From: (name withheld)
Subject: very saddened yesterday to see the lacunae for Jewish vets
Date: December 19, 2021 at 7:50:38 AM MST
To: “[email protected]” <[email protected]>
Hello Mr. Weinstein. I participated in Wreaths across America yesterday at Arlington Cemetery, and it was a wonderful experience. It happens that I was the only Jew in my collegial group of 10 or 12 coworkers participating together. When we observed that, try as we might, wreaths we laid at the stones of Jewish vets kept getting removed by ardent volunteers who believed they were doing right to remove them, I explained to some of those self-appointed policing volunteers that there was no reason to excude Jewish veterans from this mark of honor for their patriotism. As a Jew, I am especially respectful of and impressed by these veterans’ choice to be laid to rest at Arlington, rather than among family members, accessible for visitation by family members, close to their homes. To me it says that these veterans, like myself, identified themselves as Americans foremost. They were proud of that identity. And since wreaths are to my knowledge (bat mitzvahed in 1963 in a Conservative synagogue) NOT a Christian ritual or decoration, but rather an American one, I felt pained by the continued and pointless struggle to have them honored with their brothers in arms, the fellow Americans beside whom they chose to lie in eternal rest. When I researched the matter this morning and saw that your organization was apparently the authoritative source informing the decision taken at Arlington Cemetery and Wreaths across America to default to denying wreaths to the Jewish veterans, I felt compelled to write you to express my disagreement with your judgment and disappointment in your activism.
Thank you for hearing my voice. Sincerely, (name withheld)
Response from MRFF Supporter Rabbi Joel Schwartzman
Thank you for your email and your thoughts. It’s a relief to receive one that isn’t filled with anger, filth and threats.
As this wreath laying business is taking place at this time of year instead of the more appropriate time of Memorial Day when the President lays a wreath at the ceremony at Arlington, i find this whole thing suspect.
We Jews honor our dead by placing stones on the grave markers and headstones. We may bring yahrzeit candles and light them grave side. This is certainly the accepted custom in Israel. We don’t place wreaths on graves.
I simply disagree with your take on this project. Were I to find a wreath on my uncle’s grave, I’d be offended and angered. My rabbinic uncle fought in the Pacific during WWII. He’d come up out of his grave and push the wreath to some other grave, as would I.
I don’t condone this business any more than I would eating pork. These untimely wreaths have an association with Christmas which I and many other Vets, both dead and alive, don’t observe. It appears to be pushing unwanted symbols onto non-Christian graves.
You are free to believe what you will. However, please know that there are many of us who think that this is a violation of our First Amendment, Freedom of Religion, rights under the Constitution of the United States, the country I so proudly served.
Rabbi Joel R. SchwartzmanCh, Col, USAF (Ret)