Jews don't have history, they have memory. This is the claim made by Avram Infeld, a thought-leader in the Jewish world today. Even the word for history in Hebrew is toldote תולדות—the root of this word is the same as the word for birth, child, son, daughter, and children. When we speak about the "history" of the Jewish people, we are talking about the shared memory of our family. Whereas in Hebrew "American History" is called historia amerikanit, the subject of Jewish history is called "toldote Yisrael." When we learn the stories of our people, we are supposed to relate to it as though it was our own memory. This goes all the way back to the Pesach Seder with the commandment to see ourselves as though we were the ones who left Egypt. Jewish history—or memory—calls for us to see ourselves as the next link in the chain, a part of a grand tradition of storytelling that leads to feelings of mutual love and respect, a connection spanning space and time.
Here we are, approaching another Memorial Day. A day too often celebrated with appliance sales rather than its initial purpose. And yet, many of us have personally experienced or seen the videos of the customs on Yom HaZikaron, Israel's Memorial Day. Yom HaZikaron is a solemn day spent with family and friends marked by the moment of silence taken throughout the country to remember those who died in defense of our ideals. This is the way that the Jewish people tell our story, with the names of the fallen.
Since 2000, there has been a national moment of remembrance at 3:00pm on Memorial Day. Just like in Israel, the call is for all to pause for one minute in memory of those who died protecting the United States of America. And Jewish Americans have been a part of this courageous history since our country's inception. The first known Jewish American casualty of war was Francis Salvador, a Sephardic Jew who died on August 1, 1776; let us remember him and all who died in our defense this Memorial Day. While we will surely spend time this weekend with family and friends, take a minute on Monday at 3:00pm for those who gave everything so that we might enjoy this day.