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Asking the Clergy: How does your congregation honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice?

From left, the Rev. JoAnn Barrett of Gathering

From left, the Rev. JoAnn Barrett of Gathering of Light Interspiritual Fellowship; Tom Bergin, chaplain for the Suffolk County American Legion; and Rabbi Jack Dermer of Temple Beth Torah. Credit: JoAnn Barrett; Patricia Bergin; Phil Schoenfeld

May 31 is Memorial Day, a federal holiday dedicated to remembering those who have died while in the military service of our country. This week’s clergy discuss how those who have given all are honored in special prayers, sermons and memorial services.

Tom Bergin

Chaplain, Suffolk County American Legion, East Patchogue

Memorial Day is not just for barbecues and weekend sales.

Before the pandemic, most Suffolk County communities held parades. Our proud veterans marched, placed flags on veterans’ graves and attended memorial services. All of these veterans have one thing in common: At one time in their lives, they were willing to sacrifice that life for their country. They were there to honor those who gave all and never made it home.

When our national anthem was played and our country’s flag raised, veterans in wheelchairs sat up as straight as they could. Those who needed canes or walkers squared their shoulders, raised their heads and eyes and saluted the flag in memory of those who have made the supreme sacrifice. I saw the respect, honor and the pride they have for their service and their comrades. But more than anything else, I saw the love these men and women have for their country.

At our American Legion funeral services, we say, "Because of them, our lives are free / Because of them, this country lives / Because of them, the world has been blessed."

We gather on Memorial Day with pride, respect, honor, love and prayer. May God continue to bless America.

Rabbi Jack Dermer

Temple Beth Torah, Westbury

Central to biblical and Jewish thinking is the concept of zikaron, or remembrance. Jewish tradition invites us to participate in remembrance as a holy act of giving honor to those who have contributed to bettering our world. On Yom HaZikaron, Israel’s Memorial Day, observed last month, we pause to recognize those who have sacrificed for the safety and security of the State of Israel. It is among the most poignant and meaningful days on our calendar.

As American Jews, we hold Memorial Day with equal spiritual significance. During our shabbat services this weekend, in addition to the prayer for our country, which we recite every week, we will invite veterans within our community to rise for a moment of honor, and we will conclude with the singing of our national anthem.

I make a point to include in my sermon each year before Memorial Day themes that touch on the blessings of our freedom, and our gratitude to the brave men and women who ensure its protection. This week and every week I pray that those who protect our great nation find strength and courage in their holy work. May military families be comforted in times of loss and provided for in times of need.

The Rev. JoAnn Barrett

Senior officiant, Gathering of Light Interspiritual Fellowship, Huntington

We are so blessed in this country to have the freedom to believe as we choose to believe. This freedom has been afforded us through the ultimate sacrifice of those who came before us.

Every Memorial Day weekend, we have hosted a barbecue picnic for our community to honor those who have died in service. We end each service with a prayer for peace on earth and to promote nonviolence and alternative methods of conflict resolution based upon spiritual direction.

Our Memorial Day weekend service focuses on such spiritual warriors as the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., who said at a 1963 speech in Detroit: "There are some things so dear, some things so precious, some things so eternally true, that they are worth dying for. And I submit to you that if a man has not discovered something that he will die for, he isn’t fit to live."

We value spiritual solutions as the first means to resolution and a source of strength to carry us through. For Memorial Day, we remember with the utmost respect those who laid down their lives in battle. We also rededicate ourselves to improved vigilance to becoming all we are meant to be.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misstated Rabbi Jack Dermer's congregation.

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