Along with its anomalies as the calendar’s shortest month and leap year month, February offers redemptive characteristics. Among the most prominent is Presidents Day, falling on the third Monday of the month.
Now, you may be wondering, “what’s the big deal about Presidents Day?” Aside from local school closings on account of the regional holiday, the average American pays little attention to Presidents Day.
I would argue, however, that Presidents Day is in fact a very Jewish kind of holiday and one that is indeed worthy of reflection.
What is the connection between Judaism and this commemorative day in February honoring our country’s past leaders? The link lies in a rabbinic value concept known as Zechut Avot.
Zuchut Avot provides a common connection
Zechut Avot roughly translates to English as the “merit of our ancestors” — that is, the merit of our patriarchs and matriarchs.
Throughout Jewish prayer (particularly, the Amidah) we frequently invoke the names of our ancestors such that God might harken to our prayers on account of the merit of our ancestors.
A significant part of our Jewish tradition entails remembering and venerating those of our collective past who have laid the foundation for our present. For instance, where would we be without Abraham, the first Jew?
A significant part of our Jewish tradition entails remembering and venerating those of our collective past who have laid the foundation for our present.
Remembering and memorializing our early leaders keeps us from forgetting our roots and helps ground us in our values.
As Jews, we accomplish this through prayer. As Americans, we honor the founders and leaders of our great nation by observing a holiday on the calendar known as Presidents Day.
Ultimately, neither Judaism nor the United States of America came into being without visionary leadership.
In February, we reflect on that American leadership and we honor it as we approach Presidents Day, keeping in mind the exemplary models of our past as we strive to emulate their good traits.