Students, veterans on a journey of connection
The time was ripe for our customary refreshing of the American flags at Adath Jeshurun Cemetery located in Allison Park, and excitement peaked with the checking in of veterans and board members. Then, cars started arriving and middle schoolers poured out, filled with enthusiasm for the annual CDS/Adath Jeshurun “Salute to Our Veterans” event. Teachers, parents and other adults were eager to begin. Welcomes were exchanged as were the procedures for the afternoon, including directions on how to respect the American flag — never to touch the ground.
Adath Jeshurun wanted to educate all on the procedures of a military army funeral. Students volunteered to roleplay: Some were soldiers who called the orders, another played Taps.” They were taught the proper manner to salute, the importance of presenting the American flag to the grieving family, the value of honor and respect to those who served our country and the value of community service, especially for those who can no longer ask for help.
CDS Middle School social studies teacher Chaim Steinberg reinforced historic information, including the fact that Decoration Day, now Memorial Day, was first recognized as a holiday in our very own Boalsburg, Pennsylvania, by three women in 1868.
A tent had been erected to shelter chairs for three veterans who represented World War II, Vietnam and 9/11, while students began their tasks in small groups.
One youth held a bundle of new flags, one held the old flags and one inserted a flag in each respective grave. Small groups enabled the youth to ask questions of veterans, such as: “Did you have different experiences within your units because you were Jewish?” and “What was it like to be Jewish in World War II as our boys were defending democracy while in the homeland of their forefathers?”
Two seventh-graders, both repeat attendees, said they felt privileged to hear the vets’ stories and were inspired by their bravery and courage in the war. They want to come back to honor the Jewish veterans who gave their lives and are proud to be Jews and of their heritage. They realize how fortunate they are to be living in the U.S.
Another student, who has come to this event for two years, does not have family buried at A.J.C., but said that every single one in her family went into the military. She comes to honor others who did the same. “I go to place flags because I feel that’s my obligation,” she said. “Those people helped America. They helped it thrive.”
Quiet blanketed the ridge looking down upon the oldest section of the cemetery as all students and adults lined in single file. The first note of “Taps” was blown by one of the students and all slowly and respectfully raised their hands to salute and stiffly stood at attention until the conclusion of the presentation.
Lauren DelRicci, ex-Navy veteran, summed up her interactions with the youth, stating that they will be attributes to America; they were respectful, disciplined and interested in their heritage and of the Jewish faith. She felt honored herself to be part of the proceedings. DelRicci said too often children are not aware of the sacrifices that have shaped our nation and created the very freedom we breathe every day. pjc
Renee Abrams is past-president of Adath Jeshrun Cemetery.