Memorial Day, observed this Monday, was created to honor the memory of American soldiers who gave their lives for their country. Too often it is marked more by barbecues and consumer sales than with the somber dignity it deserves, a time to consider and give thanks for the men and women who serve in the U.S. Armed Services here and around the world to protect the homeland.
The most encouraging aspect of the visit to Israel this weekend of Pope Francis is that such a papal pilgrimage to the Holy Land has become expected, if not routine, in recent years. Francis is the third consecutive pope to make the trip — the first foreign journey of his reign — following John Paul II in 2000 and Benedict XVI in 2009.
Show a Jew a silver lining, the old saying goes, and he looks for the cloud.
But one does not have to look far for clouds in a week when Israel’s former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was sentenced to six years in jail for bribery, a new low point in political corruption in the Jewish State; former 92nd Street Y executive director Sol Adler apparently took his life after being dismissed last year for his involvement in a corruption scandal, a personal and communal tragedy; and the Anti-Defamation League, in its most comprehensive survey on anti-Semitic attitudes around the globe, found that 26 percent of the more than 50,000 people polled “are deeply infected with anti-Semitic attitudes,” which translates to an estimated 1 billion people in all.
This week the Jewish state underwent a unique annual ritual, blending its most solemn and joyous national holidays. Throughout the country Israelis mourned the loss of more than 25,000 soldiers, on Yom HaZikaron this past Monday — and then celebrated the 66th anniversary of statehood on Yom Ha’Atzmaut the very next day. That rhythm represents a striking reminder of the Jewish tradition of balancing opposite emotions and, sometimes, realities — seemingly a requirement in a society that has achieved remarkable social and economic stability while facing existential threats from its enemies.
Taking stock as the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations deadline passes this week, one can ask whether the two sides are any closer to peace than they were when Secretary of State Kerry launched the energetic initiative last summer. The good news is that despite the endless recriminations and implied threats — like Mahmoud Abbas saying he may dissolve the Palestinian Authority and Benjamin Netanyahu talking of withholding funds for the PA — the Israeli homeland has remained secure, with few acts of terror.
The recent Chag HaSemicha (holiday of ordination) in Washington Heights, with 230 rabbinic graduates of Yeshiva University (classes 2011-14) taking center stage, was a much-needed shot in the arm for an embattled institution, and a reminder of its vitality and importance in the American Jewish community.