This past Friday we observed Veterans Day at my congregation. Several dozen veterans were joined by our youth choir, which sang America the Beautiful in gratitude and tribute. The past, present and future inspired one another.
Also inspiring was a famous sermon we discussed. In 1945 a Jewish chaplain named Roland Gittelsohn accompanied a Marine division onto Iwo Jima. After the fighting had ended, he was asked to deliver a eulogy at a memorial service for fallen soldiers. He agreed, but then was forced to withdraw after a group of chaplains objected to the presence of a Jew.
A Response to Bigotry
Gittelsohn spoke, instead, at a separate Jewish service. Several other chaplains, incensed at the bigotry shown Gittelsohn, attended his separate service. His remarks so impressed them that they had them reprinted and distributed across several divisions.
Then an American congressman got a hold of them and them reprinted them in the Congressional Record. Time Magazine excerpted parts of it. It was read aloud on US Amry Radio.
Today the words remain as poignant and inspiring as ever. I share an excerpt with you in gratitude to the living and in memory of all those who gave their lives in freedom’s cause.
Rabbi Gittelsohn on Iwo Jima
“Here lie men who loved America because their ancestors generations ago helped in her founding. And other men who loved her with equal passion because they themselves or their own fathers escaped from oppression to her blessed shores. Here lie officers and men, Negroes and Whites, rich men and poor, together. Here are Protestants, Catholics, and Jews together.
Here no man prefers another because of his faith or despises him because of his color. Here there are no quotas of how many from each group are admitted or allowed. Among these men there is no discrimination. No prejudices. No hatred. Theirs is the highest and purest democracy…
Whosoever of us lifts his hand in hate against a brother, or who thinks himself superior to those who happen to be in the minority, makes of this ceremony and the bloody sacrifice it commemorates, an empty, hollow mockery.
To this then, as our solemn sacred duty, do we the living now dedicate ourselves: To the right of Protestants, Catholics, and Jews, of White men and Negroes alike, to enjoy the democracy for which all of them have here paid the price…
We here solemnly swear this shall not be in vain. Out of this and from the suffering and sorrow of those who mourn this, will come, we promise, the birth of a new freedom for the sons of men everywhere.”
By Evan Moffic, Rabbi of Congregation Solel in Highland Park.
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