As some of us gear up for barbecues, beach visits, and some binge watching of Arrested Development, it’s always useful to have a reminder of why we’re getting a day off, especially if there is no standard ritual involved.

Today I came across this essay by Rabbi Joshua Hoffman in the Jewish Journal that, for me, captures an important sentiment ahead of Memorial Day.

One legend originates the Kaddish as a memorial prayer when the great teacher of his generation died and his students carried him from the Beit Midrash to the grave.There they recited the words, “Y’hei Sh’mei Rabbah Mevorach L’Olam u’l’Almei Almaya,” to express their profound sadness and gratitude. It is to say that the greatness of God’s Name is borne out of a teacher’s influence. Anytime we recite the Mourner’s Kaddish; the words are manifest not only in sadness, but in appreciation for a shared wisdom.

In honor of Memorial Day, I’d like to introduce you to my newest teacher, US Army Veteran SSGT Stephen E. Sherman. At 92 years old, Stephen is one of the few living African American [WWII] serviceman. He now dedicates his time helping homeless veterans. We met waiting in a line one morning, and in the midst of light conversation, he drew closer, looked me deeply in the eyes and shared, “I have seen what your people went through when I was in the war. I was there when they liberated a camp in western Germany. I will never forget the look on those people’s faces when we told them they were free.” It was a powerful and brief moment that honestly took me aback. We shared an understanding from an intensely significant time in his life of the burden and responsibility of memory. Searching for a response, I returned with words of gratitude for him and his service to our country. Our chance encounter changed the outlook of my day, and now, even several weeks later, my appreciation for the power memory holds in binding the living together.

Check out the whole thing. And thank a veteran too.

Reflections on the first mourner’s kaddish in honor of Memorial Day [JewishJournal]