by Rabbi Fred Guttman
In 2004, Ted Koppel the host of Nightline decided to devote the last 20 minutes of his program to reading the names of more than 700 soldiers who had died in Iraq. Sinclair Broadcast Group, which owns the local ABC affiliate, refused to show the program.
As rabbis at Temple Emanuel, Rabbi Andy Koren and I were outraged about this decision. Apparently, Sinclair felt that by reading these names, Koppel was in some way criticizing the policies of the Bush Administration concerning Iraq.We felt differently. We felt that no matter what one thought concerning Iraq, no matter whether one was a Democrat or Republican, these men and women deserved to be remembered for their sacrifice to our country.
As Jews, we are pretty good at remembering. More than 3,000 years ago, a wicked Pharaoh tried to kill our sons. We remember this deed and our subsequent liberation for Egypt and have continued to do so every year through the festival of Passover. We remember our departed loved ones on the anniversary dates of their deaths by reciting the Kaddish prayer.
As such, in response to Sinclair’s slighting of our service personnel, and together with the approval of our lay leadership, we began to read the names of fallen servicemen and women at each Sabbath service. We have done this since 2004 and over the years have read thousands of names, names of brave men and women who were asked or volunteered to serve this country and who gave their lives doing so. Each one of the soldiers represented a world unto themselves. Each one was sorely missed by family. Each one represented dreams which would go unfulfilled.
Over time, other congregations, both Jewish and Christian began to read these names as well.
I mention all of this because last week was the first week since we started reading the names that the Department of Defense reported no casualties over the preceding seven days. Thank God!
I am reminded of Jeremiah chapter 31 wherein the prophet wrote that, “Rachel weeping for her children; she refuses to be comforted for her children, because they are no more.”
God’s response to her is, “There is hope for your future, says God; and your children shall return to their own border.”
I am hopeful that all of us are grateful to our servicemen and women who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan. With gratitude in our hearts, let us recall those who have fallen. May the time come soon and speedily when our soldiers, “shall return to their own border,” a time when there will be no need to weekly check the Department of Defense data. Then as God said to Rachel, “There truly ‘will be’ hope for your future.
Rabbi Fred Guttman is the spiritual leader of Temple Emanuel in Greensboro, NC.