The Normandy Kaddish Project
This past September, my wife and I visited the Normandy beaches, including the American Cemetery at Omaha Beach. Visiting the cemetery was an emotional experience. The cemetery is immaculately maintained and, in some ways, very beautiful. But we were overwhelmed by the vastness of more than 9,000 gravesites and the realization that nearly all the soldiers buried there were killed as young men. I originally thought that on this visit, our second to the site, we would be in better control of our emotions than we were the first time but, surprisingly, we were not.
This time, for some reason, we focused more sharply on the graves marked with Stars of David. There are 149 of them scattered among the crosses, each one indicating the burial site of a Jewish soldier killed in action in Normandy. Our visit was just after the High Holidays and we noticed that some, but not all, of the Jewish graves had stones or coins on them, signifying, of course, that someone had been to visit. But not all of the graves had stones or coins upon them, and we realized that some of these men have neither visitors nor anyone to say Kaddish for them.
When my wife and I returned home, I was struck by the thought that Jews in the United States should be thankful for those among our people who fought and gave the ultimate sacrifice in Normandy. It is our responsibility to remember these fallen soldiers by saying Kaddish for them annually in every synagogue in the United States on the Shabbat that falls closest to June 6th.
Although I myself am not a World War II veteran, I did serve in the Army Reserves and was impelled to begin the Normandy Kaddish Project as a tribute to my dad and the millions of others in the Greatest Generation. My dad served in the Merchant Marine during World War II, but did not go overseas. He was active in the Jewish War Veterans of the U.S. for many years and together with millions of others who served during World War I and World War II fought wars that needed to be fought and by winning them, secured the freedoms we all enjoy today.
This year, Friday, June 6, will mark the 70th anniversary of the invasion of Normandy and the battle at Omaha Beach. With the help of my rabbi, Michael White of Temple Sinai of Roslyn, and our congregation’s president, Howard Berrent, the Normandy Kaddish Project is well underway. We already have asked hundreds of temple presidents and rabbis to participate, and the response has been overwhelmingly positive. One of my law partners, Bob Sugarman, the chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, is spreading the word of this initiative to the Conservative and Orthodox communities, where the response has been equally enthusiastic.
I hope you will join us by encouraging your congregation to participate in the Normandy Kaddish Project, and that on June 6, 2014, the 70th anniversary of D-Day, you will remember and recite Kaddish for the Jewish soldiers who gave their lives on the beaches in Normandy - including the 149 whose graves are at Omaha Beach - and elsewhere, so that we might live in freedom.
Alan Weinschel is a member of Temple Sinai of Roslyn. To participate in the Normandy Kaddish Project, find the full text of the Kaddish here and recite it on your own or with your Jewish community on the Shabbat of Friday, June 6.