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  • Writer's pictureRabbi Jeffrey L. Falick

HAPPY MEMORIAL DAY?

As long as we're still seeing advertisements for "HUGE MEMORIAL DAY SAVINGS STILL GOING ON!" I assume that it's still okay to talk about the holiday even though it has passed.


Among all these huge Memorial Day savings, sales, and other odd American traditions, I was especially taken aback by the large number of people on social media wishing me a "Happy Memorial Day." Clearly, when it comes to the day that Americans have set aside to remember those who died in service to our nation's defense, we have definitely lost the plot. Like some other American holidays, Memorial Day is in desperate need of some reconsideration.


Though I did not seek a "Happy Memorial Day," I did take advantage of the three-day weekend so generously provided by the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, enacted by Congress in 1968, to watch some afternoon baseball. At precisely 3:00 P.M., I was jolted back into an appreciation for the sanctity of the day when the umpires suddenly stopped the game and  the stadium announcer asked everyone in Camden Yards to rise as Taps was played in memory of our fallen soldiers. Afterward, I learned that all major and minor league teams whose pregame workouts or live games were active at that hour paused in this way.


Their acknowledgment of Memorial Day reminded me very much of the practice in Israel on their Memorial Day of sounding sirens throughout the country to summon a moment of silence. In Israel's case (and this is also done for Holocaust Remembrance Day), everything in the nation comes to a complete halt. No matter where the siren sounds—whether you're on the freeway, in a grocery store, at home, or in school—the custom is to stand as one while the blare continues.


Certainly, many Americans devoted themselves yesterday to remembering the fallen and embracing their families. Parades and ceremonies took place. Veterans and others gathered. But for most Americans, Memorial Day has become what it has been for many years: a day for pools, barbecues, sales, and baseball—the first unofficial day of summer.


There's no denying that we need a little break to kick off summer, but perhaps we should be asking ourselves whether Memorial Day should be the excuse for that. Even if you're not inclined toward gratitude for the sacrifices made by our soldiers, general decency and sensitivity heavily suggest that something's gone awry when we're wishing each other a happy holiday on the day set aside to remember them.


If I've learned anything from the Humanistic Jewish principle of saying what we mean and meaning what we say—including about our holidays!—I'd like to suggest a rethink of Memorial Day. Perhaps we could observe it as they do in Israel, on the day before we celebrate independence? Or maybe we could relocate it to the former Armistice Day on November 11 (now rebranded as Veterans Day), which already serves a secondary role of remembering those who fell before they could ever become veterans. That's when our World War allies in the United Kingdom and Canada observe it.


And, in the U.K. at least, they still launch summer with a Monday holiday in late May. If we can't think of something more suited to our own late spring three-day weekend, we could always follow their example and call it the Spring Bank Holiday. If we wanted to have sales in its honor or wish someone a Happy Spring Bank Holiday, no one could possibly consider us unfeeling or thoughtless.


More to the point, a different day would draw more and better attention to the solemn meaning of Memorial Day—a reminder that freedom is never free and that each and every one of us owes a great deal of gratitude to those who paid the ultimate price for our sales, our pools, our barbecues, or even our right to protest war itself.

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