Let’s take Memorial Day back from the military. True, war has been the means of reducing millions of human beings to distant memories, but why should we reduce our national day of mourning to just those who have died in the line of duty as soldiers?
This Memorial Day, I want to honor my ancestors, at least as far back as my family memory goes. On both sides of my family, my ancestors were hounded out of Europe by the dogs of anti-Semitism and greed. Under great pressure, facing an uncertain future in a faraway land, in a time when leaving home very likely meant never again seeing or speaking with family and friends, they bravely gathered what they could carry and set off to try to establish a better future for their descendants.
They succeeded. My family has prospered here in America. On my father’s side, the three surviving children of my Russian immigrant great-grandparents became a doctor, a lawyer and (my grandmother) a teacher. On my mother’s side, the German emigrants of the late 19th century became comfortable businessmen, doctors and dentists.
The Depression took its toll on my family, but by and large they did well, creating generations of hard-working, honest, loving people who entered energetically into building the American Dream.
Just because none of them died in war doesn’t mean we shouldn’t honor them on Memorial Day.
Perhaps we should turn Memorial Day into something more akin to the Meso-American Day of the Dead. Instead of a day of military-style parades, it should be a day to visit ancestral grave sites and lovingly remember those who have passed on.
This Memorial Day, I raise a toast to the departed, to peace, and to life!