It was only a decade ago when we were all excited about the rare convergence of the holidays of Chanukah and Thanksgiving, which many referred to as “Thanksgivukkah.” According to Wikipedia, the term “Thanksgivukkah” was trademarked by Dana Gitell, a Boston-area resident along with her sister-in-law, Deborah Gitell. This weekend we are encountering a similar, but more common, convergence of holidays, namely Shavuot and Memorial Day, which occur during the same weekend. Now this is not as big of a coincidence as Thanksgiving and Channukah falling out together. And I do not plan on trademarking the name “Shavumorial” as the Gitells did. But I would like to explore some of the similarities of the themes of the two holidays and why it is fitting to celebrate both holidays together.
The Shofar and the Bugle
When the Torah was given at Sinai, the narrative describes the awesome sounds that coincided with The Revelation (Exodus 19:19):
וַיְהִי֙ ק֣וֹל הַשֹּׁפָ֔ר הוֹלֵ֖ךְ וְחָזֵ֣ק מְאֹ֑ד מֹשֶׁ֣ה יְדַבֵּ֔ר וְהָאֱלֹקְים יַעֲנֶ֥נּוּ בְקֽוֹל
“The blare of the horn grew louder and louder. As Moses spoke, God answered him in thunder.”
The revelation at Sinai was accompanied with the blast of the shofar. In Jewish history, the shofar was sounded at moments when significant events were occurring, whether it was at Sinai, Rosh Hashanah, during war, ushering in the Yovel or in the Beit Hamikdash. The sound of the shofar is rather simple, yet evokes tremendous feelings, marking the significance of a specific time or event.
When a United States service member is laid to rest, the custom is for a bugler to blow Taps, a simple (only 24 notes) yet poignant expression of respect for the fallen. During many Memorial Day observances around the country, buglers will be playing those poignant 24 notes to pay tribute to the many thousands of Americans who made the ultimate sacrifice for our country.
War and Remembrance
The renowned author Herman Wouk wrote a number of best-selling novels including “War and Remembrance,” which detailed the experience of two American families during World War II. The novel was adapted into a television series with a star-studded cast and won a number of accolades.
Throughout American history, we have created holidays to commemorate events that were consequential to our country’s founding as well as the battles to maintain our freedom. We are a country that embraces the values of gratitude and memory.
The Jewish people are also bound to remember significant events in our history, including the revelation at Sinai. One of the six remembrances that many of us mention at the end of our davening each morning references our receiving of the Torah (Deuteronomy 4:9-10):
רַ֡ק הִשָּׁ֣מֶר לְךָ֩ וּשְׁמֹ֨ר נַפְשְׁךָ֜ מְאֹ֗ד פֶּן־תִּשְׁכַּ֨ח אֶת־הַדְּבָרִ֜ים אֲשֶׁר־רָא֣וּ עֵינֶ֗יךָ וּפֶן־יָס֙וּרוּ֙ מִלְּבָ֣בְךָ֔ כֹּ֖ל יְמֵ֣י חַיֶּ֑יךָ וְהוֹדַעְתָּ֥ם לְבָנֶ֖יךָ וְלִבְנֵ֥י בָנֶֽיךָ
But take utmost care and watch yourselves scrupulously, so that you do not forget the things that you saw with your own eyes and so that they do not fade from your mind as long as you live. And make them known to your children and to your children’s children.
י֗וֹם אֲשֶׁ֨ר עָמַ֜דְתָּ לִפְנֵ֨י ה’ אֱלֹקְיךָ֮ בְּחֹרֵב֒ בֶּאֱמֹ֨ר ה’ אֵלַ֗י הַקְהֶל־לִי֙ אֶת־הָעָ֔ם וְאַשְׁמִעֵ֖ם אֶת־דְּבָרָ֑י אֲשֶׁ֨ר יִלְמְד֜וּן לְיִרְאָ֣ה אֹתִ֗י כׇּל־הַיָּמִים֙ אֲשֶׁ֨ר הֵ֤ם חַיִּים֙ עַל־הָ֣אֲדָמָ֔ה וְאֶת־בְּנֵיהֶ֖ם יְלַמֵּדֽוּן
The day you stood before your God Hashem at Horeb, when Hashem said to me, “Gather the people to Me that I may let them hear My words, in order that they may learn to revere Me as long as they live on earth, and may so teach their children.”
As religious Jews, I feel it is incumbent upon us to celebrate our Torah and our illustrious history. But as proud “American” Jews, in a country that has been uniquely hospitable to our freedoms and aspirations, it is similarly important to reflect on those who defended our ability to maintain those freedoms and aspirations.
Memorial Day: Saluting Our Heroes
At this time of year, I enjoy sharing stories of heroism of America’s finest, who bravely served their country and made the ultimate sacrifice to help defend and preserve our freedoms. I visited my friend Janice Lustiger several months ago who was sitting shiva for her mom, Edith Baldinger, z”l. Janice showed me some mementoes, pictures and newspaper clippings that her mother had saved. I came across a letter written by Janice’s uncle, Staff Sergeant Carl Goldman, who served our country during World War II. He wrote the following letter to his family the night before he lost his life flying a mission over the English Channel:
Dear Mom, Pop, Frances, Edith, Marion, Leon and Aaron:
I am going on a raid this afternoon or early in the morning. There is a possibility I won’t return. In any event, please do not worry too much about me as everyone has to leave this earth, one way or another, and this is the way I have selected.
I was not forced to go to gunnery school and even after I arrived overseas I could have gotten off combat had I chosen to do so. If after this terrible war is over, the world emerges a saner place to live; if all nationalities are treated equal; pogroms and persecutions halted, then I’m glad I gave my efforts with thousands of others for such a cause.
Wish I had time to write more but sometimes the less said, the better, so goodbye – and good luck – always, Carl
Personally, I am sad that the Memorial Day holiday has evolved into a day seemingly more focused on appliance sales, barbecues and trips to the beach rather than on our precious lost service member. Even as I retype the words to this remarkable letter, I get choked up once again, in awe of an authentic American hero. I am sure Carl did not expect that his words would be recalled nearly 80 years later. And I am certain he did not expect someone he never knew would be saying Yizkor with him in mind this Shavuot prior to Memorial Day. May the neshama of Shlomo Kalman ben Yosef Baruch receive an aliyah in shamayim and may the memory of his heroism live on this Memorial Day weekend, and always.
Jonathan D. Caplan, a former Wall Street executive, is president and founder of wealth management firm Caplan Capital Management, Inc., with offices in Highland Park and Hackensack. He holds a BA from Yeshiva University and an MBA in finance from New York University Stern School of Business. You can find other recent investment articles by Jonathan at www.caplancapital.com/blog.