Memorial Day, a prayer by Rabbi Avraham Samuel Soltes (1954)

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All kind and merciful Father,
in whose sight
a thousand years
a re but as a day,
as we stand assembled
here
in this peaceful city
on this beautiful day,
we are deeply moved
by memories,
and spurred
by hopes.

We remember
the fresh young lives
whose sacrifice
has desolated our homes
and broken our hearts.

We remember
the dreams
that died with them,
the plans
that with them
passed away.

Yet
though these memories
move our hearts
to grieve
and our eyes
to weeping
we know,
O Heavenly Father,
that
not by tears
nor by lamentation
can we offer fitting tribute
to these saviours of our Republic.
‘Twas not for weeping
nor for monuments,
for parades
nor for speeches
that they gave their lives.

Our sons
died,
that we
might live:
that we might live
as friends and neighbors,
bound together
by invisible cords of democracy
and brotherhood.
They died
that we might be helped
to bring closer
the day
of which Scripture has spoken:
“Proclaim liberty throughout the land
unto all the inhabitants thereof. . .”

Our sorrow is soothed,
O God,
in the knowledge
that they are now at Peace
with Thee.
But, can we be at peace
as long as
the hopes
for which they offered
their immeasurable devotion
are endangered or unfulfilled?

Help us,
O Father,
to understand
that there are no easy short-cuts to
democracy;
that the freedoms which Thy
children won
at such supreme cost,
short days ago,
cannot be preserved for us
today
by self-anointed inquisitors,
who would destroy the very liberties
for which they gave their lives,
in the name of
speedily saving the Republic.
For he who strangles liberty,
be it even
with a flag,
is as guilty of murdering her
as though
he wielded a hammer and sickle.

Help us to appreciate,
rather,
the slow wisdom
of the system
our Founding Fathers established,
wherein
an epoch-making decision
of our highest court
can bring
the dream of centuries
closer to fulfillment.

Aid us to see,
O Master of the Universe,
that this democracy
with which we have been endowed
by the blood
and the wisdom of generations
is never perfect;
that its essence is
“unfinished business”,
which one generation
passes on to another
like the torch at Marathon.

Help us
to do our part,
in this
our blessed community,
to bring its democracy
closer
to the heavenly ideal,
that we may be truly
proud
of the banners we wave
that we may march
in our patriotic rhythms
this day
with heads held high,
knowing
that as we parade
the spirit of our departed heroes
marches beside us,
genuinely proud of our achievements
and satisfied
that their supreme sacrifice
was not made in vain.
Amen.

“Memorial Day” was first published in Rabbi Avraham Soltes’ collection of prayers, תפלה Invocation: Sheaf of Prayers (Bloch 1959) and dated to May 30, 1954.

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