jewish Standard and lives in Manhattan with her husband and two dogs, so she has firsthand knowledge of two thriving and idiosyncratic Jewish communities. (Actually that's three communities, if you also count the dog people.)