Veterans Day is on November 11. While this is a day of secular observance, it’s a great opportunity to honor the veterans in your kehilla. Below are five programming ideas, courtesy of Jo-Anne Tucker Zemlak, the Kehilla Relations Manager for USCJ’s Southeast Seaboard District. *Some of these ideas require a minimum of six months of planning and preparation (i.e. begin in May for a program to be held the following November).

For each of the five ideas, focus on veterans from every American conflict from 1939 to present, paying special attention to integrating the Jewish with the American. Identify individuals who have a history with the military and ask them to share their stories and memorabilia. You could also include Holocaust survivors in your programming. As you plan your programs, pay attention to all details from décor (red, white, and blue—what else?!) to food (as American as apple pie or the all-American hot dog!). The opportunities are limitless.

Idea I

Honor and highlight senior veterans and connect them to younger households. This can be an opportunity for younger people (bar/bat mitzvah or confirmation age) to interview the elders about their experiences and create oral histories to be shared at a Shabbat service scheduled adjacent to Veterans Day.

This could also be a year-long program, wherein tweens/teens and seniors meet several times throughout the year. End the program with the tweens/teens telling the stories of the vets standing under a tallis held by the seniors at Shavout.

This option also opens channels for surrogate grandparents to be matched.

Idea II

Help children take stories gathered from veterans and do a creative expression contest, highlighting “their” veteran’s story. This could be an art project, or you could bring in a “professional storyteller” to help the kids. This could also be told through dance, poems or pictures. This idea could also allow for community involvement in finding volunteers to help the children.

Idea III

Create a series of articles or stories of shared war-time experiences to be featured prior to the Shabbat service adjacent to Veterans Day. Highlight various veterans’ biographies, possibly entitled “Veterans amongst us,” over a four to five month period leading up to Veterans Day. These could be published in a booklet or highlighted weekly in the kehilla newsblast.

Idea IV

Use this as an opportunity to specifically commemorate World War II, both veterans and Holocaust survivors. Consider:

  • Including music from synagogues of pre-war Germany and feature children’s and adult choirs at a Shabbat service
  • Encouraging people to come to services in uniform and be recognized and saluted
  • Offering special blessings to vets
  • Commemorating Kristallnacht during the sermon
  • Focusing tributes to families whose family members died in the Holocaust—honoring veterans along with three/four generations of families who are synagogue members who had a previous generation lost in Holocaust

Idea V

Another tweak or addition can be to serve a non-Shabbat luncheon to honor veterans, with the menu reminiscent of a “Victory Garden” and have background music of the war era, and/or a sing-along (complete with song sheets) of song of the era (i.e. “It’s a Grand Ol’ Flag”, etc.) Ask vets to bring their memorabilia to the luncheon and share with the students. Have the kids learn the songs and sing to the vets.

Every member of your kehilla has an interesting story to tell. Veterans Day is an opportunity to learn something new about your community members and to make sure critical parts of history are not forgotten.

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