As a professional Jewish educator, I recognize the dilemma we all face in that we have too little time to teach too many things to our children. As a member of our modern society, I recognize that many people have to work on national holidays, that many businesses choose to remain open, and many of is take advantage of that fact.
I am not one who subscribes to the idea that religion must, perforce, be counter-cultural, although that is a role it often can and perhaps should fill.
I am one that believes that synagogues, and other religious institutions, should be supportive of families (whatever their makeup) and should encourage opportunities for family togetherness. Legal holidays are often such opportunities,
Lots of synagogues, including some I work for, are fully open today, November 11, 2008 - Veteran's Day. Some are having religious school classes, some are not. Some are conducting regular business, some have their offices closed. Some are having business meetings, some are not.
I'd like to suggest that, for the reasons outlined above, perhaps several others, and one other very important one, Veteran's Day ought to be a day that all American synagogues treat as a holiday.
Closing synagogues on Veteran's Day can be counter-cultural, and supportive of families. So many other businesses choose to remain open, that it could be a symbol and statement to congregants and employees alike that the synagogue values and respects this American holiday. (On the other hand, it could also feed in to the predominant culture and its penchant for simply treating Veteran's Day and so many other holidays as an excuse for shopping orgies.So perhaps, instead of closing, or operating normally, they could hold programs for families and others, and nothing else, on this day-except for regular services as is their custom.) For those families lucky enough to find both parents and children with a day off, it's a wonderful opportunity for family time and family activities - perhaps something centered around remembrance and recognition of veterans.
Now, as a very dovish person, I too, have some disdain for a holiday so closely tied to war. On this day, I pray that there should never again be another war, or the need for any more soldiers to become veterans or casualties. Nevertheless, I cannot, in good conscience, dismiss completely the idea of thanking and recognizing veteran's for their service. After all, my father was one of those who served.
There is yet another reason why synagogues ought to consider either being closed or only having special Veteran's Day programming-and it is one that can be important to the Jewish people. It is the concept of marat ayin, how it looks in the eyes of others. If it's a good enough reason to not eat poultry with dairy, it ought to be a good enough reason to recognize Veteran's Day. How does it look to people, Jews and non-Jews alike, who hold Veteran's Day as a sacred and special day in their hearts, who consider it a patriotic act to recognize and remember those who have served, to observe that the organized Jewish community does not hold this holiday in the same regard?
In our history, the question of the loyalty of Jews to the countries where they live has often been used as a tool to foment hatred against us. Why give those who would do such things another opportunity to libel us?
So do it to be counter-cultural, do it to support families, do it so it appears right in the eyes of others. However you slice it, as American Jews, our institutions ought to find a way to show appropriate respect for Veteran's Day as a normative Federal holiday. It should be a holiday for employees, and an opportunity for programs at the synagogue. (If that seems like an oxymoron, it is. However, as a synagogue professional, I would willingly give up the holiday off to engage in programs at the synagogue that are apropos to the holiday.)