Your email is not valid
Recipient's email is not valid
Submit Close

Your email has been sent.

Click here to send another

An Army Chaplain’s Memorial Day of Hope

How one cantor gained a new view of the holiday, and a belief in a brighter future

Print Email
The author at the Camp Buehring memorial. (Courtesy of the author)
Related Content

Davening for Doughnuts

Most soldiers in Basic Training attend services just for the snacks. The lemonade was good, but it was the Torah that kept me coming back.

The soldiers participating in the run had been given colored glow-sticks (chem-lights, as they’re called in the Army), and it was the flickers of these colors in my peripheral vision that roused me out of my trance. I watched as they finished the final mile and came into view of the memorial, and you could feel them realize that they had unexpectedly come upon a holy place. Sweaty and winded from the run, visible only by the colored chem-lights that dangled from every part of their running clothes, they explored the memorial in whatever way seemed most natural in the moment. Groups of them clumped together to watch the slideshow while others wandered around the glowing cemetery, silently communing with memories of the friends they would never see again.

The service was short, not more than 25 minutes. Conducted entirely in the dark, illuminated only by the soldiers’ chem-lights, the podium, and the slideshow, it was completely without formality or fanfare. We recited the 23rd Psalm, read passages from the Prophets and the New Testament, and listened to a short memorial message from the command chaplain. A quartet of female soldiers sang “Amazing Grace,” and I chanted El Male Rachamim, after which an honor guard fired memorial volleys and a bugler played taps to conclude the ceremony.

But then something happened that was truly as magical as it was spontaneous. As the crowd dispersed, a soldier walking among the rows of white lanterns removed his chem-light and placed it inside one of the paper bags, which now glowed with color. Another soldier followed and another and another. The whiteness of death and loss literally started to dissolve in a rainbow of memory and hope. “Like the appearance of the bow that is in the cloud on the day of rain, so was the appearance of the brightness all around,” described the Prophet Ezekiel, in the haftorah portion for Shavuot. “Such was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord.”

I had always associated Shavuot with Revelation and Memorial Day with duty, but I had never associated either of them with hope. And yet when Ruth’s eyes saw nothing but sorrow and death in her family, her heart believed in a brighter future ahead. Her embrace of Judaism was more a prayer for what could be than a reaction to what already was. As I watched the chem-lights twinkle, I realized that was the soldiers’ prayer as well—for a time when friends and loved ones would never be separated by war again. Perhaps in a strange way it’s easier to be optimistic after you’ve actually sacrificed or lost something. I hadn’t known. As it turned out, God did create that Memorial Day specifically for me.


Like this article? Sign up for our Daily Digest to get Tablet Magazine’s new content in your inbox each morning.

1 2View as single page
Print Email
Chaya says:

Like the reading of names at a Yizkor service, or the Vietnam Memorial with its engraved individual names (how Jewish is that? – from an Asian-American), a memorial that individualizes the lost is always more riveting. Kudos to whoever came up with the idea of the lanterns.

I had never participated in a Memorial Day ceremony until our daughter was in our high school marching band. They participate each year in a short parade to a very old cemetery in our town (old enough to have held an observance of every Memorial Day since the holiday was first established), along with Boy Scouts carrying flags and members of a civil war re-enactment group. At the cemetery there is of course the Star Spangled Banner, other singing by a men’s vocal group (Battle Hymn of the Republic), a reading of “In Flanders Fields”, the reading of Logan’s Charge (the 1868 proclamation of the first Memorial Day), a student speech and a speech by an invited veteran. The ceremony closes with the firing of guns in salute, and Taps as a call-and-response between two trumpets by members of the band, with the response coming from one trumpet concealed beyond a hill.

Though the aforementioned daughter has now finished her first year of college, and will be in California visiting my sister and her husband, my husband and I will be there.

roqefyrodiw says:

мy rooмαтe’ѕ нαlғ-ѕιѕтer мαĸeѕ $88 every нoυr oɴ тнe ιɴтerɴeт. ѕнe нαѕ вeeɴ lαιd oғғ ғor 8 мoɴтнѕ вυт lαѕт мoɴтн нer pαycнecĸ wαѕ $12709 jυѕт worĸιɴɢ oɴ тнe ιɴтerɴeт ғor α ғew нoυrѕ. reαd мore нere Zap2­2­.c­o&shym&shy

Beautiful. I am so grateful for chaplains like yourself. Jews in the military are traditionally underserved by clergy, and to score someone as thoughtful is a real boon to the troops.
Maj. Stuart Wolfer was a good guy, and his was a terrible loss.

Marcy says:

sing more~write more. this was very poignant.

physician says:

A truly beautiful and moving piece – Thank you

Bill Pearlman says:

I can’t imagine a more noble thing for a rabbi or cantor then to be in the field with our military. If you do nothing else in your life know that you did a good thing here.

Felix Tejeda says:

my fri℮nd’s st℮p-sist℮r mak℮s $75/hℴur ℴn th℮ int℮rn℮t. Sh℮ has b℮℮n ℴut ℴf a jℴb fℴr t℮n mℴnths but last mℴnth h℮r inℂℴm℮ was $17118 just wℴrking ℴn th℮ int℮rn℮t fℴr a f℮w hℴurs. R℮ad mℴr℮ h℮r℮….. WWW,

Mutual respect, guided by the “GOLDEN RULE”, is the key to the survival of HUMANITY.

Until all of HUMANITY accepts it and lives by it, HUMANITY will continue to destroy itself!

Liz Dietz, EdD, RN says:

I did not know they named the cantorial school after Debbie Freidman, that is wonderful, I was the last nurse at Camp Swig when the camp closed in 2008 and moving up to Santa Rosa, CA and changing name to Camp Newman – Debbie had been a staff member at Camp Swig and certainly put her stamp of music and singing onto our camp and others. David may she and others provide you the voice to do what you do for the troops. I am a veteran LtJG, and my husband retired as Col USArmy. It certainly was in intriguing experience as Jews in the military. Shalom to you. Liz Dietz


Your comment may be no longer than 2,000 characters, approximately 400 words. HTML tags are not permitted, nor are more than two URLs per comment. We reserve the right to delete inappropriate comments.

Thank You!

Thank you for subscribing to the Tablet Magazine Daily Digest.
Please tell us about you.

An Army Chaplain’s Memorial Day of Hope

How one cantor gained a new view of the holiday, and a belief in a brighter future

More on Tablet:

How Peace Negotiator Martin Indyk Cashed a Big, Fat $14.8 Million Check From Qatar

By Lee Smith — One Middle Eastern nation does indeed pay to influence U.S. foreign policy. Hint: It’s not Israel.