This year we mark Memorial Day on Monday, May 30, and many of us often falter in finding ways to set aside this day. So much of American ritual for the day that commemorates those who have made the ultimate sacrifice for our country centers on sales, picnics and going to the beach.
While there’s nothing wrong with enjoying a day off from school or from work that way, we also look to find meaningful ways to capture the spirit of Memorial Day. JCCs that want to create some way to mark the loss of those who served in the United States military from their Jewish community can print this In Memoriam poster provided by JWB Jewish Chaplains Council, a program of JCC Association.
JCCs can also share stories of those who have lost their lives in service, like the one included here about Capt. Benjamin Sklaver, who served in the U.S. Army. Rabbi Harold Robinson, director of JWB Jewish Chaplains Council, has provided us with his recollections of a young man brimming with idealism, Jewish pride and a desire to serve a greater good, who was lost all too soon.
There are other stories to tell. You can search the internet for stories from any of the names on this list. Share them throughout the JCC, on social media and with your email lists. As Jews, we understand the power and importance of remembering. On this Memorial Day, let their memories be for a blessing.
If you want other ideas for creating a day of meaning, contact Rabbi Abbi Sharofsky, deputy director, JWB Jewish Chaplains Council.
A very special soul
Rabbi Harold Robinson
The world, and specifically the American Jewish community lost a very special neshama, or soul, with the death by enemy action in Afghanistan of Capt. Benjamin Sklaver, 32, who served in the United States Army.
Ben, from Hamden, Connecticut, was a product of Mishkan Israel there, and served as the vice president of NFTY NE (National Federation of Temple Youth, Northeast) in 1994-1995. He was a graduate of both Tufts University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts.
While employed at the Centers for Disease Control, he joined the Army Reserve in 2003 as a civil affairs expert and deployed to the Horn of Africa where he was touched by the high rates of child mortality linked to dirty drinking water. After his demobilization and return to civilian life, Ben founded ClearWater Initiative, an organization based in New Haven that sought to provide potable water in underdeveloped Ugandan villages. In northern Uganda, Ben was known as “Moses Ben.” According to ClearWater Initiative’s website, the organization has constructed wells for more than 6,500 people since 2007.
Ben moved back to New England to be near his fiancée, who had moved north after working on the Washington staff of the Union of Reform Judaism staff. Ben was again mobilized, even though his Army Reserve commitment was nearly complete. He might have been released from the mobilization since it would keep him on active duty well past his six-year obligation, but in loyalty to his unit and their nation-building mission, he chose to accept the mobilization, and was still on duty past his initial commitment.
Ben worked in a civil affairs unit, building and sustaining local leadership and building basic infrastructure such as water points and schools—similar to the work he had done in Uganda. On Oct. 2, 2009, Ben was killed by a suicide bomber while on foot patrol in the Afghan village of Murcheh, in southwestern Afghanistan, according to Lifeline, a partner with ClearWater Initiative. As a high school youth group (NFTY) friend of my son Yair, and daughter Dori, Ben had been a guest in our home, where his gentle presence infused any gathering with warmth, and his humor, often self-depreciating and thoughtful, always advanced the conversation. He was kind, humble, tall, blond, athletic, and clever—a committed Jew, and though unassuming, his presence filled a room. He was an immense credit to his family, his community, our people and our country a very special and gutte neshama (good soul).
Yihi zecher tsadeek livracha. Remembered among the righteous.