Jews have a long history of U.S military service.
Sephardic plantation-owner Francis Salvador became the first Jew to die in the American Revolutionary War when he fell fighting the Loyalists in South Carolina in 1776. Abraham Lincoln appointed Jacob Frankel as the first Jewish chaplain during the Civil War, to serve the growing number of Jews fighting for the Union. During World War II, roughly 500, 000 Jews served in the fight against the Axis. And, most recently, at least 50 Jews died fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq. The Forward profiled 37 of them in 2011.
This legacy is all the more significant given that this year’s Memorial Day coincides with Shavuot Yizkor observances.
The Jewish Welfare Board’s Jewish Chaplain’s Council, a group made up of rabbis from the Conservative, Orthodox and Reform rabbinical associations as well as four active duty Jewish chaplains, has put out a call for synagogues to mark the occasion by using the traditional prayer for those who have died to pay tribute those who fell in the line of duty.
“The JWB Jewish Chaplain’s Council by unanimous consent ereby resolves that Shavuot-Yizkor observances include the memorialization of those who fell in our defense and the defense of our freedoms, And hereby requests that all US rabbis and congregations invite Jewish veterans of America’s Wars to participate in Shavuot-Yizkor services that will memorialize those who have made the supreme sacrifice while serving in the Armed Forces of the United States,” the organization wrote in a statement.
Yizkor, which means “remember” in Hebrew, is a special prayer for the departed recited four times a year on the last day of Passover, on the second day of Shavuot, on Shemini Atzeret and on Yom Kippur.
The Jewish Chaplain’s Council call to arms has resonated with the rabbinical organization it represents.
The Central Conference of American Rabbis will be sharing blogs of two military chaplains on ravblog.org and has called for military chaplain’s photos to share on social media.
The Rabbinical Assembly distributed a special prayer composed by the Jewish Welfare Board to Conservative rabbis around the country.
“We’ve sent it out to all of our synagogues,” said Judah Isaacs, director of community engagement at the Orthodox Union. “We feel very strongly about it and we’ve been promoting it heavily. Because Memorial Day is not a day that is very observed in the United States, this gives a unique opportunity. Yizkor coming on that day really brings the two together. “
Anne Cohen is the Forward’s deputy digital media editor. When she’s not looking for the secret Jewish history of Voodoo in New Orleans, or making lists about Ruth Bader Ginsburg, she writes for The Assimilator. She graduated from the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism with an M.S. magazine concentration in 2012.