Temple Beth Joseph of Herkimer, New York

A Conservative Synagogue in New York’s Mohawk Valley

“When Duty Whispers Low, Thou Must…”

November 2016

We have all been caught up in the election of our new president. Some will be glad of the outcome, others will not. This month I should beg a healing for this deeply fractionated nation; as a great leader once opined: "A house divided against itself cannot stand." However, a mere 3 days after Election Day is Vereran's Day. And, while I am dubious of any national healing resulting from the election, perhaps paying homage to our nations veterans can begin the process.

We like to think that peace is the rule & that war is the exception, but the facts do not bear this out. In our supposedly civilized modern times, in our United States, peace is illusive. In the 1940s we fought Hitler & Hirohito, in the 1950s we fought in Korea. The 1960s found us in Viet Nam, & in the 1980s, there was Libya, Grenada, & Panama. The 1990s brought no relief, there was Desert Storm & Kosovo. And today, we fight terrorism in Afghanistan & Syria. In fact, even if we go back to the French & Indian Wars of the 1750s, we are hard put to find too many decades of peace.

That's a lot of fighting & a lot of fighting means a lot of dead soldiers & sailors. And those that come home from the wars dream of peace for their children & their grandchildren. This month we set aside a day to remember all those who have served this country with honor & sometimes fell in defense of its values & its liberties. We honor those who fought that we may live.

In 1921, an unknown World War I American soldier was buried in Arlington National Cemetery. This site, on a hillside overlooking the Potomac River & the city of Washington DC., became the focal point of reverence for America's veterans. Similar ceremonies occurred earlier in England & France, where an unknown soldier was buried in each nation's highest place of honor - in England, Westminster Abbey; in France, the Arc de Triomphe. These memorial gestures all took place on November 11, giving universal recognition to the celebrated ending of World War I fighting at 11AM, November 11, 1918 (the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month). This day became known as "Armistice Day."

Armistice Day officially received its name in America in 1926 through a Congressional resolution. It became a national holiday 12 years later by similar Congressional action. If the idealistic hope had been realized that World War I was "the War to end all Wars," November 11 might still be called Armistice Day. But only a few years after the holiday was proclaimed, war broke out in Europe. Sixteen & a half million Americans took part. Four hundred seven thousand of them died in service, more than 292,000 in battle. Realizing that peace was equally preserved by veterans of W.W. II & Korea, Congress was requested to make this day an occasion to honor those who have served America in all wars. In 1954 President Eisenhower signed a bill proclaiming November 11 as Veterans Day. Though a law passed in 1968 changing the national commemoration of Veterans Day to the 4th Monday in October, it soon became apparent that November 11 was a date of historic significance to many Americans. Therefore, in 1978, Congress returned the observance to its traditional date.

It seems, therefore, entirely appropriate to take some time out between electing our leaders & celebrating Thanksgiving Day, to laud & honor the men & women of the American Armed Services who have served honorably & will continue to serve faithfully so long as there is a need, that America should always enjoy the freedoms for which our mothers & fathers so nobly laid down their lives & fortunes. So, to all of you veterans who donated your youth to our well being, I offer the following poem:

In an age of fops and toys,
Wanting wisdom, void of right,
Who shall nerve heroic boys
To hazard all in Freedom's fight –

Break sharply off their jolly games,
Forsake their comrades gay
And quit proud homes and youthful dames
For famine, toil and fray?

Yet on the nimble air benign
Speed nimbler messages,
That waft the breath of grace divine
To hearts in sloth and ease.

So nigh is grandeur to our dust,
So near is God to man,
When Duty whispers low, Thou must,
The youth replies, I can.

(Voluntaries III, Ralph Waldo Emerson)

To all of you who have served in the Armed Services, thank you for the gift of freedom you have given us. May you all be blessed.

שלום וברכה
-shalom uverakha-
(peace and blessing)
Rabbi Ronald B. Kopelman