A Funeral for a Jewish War Veteran

By Dina Shargel, Ritual Director, Temple Israel Center, White Plains, NY

On November 21, my family and I had the sad task of burying my father-in-law, Burton Projansky, of blessed memory. Dan Liben and I co-officiated at the graveside service. Burt had served in the US army in the 1950s during the Korean War. Subsequently, he devoted more than 50 years of service to his local group of the Jewish War Veterans, Post 157, including several stints as Post Commander. My mother-in-law, Phyllis, also of blessed memory, helped form its Ladies' Auxiliary. Through the JWV, Burt and Phyllis made many friends and kept them for life. Together, they worked tirelessly on many fundraising and tzedakah projects for the benefit of both the Jewish and the general community. One of the last JWV projects that my father-in-law saw to completion was the erection of a monument in the Framingham-Natick (MA) Hebrew Cemetery to fallen Jewish War Veterans. Now my in-laws are buried just yards away from it.

At Burt's funeral, the traditional Jewish rites were preceded by military honors. As family and friends gathered at the grave, a US Army sergeant took her place at the head of the flag-draped casket. Several of Burt's friends from the JWV formed a line at one side. At a signal from the Post's Commander, they all saluted in perfect unison. Then, from behind us, a bugler played "Taps." When the music was over, the bugler joined the sergeant to fold the flag with razor-sharp precision in the military style, triangle by triangle. The large bundle was presented to the family with condolences "on behalf of a grateful nation." By then, there was not a dry eye among us.

The flag ceremony provided an appropriate if unwitting segue into the Jewish rites, which began with another textile-based ritual, the keriah. The entire funeral had begun with "Taps," a wordless, musical farewell to an American citizen who had served his country. Toward the end, the melody of the El Malei Rahamim supplied a prayer for eternal peace for a worthy Jewish soul. Together, the musical frame set a lovely tone of dignity and respect.

Burt's funeral took place just days before Thanksgiving. It is Jewish tradition that calls upon us to recite 100 blessings a day, but it is the American holiday of Thanksgiving that has brought us the beautiful custom of asking celebrants to articulate specific personal expressions of gratitude. I love the universality of Thanksgiving, the fact that the holiday belongs to all Americans, regardless of faith, race or ethnicity. It was an honor for me to be able to eulogize my father-in-law at this season with thanks for the blessings he bestowed upon his family and his community.

The military pageantry at Burt's funeral also stirred feelings of patriotic pride. It was not merely the bugle music, the flag and the uniforms with brass that evoked a reaction. It was something far deeper: having representatives of the United States offering military funeral rites at a traditional Jewish funeral reminded me how lucky we are to live freely and fully both as Jews and as Americans.

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