Rabbi Aaron drew energy from the diverse audience, which included numerous veterans of the Army, Navy, Air Force and Coast Guard, leading them through prayers, hymns and service songs, including some tailored to the holiday. After one hymn, he thanked the crowd for its response: “I felt like an Israeli Dean Martin up here!”
Aware his congregation for the evening included relatively few Jews, Rabbi Aaron explained the meaning of each prayer and sought to relate shared experience:
“It still amazes me. I had a couple Israeli friends ask, ‘How can you do it? How can you live in a country where you’re only 2 percent of the population? Aren’t you afraid?’
“Our military represents every part of this society. Every race, gender, nationality, religion. We’re all e pluribus unum. We are mighty together one. We are United States.”
“No! I’m not! Because there are men and women [of the military] who are going to protect my right to go to synagogue, to read Torah, to learn Hebrew. And I’m willing to give my life so Catholics can go to church, [so] Hindu, Muslim, everyone can worship as they see fit.”
In 1790, President George Washington wrote to the Hebrew Congregation in Newport, Va., to remind them, “You’re always going to have a place at the table. It’s your right. That vision is still alive and well because of the people here tonight.”
Some are happy with results of the recent presidential election, Rabbi Aaron acknowledged, and some are not.
“One of the things that’s beautiful about tonight is that there are things in this country that are above politics. And one of the [institutions] that is above politics is our military.
“Our military represents every part of this society. Every race, gender, nationality, religion. We’re all e pluribus unum. We are mighty together one. We are United States.
“The United States military didn’t change before the election and it didn’t after. It’s one of the things we can take pride in. Veterans are people we can take pride in as one of the greatest features of our country. And that’s something we can all be proud of, not matter what political agenda we may have.”
“The United States military didn’t change before the election and it didn’t after. It’s one of the things we can take pride in. And that’s something we can all be proud of, not matter what political agenda we may have.”
On this day, the prayers for healing, Psalm 23 and the Kaddish took on particular significance while remembering wounded and aging veterans and those who have fallen in battle throughout the nation’s history.
Rabbi Aaron said, “In the Jewish faith, there is a prayer we sing at funerals and at times of memorial called the Mourner’s Kaddish. The irony of this prayer is that it actually never mentions death. It only mentions God.
“In war, people [suffer] survivor’s guilt. Why was it my best friend? Why was it the guy to the left or the right of me? Why did I survive? What made me so special?
“We can dwell on questions like that or we can go forward and pay tribute and honor those who died by living our lives to the fullest. That will be the greatest testament to their sacrifice. I think that is why we do this prayer.”
Moving forward, after a contentious election and a reflective Veterans Day, Rabbi Aaron said, “Together, in the spirit of commonality, in the spirit of fraternity that binds all Americans together, let us pray for our country.”