This past week, in the middle of yet another month consumed in a pandemic, we all-too-quietly commemorated a vitally important day replete with meaning and Jewish values – and yet it is not a Jewish holiday. As home decorations and advertisements on television and social media have already made the transition to focus our attention on Thanksgiving, this past week we marked national Veteran’s Day. And while the current Hebrew month of Mar-Cheshvan is, in fact, noted to be devoid of any holidays, Thanksgiving and Veteran’s Day are entirely aligned with our Jewish values and I feel these days must be recognized by American Jews and celebrated with zeal and commitment.
Our great traditions of textual analysis have trained into my head and heart that placement and juxtaposition have meaning. Why does one biblical commandment or story come directly before the next seemingly unrelated Torah story or commandment? Because there is meaning in that placement to be unpacked. The date of Veteran’s Day finds its origin in the original Armistice Day that marked the end of the first World War, and yet the notion that Veteran’s Day and Thanksgiving occur so close together should not be lost on us. In Israel, national Memorial Day deliberately and directly precedes the celebrations and joy of Independence Day so that everyone understands that the celebrations can only occur because of the sacrifices of those we just memorialized. We should apply the same transitive property to our American holidays this month. We should inject a true sense of giving thanks to Veteran’s Day and a true sense of gratitude for our armed forces for the sacrifices they make that allow us to have a national day of Thanksgiving.
In Akiba Yavneh Academy and schools like ours, we make sure to educate around a day like Veteran’s Day – where we can focus on our Jewish values of appreciation, social responsibility, and being of service to others. School assemblies, writing a reflection in journals, listening to veterans, even over Zoom, occur in many schools throughout our great nation. I want to suggest that as a society, as individual families, we need to ask ourselves if we do enough to highlight a day like Veteran’s Day. Do we talk at home about the nobility of sacrifice and courage that are the hallmarks of our veterans? Do we decorate the house or create any family customs or rituals around the day? Do we perhaps take out pictures, or albums of family members that served our great nation, or do we take an annual family trip to our local police station or fire station to express our appreciation? Or, G-d Forbid, does it go unnoticed? Have we trained our children that when they see someone wearing a veteran’s cap at the supermarket (when we used to go with our children to the supermarket), or recognize a veteran in some other way, that they should politely go over and say ‘thank you for your service’? Do our children see this behavior from us?
Just one weekend ago, we lost former Chief Rabbi of the UK, Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks of blessed memory, and admittedly, I am still processing the loss of such eminent rabbinic leadership. One of the central themes of his prolific writings and teachings focuses on the beauty of Judaism as a societal construct, and how our Judaism is so central to our very humanity. To paraphrase his words that I hold dear, he sees the instinctual human ability to recognize and articulate gratitude – to say thank you – as one of the very transcendental qualities that make us human. It is that nobility of our creation that we express when we commemorate Veteran’s Day, and, later this November, Thanksgiving.
Let us commit ourselves and our community to both recognize and regularly express our appreciation. We gain by saying ‘thank you’ out loud, and the recipient gains tremendously when we share that appreciation for those selfless choices and courageous individuals that protect our great nation, our way of life, and the freedoms we all enjoy. Let the juxtaposition of these two deeply powerful days of Veteran’s Day and Thanksgiving and the Jewish lessons they can convey not be lost on us. Let us commit to set an example for ourselves and our children by walking over to the next veteran hero we see, and gently tell them we see them, we appreciate them, and we thank them. Let our Jewish value of giving thanks be the hallmark of these United States of America.
With humble appreciation and sincere gratitude for our veterans,
 Office of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs. “Veterans Affairs.” Go to VA.gov, 20 Mar. 2006, www.va.gov/opa/vetsday/vetdayhistory.asp.
 To Heal a Fractured World: The Ethics of Responsibility, by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, Continuum, 2005, pp. 5.