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What it Means to Be American AND Jewish

11/07/2019 10:40:01 AM


Rabbi Sam Trief

Vietnam, 1967. Rosh Hashanah 5728. Jewish Marines made camouflage kippot from tent materials, as their way of marking the High Holidays, while simultaneously fighting in the Vietnam War. I heard this story while traveling through Vietnam. This image has stayed with me as a powerful representation of what it means to be both American and Jewish. 

As it has likely become apparent by now, I relate to my Judaism through the concept of legacy and teaching others through the Torah of our own lives. Some of the most impactful legacy stories I have heard are of those who have served in the United States Armed Forces. For instance, the tale of Rabbi Michael Aaronsohn. In April 1917, while a student at the Hebrew Union College -Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR), Aaronsohn enlisted to serve in WWI. His parents were furious with his decision to enlist. However,  it was Aaronsohn’s faith in God that inspired him to move forward with his plans. 

Sadly, while trying to save a comrade during the Meuse-Argonne offensive, Aaronsohn lost his vision due to a stray artillery shell. This did not stop him from chasing his dreams. He returned to HUC and received rabbinic ordination. Along the way, his sister took notes for him, so that he was able to pass his classes. Aaronsohn was part of the endeavor to translate the Torah and the Talmud into Braille, making our tradition more accessible to those who have impaired vision. 

As Veterans Day approaches, we think of Rabbi Aaronsohn and all those close to us who served in the armed forces. Today and always, we support our Temple Sinai family as they tell their personal  war stories. We are blessed to have our own, Cary King, share with us his tale from the Vietnam War this Shabbat from our bima.  We come together on Veterans Shabbat to remind each other what it means to be both a Jew and an American and how these two identities coexist. 

In our Torah this week, we read the portion Lech Lecha. In this portion, Abraham embarks on his epic journey. Like our veterans,  he answered a call. He selflessly left his home to enter a new land, and face all the dangers that entailed. It was a decision that laid the foundation for the Jewish people and our thousands-year old survival story of adapting and thriving.
On this Veterans Shabbat, and every day, we salute our veterans. And to all our Temple Sinai Veterans  we offer this prayer: 
Compassionate God, Source of Mercy, we pay tribute to those who have served our country, to express our gratitude for their courage and selflessness, both those among us today and those of generations past. This nation, built by those born of this soil and those who have come here from all corners of the earth, is on a continual journey toward its destiny. 
May we never let down those who have served in defense of this country.
May we uphold the values of freedom, of the inherent dignity of every human being, by our own right conduct, by the kindness and tolerance we show to one another.
May we lead the world by example, and become, in the words of Isaiah, a light to the nations.
Then will the labors and sacrifices of these veterans be honored not in words alone, but by our deeds. (BY: RABBI DR. LAURENCE MILDER).

Sat, July 4 2020 12 Tammuz 5780