The Honor in Memorial Day

by Zehorit Heilicher, Tastemaker in Residence


As I embraced life in America, one of my greatest cultural hurdles has been Memorial Day.

Memorial day in my home country is a collective somber day of grief and reflection, anchored in ceremony and ritual. (See my previous article) My initial experience of the American Memorial Day was puzzling to me. It appeared to be a day of sales and picnics detached from meaning and context. We attended barbecue dinners and fun brunches, where no mention was made of why this day has been set aside on our calendars.

Through the years of living here I have learned to recognize the complexities of the American attitude towards our military. Closeness to and familiarity with the people who serve create a sense of respect and caring that is difficult to replicate when even the concept of a military service is foreign. Since Israel has a mandatory service, most citizens have served in one capacity or another and share that common and unifying experience. That collective understanding is much harder to achieve in a voluntary military, such as in America.

As family we created a merger of a few of my native traditions with the American BBQ and family picnic. I did reject other traditions: I refuse to shop on Memorial Day – no matter how great the Mattress deals are… (What is that all about??) Every year we do get together with friends and/or family for an early potluck dinner. We begin by sharing a toast in honor of the men and women in uniform, following that with a few seconds of silence in recognition of the sacrifices made by them. During the meal, the sharing of military stories is encouraged among the group, regardless of the veteran’s age. We have been fortunate to hear stories from WWII, Korea, Vietnam and the Gulf as well. Some were poignant, others horrifying and some even funny. As much as possible, the full spectrum of the military experience is shared, educating the younger generation and placing our veterans in the center of the gathering.

This year we will gather at my sister in law’s home, where a few veterans will be present. I look forward to sharing the day with them and hearing their stories.