It's BBQ Time?: Are Americans Celebrating Memorial Day Wrong?

This is a guest post by Emily Cutts.
I am heading over to my aunt and uncle’s house for a BBQ to enjoy my day off. Wait, Monday is a holiday isn’t it? It’s Memorial Day. It’s weird that we party on  Memorial Day. In Israel it is completely different. Yom Ha’Zikaron is a day dedicated to remembering and honoring those who have died.
I am not saying that no one in America memorializes on Memorial Day, I just think it is rare compared to Israel.
As Jews we are often reminded of those who have lost. Every Friday night and Saturday morning at services we read the names of those who have died. At weddings we crush a glass to remember the destruction of the first temple. But when it comes to Memorial Day, granted a secular holiday, celebrations fall short. Even Israel’s Independence day, Yom Ha’Aztma’ut, is in the shadow of Yom Hazikaron.
An Israel reporter summed up his feelings on the two holidays;

“There is no loud music to be heard, no picnics at the beach, and no Memorial Day sales at the mall. In talking with Israelis, there is a profound sense of introspection and hopefulness for what the future will bring.
It is difficult to find anyone in Israel who has not been affected by the death of a loved one or friend in the years-old Arab-Israeli conflict. This contributes to the disconnect between Diaspora Jews and those living in Israel. As an American Jew, I am grateful to experience this holiday from the Israeli perspective.”

Israel celebrates, or rather commemorates, Memorial Day by the sounding of a siren the night before (remember, holidays start at sundown.) The following day the sirens sound again marking the beginning of ceremonies. People stop whatever they are doing and stand in silence for one minute. To me this is amazing. People literally stop. They stop their cars and get out of them to stand and listen to the siren. If you don’t believe me watch this video.


Here in the states nothing quite so dramatic happens.
Memorial Day is not just a day, it is a weekend. People use this time to go to their cabins or get work done around their houses. Stores have sales and flags are flown at half-staff until noon when they are raised to top staff. There are ceremonies at cemeteries but I have never been to one.
I am in no way trying to say that how we celebrate Memorial Day in the States is wrong, it is just different. Okay, maybe I am trying to say the way we celebrate is wrong.
My parents told me that Memorial day wasn’t always celebrated this way. According to them there used to be parades and events at cemeteries. They tell me that some places this still happens but where I live it doesn’t. The way I celebrate Memorial Day, and yes I use celebrate not commemorate, in no way pays tribute to those who have fought for my freedom and the freedom of this country.
But why is Memorial Day celebrated/commemorated so differently in the U.S. and Israel? I could speculate that it’s because here Memorial Day is a weekend which tends to make anything less special if it last longer. Or maybe it is because we have never really fought a war on American soil. As Americans we have never really known the fear of bombs flying overhead, spending nights in bomb shelters or seen tanks rolling down the street. Yes, as a country we have been attacked but the wars that have resulted from the attacks (WWII, War on Terrorism) have not taken place on our home soil. There are a myriad of reasons why the two countries celebrate a similar holiday differently but that is what makes the world such an interesting place.
So while most of us won’t be heading to the cemetery, we will be doing something. What are you doing? Do you think that there is a problem with the way Americans celebrate Memorial Day?
(Photos: Beverly & Pack, Mess of Pottage)