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A New Way to Commemorate Memorial Day

As we end this Memorial Day, I wanted to relate my own practice for this day.
Each year I now reach out to someone I know from a country where our soldiers went to fight. Sometimes it is a friend from Japan, or Germany, a former student from Iraq or Syria. This is the story of how that came to be.
I worked at Drexel as an English as a Second Language teacher and administrator for 25 years.  One spring in my classroom of about 15 students were speakers of these native languages. German, Hebrew, Arabic, French,  Korean, Japanese, Chinese.
We always talked about holidays, since language is as much about cultural landmarks as it is the words and grammar. One spring as Memorial Day was approaching, they asked what it was. I curtly, too curtly and with a slight laugh said “it’s the official beginning of summer when the pools open and people go ‘down the shore’.
They knew better than that and kept probing. So I said, yes,it is time to remember those who had died in wars. Then the real conversation began. Each of them talked about a holiday from their country that commemorates a war, a struggle, a battle.   They were often talking about an event directly related to the country of a friend sitting next to them because in that room were students sitting side by side from
  •  Algeria and France whose major armed conflict  spanned from 1954 to 1962  leading to Algeria’s Independence.
  • Lebanon and Israel where there was constant strive along the border.
  • Germany and France who were bitter enemies since the 16th C and were at war in 1870 and the World War II
  • Korea and Japan who had  fought on and off since the 7th C
I relate the history of these countries who had been enemies because as I looked out at these students making lifelong friendships in peacetime, I thought it was inconsiderate of me to shrug off the serious meaning of this holiday.  But, I also wanted to bring the idea of peace to the day, the kind of peace that was right in front of me in that class and many others I had taught.
This year, I wrote to my student from Syria who every year sends me greetings for the Jewish High Holidays.
This is my commemoration for Memorial Day. We  can honor the dead but  also lift up the living generation that they may know peace in their time, our time. 
Keyn Y’hi Ratzon-May it be so.
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