June 6th marks the 70th anniversary of D-Day and the Battle at Normandy and Omaha Beach. On June 6, 1944, 160,000 Allied troops landed along a 50 mile stretch of beach on the French Coast to fight Nazi Germany. General Dwight D. Eisenhower said of the operation that it was a crusade in which “we will accept nothing less than full victory.” By the end of the day the Allied forces gained control of the heavily fortified beach. But the cost was more than 4000 young lives.
This past September, Alan Weinschel of Temple Sinai of Roslyn, visited Normandy Beach with his wife. They were overcome by emotions when they approached the cemetery and saw the vastness of over 9000 markers with the names and ages of the young men who lost their lives. Their eyes started to focus on the markers with Jewish stars on the top. As he described in his article, The Normandy Kaddish Project on ReformJudaism.org, Alan and his wife started to notice the rocks and even coins left at some of the graves, a reminder that someone visited the site. But there were so many graves left untouched – no rocks or coins of those who came to visit them. They realized there were many whose names are no longer on the lips of those who came after. Many of these young men never had a chance to have a family of their own. But we are their family.
Each week, we recite the names of those in our congregation and in our families who we remember this Shabbat and over the next week. And then I say, ‘we stand together as we remember those who are no longer with us – for those who gave their lives al Kiddush ha’shem, for the sanctification of God’s holy name and for those who have no one to say Kaddish for them. For they are a part of our family.’
70 years ago 4000 men gave their lives and we know that at least 149 of them were Jewish. It is possible that more were more, but these are the names we have. These are the men who we take into our hearts with our own, for they may not have anyone to say Kaddish for them. They are the heroes who stormed a beach to protect our freedom and to fight one of the greatest evils against our people that we’ve known in our present history. They deserve to be remembered as do all of those who have served our country and died for our freedom.
This Shabbat, when we rise to say Kaddish for our loved ones let us take these men into our hearts as well and ensure that they are not forgotten. And may their memory be a blessing.