Reflections on Remembrance: Memorial Day and More

Memorial Day is approaching, and while I’m usually swept up in the parades, beach trips and community cookouts, this year I’m reflecting more on the “memorial” part of the holiday. So often the real meaning and purpose of the holiday is lost, but my I have a renewed appreciation for the remembrance aspect, thanks to my recent extraordinary experience during another memorial holiday, Yom Hashoah – Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Last month I was lucky enough to represent the ISJL at a program with Ilse Goldberg, the only living Holocaust survivor in the state of Mississippi, in honor of Yom Hashoah. The program was in conjunction with the Museum for the Mississippi Delta, which was hosting The Power of Children: Making a Difference exhibition in its Greenwood, Mississippi location. The exhibit features the stories of Anne Frank, Ruby Bridges, and Ryan White, encouraging the audience us to explore issues of isolation, fear, and prejudice throughout 20th-century history and today.

"MIL" with some mic assistance from Gail
“MIL” with some mic assistance from Gail

When the director first contacted me about the exhibit coming to Greenwood in May, I thought it was a wonderful opportunity to plan a program to coincide with Yom HaShoah, especially knowing that one of the Jewish community members, Ilse Goldberg, was a survivor. Ilse is ISJL Board Member Gail Goldberg‘s mother-in-law, and affectionately goes by “MIL.” Holocaust education is not my typical area of expertise, so I was grateful and excited by  the opportunity me to explore the variety of rituals around Yom Hashoah.  Working together with the Goldberg family, we put together an inclusive program that not only memorialized those who were lost during the Holocaust, but also expanded on the themes highlighted in the exhibition, reflecting on the lessons it holds for our lives today.

The program was certainly inclusive: Dozens of Greenwood community members piled into the museum, packing the program room to capacity. With a standing-room-only crowd, about one hundred people listened intently to Ilse’s story, and together honored the memory of those who had perished. Mrs. Goldberg shared her story of fleeing Nazi Germany, staying briefly in Shanghai, China, and ultimately making her home in Memphis and later Greenwood. Local community leaders and clergy participated in the ceremony to signify that only together as a community can we ensure the respect of all peoples, and work to promote human dignity and confront hate whenever and wherever it occurs.

The crowd to hear survivor Ilse Goldberg
The crowd to hear survivor Ilse Goldberg

The program was short and sweet, lasting less than an hour. But so many people made a choice to deviate from their regular routine, to take a moment of reflection and remembrance to honor a time and place in history that still has real implications in our lives today.  I was blown away by how many people showed up, waiting in line to visit with “MIL.” I got the sense they sincerely feel so lucky to have her in their community, and they were excited to show their appreciation.

Days of remembrance, like Yom HaShoah or this weekend’s Memorial Day, are marked on our calendar to encourage action. Newly inspired for an action item this weekend, I found the National Museum of American Jewish Military History. They are asking for Jewish organizations throughout our nation to read the names of 56 identified Jewish service people who have given their lives in defense of our country in Iraq and Afghanistan  in memorial. You can find them all in the  list of the Fallen Heroes.

In remembering the names of our fallen brothers and sisters, we succeed in honoring their memories in perpetuity. I will consider them, and the hundreds of others who have given their life. May we never forget their memory.

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