Shabbat Greetings from Rabbi David Holtz – May 24, 2013

Rabbi David HoltzAs our nation prepares to commemorate Memorial Day, I share with you the words of Rabbi Roland Gittelsohn, and suggest that you might want to read them at the beginning of whatever gathering you attend this weekend.   Rabbi Gittelsohn was the first Jewish Marine Corps Chaplain and he went ashore with the marines when they landed on Iwo Jima.  Of the 70,000 troops, 1,500 were Jewish.  After the five-week battle was won, Division Chaplain Warren Cuthriell, a Protestant minister, asked Rabbi Gittelsohn to deliver the memorial sermon at a combined religious service dedicating the Marine Cemetery. Cuthriell wanted all the fallen Marines – black and white, Protestant, Catholic and Jewish – honored in a single, nondenominational ceremony. Unfortunately, racial and religious prejudice was strong in the Marine Corps; the majority of Christian chaplains objected to having a rabbi preach over predominantly Christian graves.  Cuthriell refused to alter his plans.  Gittelsohn wanted to save his friend embarrassment. So, three separate religious services were held.  At the Jewish service, Rabbi Gittelsohn delivered the eulogy he originally wrote for the combined service:

 Here lie men who loved America because their ancestors generations ago helped in her founding, and other men who loved her with equal passion because they themselves or their own fathers escaped from oppression to her blessed shores. Here lie officers and men, Negroes and whites, rich men and poor . . . together. Here are Protestants, Catholics and Jews together. Here no man prefers another because of his faith or despises him because of his color. Here there are no quotas of how many from each group are admitted or allowed. Among these men, there is no discrimination. No prejudices. No hatred. Theirs is the highest and purest democracy …Whosoever of us lifts his hand in hate against a brother, or who thinks himself superior to those who happen to be in the minority, makes of this ceremony and the bloody sacrifice it commemorates, an empty, hollow mockery.

 To this, then, as our solemn duty, sacred duty do we the living now dedicate ourselves: to the right of Protestants, Catholics, and Jews, of white men and Negroes alike, to enjoy the democracy for which all of them have here paid the price …We here solemnly swear that this shall not be in vain. Out of this and from the suffering and sorrow of those who mourn this will come, we promise, the birth of a new freedom for the sons of men everywhere.

Among Gittelsohn’s listeners were three Protestant chaplains who were so incensed by the prejudice voiced by their colleagues that they boycotted their own service to attend Gittelsohn’s.  One of them borrowed the manuscript and circulated several thousand copies to his regiment.  Some Marines enclosed the copies in letters to their families. An avalanche of coverage resulted. Time magazine published excerpts, the entire sermon was inserted into the Congressional Record, and the Army released the eulogy for short-wave broadcast to American troops throughout the world.

Rabbi Gittelsohn’s powerful eulogy reminds us of the real reason we have a Memorial Day Weekend.

Shabbat Shalom!

Author: Melissa