J.J. Goldberg

Memorial Day, My Very Personal National Holiday

By J.J. Goldberg

  • Print
  • Share Share
Uncle Morey

Sometimes you have to stand back a bit to observe how history is unfolding before your eyes. Sometimes backing away brings you even closer.

Take Memorial Day. It started after the Civil War to commemorate the war’s fallen, but soon came to honor the fallen in all America’s wars. Then in 1968, Congress moved it from May 31 to the last Monday in May, creating a long weekend and effectively transforming it from a day for honoring soldiers into a day for shopping and starting the beach season. (And this at the height of the Vietnam War!)

That, in turn, gave rise to another annual ritual: Berating each other over how Memorial Day has become a day for shopping and the beach and forgetting about the soldiers. The latest twist is the Memorial Day ritual of honoring Israel for actually remembering its soldiers on its Memorial Day. This is partly because Israel observes its Memorial Day and its Independence Day (the cost, the cause) consecutively rather than five weeks apart, like ours. Also because Israelis experience their wars more immediately and more universally (though that seems to be changing in various, distinct ways).

That said, I was pulled up short yesterday by a powerful Facebook post that brought home the immediacy of Memorial Day as a universal American experience. Deborah Winter wrote:

Just wanted to say thank you to my Uncle Raymond who died at age 23 fighting the Germans over Holland. You never got to come home, marry, have children, grow old. I thank you for your sacrifice.

And this made me think of my Uncle Morey, my mother’s kid brother.

Morey Moseson was killed in the Battle of the Bulge, the last great campaign of World War II, on February 15, 1945, three days before his 18th birthday. I never met him, but he’s been a big part of my life for as long as I can remember. He was 23 months younger than my mother, and his death left a giant hole in the family that never really got filled.

The Moseson kids, Morey and Lee

My older sister was born three years later, on February 14, and was named Maurie Ann (Goldberg) in his honor. (Her initials were quickly turned into Mag, and she’s been Maggie ever since). I was born 21 months after that (and promptly addressed by my initials, like my sister), further sharpening his ongoing presence in our lives and our sense of our generation as a memorial to the previous one. We didn’t talk about him all that much, but he was always there.

For years I’ve wrestled with his memory, with the ways my siblings and I do and don’t keep him and his legacy alive. He was buried in Europe — we suspect the family couldn’t face the enormity at the time of bringing him home and standing before his grave. I took my own kids to visit his grave at the U.S. military cemetery in Luxembourg, where he’s one of 118 gleaming white stars amid an immaculate field of 5,000 white crosses. I’ve taken to saying a separate Yizkor prayer for him on the holidays. It’s been a large and very personal, private struggle.

Katie Homan

But this year, this weekend, Deborah Winter gave me a new way of remembering and honoring him, thanking him and, in a way, welcoming him home. It feels right. Part of Memorial Day is understanding what the wars meant, of making the personal universal and vice versa, and understanding that wars do end.

Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: World War II, Morey Moseson, Military Cemetery, Memorial Day, Luxembourg, Independence Day, Facebook, Battle of the Bulge, Deborah Winter

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.

Find us on Facebook!
  • The Jewish bachelorette has spoken.
  • "When it comes to Brenda Turtle, I ask you: What do you expect of a woman repressed all her life who suddenly finds herself free to explore? We can sit and pass judgment, especially when many of us just simply “got over” own sexual repression. But we are obliged to at least acknowledge that this problem is very, very real, and that complete gender segregation breeds sexual repression and unhealthy attitudes toward female sexuality."
  • "Everybody is proud of the resistance. No matter how many people, including myself, disapprove of or even hate Hamas and its ideology, every single person in Gaza is proud of the resistance." Part 2 of Walid Abuzaid's on-the-ground account of life in #Gaza:
  • After years in storage, Toronto’s iconic red-and-white "Sam the Record Man" sign, complete with spinning discs, will return to public view near its original downtown perch. The sign came to symbolize one of Canada’s most storied and successful Jewish family businesses.
  • Is $4,000 too much to ask for a non-member to be buried in a synagogue cemetery?
  • "Let’s not fall into the simplistic us/them dichotomy of 'we were just minding our business when they started firing rockets at us.' We were not just minding our business. We were building settlements, manning checkpoints, and filling jails." What do you think?
  • PHOTOS: 10,000 Israel supporters gathered for a solidarity rally near the United Nations in New York yesterday.
  • Step into the Iron Dome with Tuvia Tenenbom.
  • What do you think of Wonder Woman's new look?
  • "She said that Ruven Barkan, a Conservative rabbi, came into her classroom, closed the door and turned out the lights. He asked the class of fourth graders to lie on the floor and relax their bodies. Then, he asked them to pray for abused children." Read Paul Berger's compelling story about a #Savannah community in turmoil:
  • “Everything around me turns orange, then a second of silence, then a bomb goes off!" First installment of Walid Abuzaid’s account of the war in #Gaza:
  • Is boredom un-Jewish?
  • Let's face it: there's really only one Katz's Delicatessen.
  • "Dear Diaspora Jews, I’m sorry to break it to you, but you can’t have it both ways. You can’t insist that every Jew is intrinsically part of the Israeli state and that Jews are also intrinsically separate from, and therefore not responsible for, the actions of the Israeli state." Do you agree?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?

We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.