This Shabbat is one I look forward to every year: on the Friday evening of Veterans Day Weekend, our congregation honors veterans at our service and welcomes them at a Shabbat dinner following the service. Our veterans stand together and tell us their rank, where they served and a bit about their experience. Some remember their serial number! Some still fit into their uniforms or wear their military caps. It never fails to move me.
I'm a baby-boomer: I cut my activist milk teeth on Vietnam protests. I was anti-military, anti-war. I sang protest songs in coffeehouses.
Then I moved to Israel: my husband and then my daughter and then my son went through basic training and served in the IDF. I did a teeny-tiny bit of training and served in our local "Mishmar Ezrachi" / Civil Guard. What happened to the kid who led the Vietnam Moratorium in high school?
I learned about the necessity of maintaining a well-trained, ethical military force. I learned about the intense effort, focus, commitment it takes just to survive military service. I learned to revere those who have served.
So, in my tenth year at Torat Yisrael, we are honoring our veterans with a service and dinner for the tenth time.
Because those who have served have given over months and years of their lives for a greater good.
General Douglas MacArthur was honored by West Point in 1962. Here is an excerpt from his remarks as he accepted the Sylvanus Thayer Award, given “to an outstanding citizen of the United States whose service and accomplishments in the national interest exemplify personal devotion to the ideals expressed in the West Point motto, “DUTY, HONOR, COUNTRY.”
"Duty—Honor—Country. Those three hallowed words reverently dictate what you ought to be, what you can be, what you will be. They are your rallying points: to build courage when courage seems to fail; to regain faith when there seems to be little cause for faith; to create hope when hope becomes forlorn. Unhappily, I possess neither that eloquence of diction, that poetry of imagination, nor that brilliance of metaphor to tell you all that they mean. ... But these are some of the things they do. They build your basic character, they mold you for your future roles as custodians of the nation’s defense, they make you strong enough to know when you are weak, and brave enough to face yourself when you are afraid. They teach you to be proud and unbending in honest failure, but humble and gentle in success; not to substitute words for actions, not to seek the path of comfort, but to face the stress and spur of
difficulty and challenge; to learn to stand up in the storm but to have compassion on those who fall; to master yourself before you seek to master others; to have a heart that is clean, a goal that is high; to learn to laugh yet never forget how to weep; to reach into the future yet never neglect the past; to be serious yet never to take yourself too seriously; to be modest so that you will remember the simplicity of true greatness, the open mind of true wisdom, the meekness of true strength. They give you a temper of the will, a quality of the imagination, a vigor of the emotions, a freshness of the deep springs of life, a temperamental predominance of courage over timidity, an appetite for adventure over love of ease. They create in your heart the sense of wonder, the unfailing hope of what next, and the joy and inspiration of life. They teach you in this way to be an officer and a gentleman."
Please join me in thanking our veterans. Whether drafted or enlisted, they rose to the challenges of training and service and side-lined their personal aspirations and agendas for a significant chunk of their youth. We owe them.
Rabbi Amy Levin
has been Torat Yisrael's rabbi since the summer of 2004 and serves as President of the Board of Rabbis of Greater Rhode Island.