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April 30, 2001
Yom HaZicharon (Jewish Memorial Day) greetings from Jesse

by Jesse Bacon


Staining the Tablecloth
a day of remembrance
by Jesse Bacon

My favorite part of the Passover seder (ritual meal) was when we poured out droplets of wine with our fingers. My mother would read the names of the plagues in Hebrew I didn't realize she spoke. My parents stressed that our joy was not complete. We were spilling our wine out because Egyptians had died in order for us to be free. I read a footnote to the Passover story where a churlish God chastises his unruly mob of angel hooligans for their poor sportsmanship: "My creatures are perishing and you rejoice?"

As a child growing up in the rural Wisconsin of the militaristic 1980's, this was a major boost to my tentative jewish identity. I recoiled in horror at the various Memorial Day concerts I was forced to play with the school band. It wasn't bad enough that these events fell after the end of the school year. They were profoundly embarrasing. The guns fired off by the stilted aged veterans were twenty one too many, so far as I was concerned. It was the whole idea of the massive armies of dead created by those veterans that shamed me. They were utterly absent from the proceedings, just as the particles of wind or drops of rain are not mentioned when memorializing the dead of a hurricane. But as my parents reminded me, we were different than the nationalistic Germans and Scandinavians. We were the only ones who remembered.

I grew up 60 miles away from synagogue, we had to pick and choose holidays. So it makes sense that I never heard of Yom HaZicharon, Memorial Day in Hebrew. My parents wouldn't have gone for that one, much preferring the ribaldry of Purim, the gorging of Hanukah, and the liberation of Passover. So it was a shock when I received an invitation to a ceremony for this Jewish Memorial Day. it seemed a contradiction in terms, but a contradiction that is becoming disturbingly familiar. I will probably not attend the somber festivities, but I can imagine what will occur. Our mythical guns will be fired into the air. And nothing will be said of those in their line of fire, the Palestinians. As for the fallen Israeli soldiers, none of the necessary words will be spoken of how unnecessary their deaths have been. Of the arrogance that dooms them again and again to their fate. How we could prevent all these deaths immediately, this very afternoon, by turning from our forced march.

I must admit I am glad to be humbled. I know now that Jews are no better than Germans or Scandinavians. But there are gentler ways to teach this then emulating their worst excesses. Instead we could emulate the best things in our dinner stories. By ensuring that the Palestinian Trail of Tears does not reach its gory conclusion. We can move beyond mere drops of wine and dash the entire cup out and refill it anew. We would still be the same flawed humans we were before. But no longer haunted.