Fulfilling the Covenant

On Shavuot we celebrate the giving of the two stone tablets of the covenant containing the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai. This was the moment when the people of Israel agreed to become God’s people and live by a set of rules and obligations. Each year we reenact this moment by reading the Ten Commandments in synagogue, signaling our acceptance of this covenant as well.

This year, Shavuot also falls on Memorial Day weekend, which represents another covenant carved in stone as we remember those who gave their lives to defend the United States. These service men and women made a commitment to risk their lives for their country with the understanding that the nation would remember and honor them if they were forced to make the ultimate sacrifice.

One of the ways that US government fulfills its obligations to service people is providing a monument at their grave. At the Adath Israel cemetery at Fountain Lawn Memorial Park you can find some of these veteran graves, including a medal of honor recipient. These footstones have slightly different fonts from other graves and of course mention the occupant’s veteran status.

Since the Korean War, the military has brought the deceased back home, but before that time soldiers who died overseas were buried in the countries where they fell. In the midst of a war so far from the United States, it was not often possible to get all of the information about the soldier correct. As a result, some Jewish men were buried in these military cemeteries under a cross rather than a star.

An organization called Operation Benjamin has a mission to correct this error. It aims to identify graves of Jewish soldiers marked by crosses and replace them with Jewish stars. The process can take many years and requires the participation of family members, who can be hard to track down, but over the years they have changed 23 headstones and given survivors a precious gift.

Today we read the Torah either from a scroll handwritten on parchment, from paper books, or on digital screens. The stone tablet long ago disappeared as a method learning God’s will, but we still carve the names of those who have died on stone so that they will be remembered long after they, and those who remember them, are gone. It’s only fitting that they be honored with the correct symbol for all of eternity as we fulfill our covenant.


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