Veterans Day Sermon


In 1688 a Swiss physician named James Hofer coined the term “nostalgia” from the Greek “nostos” meaning “homecoming” and “algos” meaning “pain”. The syndrome was characterized by sadness and a persistent longing for a person, an object or a place. Hofer called nostalgia a “disease”. It was thought to be particularly widespread among soldiers. Nostalgia was seen as especially threatening to the functioning of armies, as it was thought to sap the will to fight in those who suffered from it.   We know from historical records that the Russian army experienced an outbreak of nostalgia on its way to Germany in 1733. In order to “flatten the curve” (as we say) of this outbreak, the General in charge threatened to bury alive those who came down with the disease. After following through with his threat a couple of times, the outbreak was brought under control.   Military history throughout centuries records a range of techniques to deal with “nostalgia” in it fighting forces.

I wonder if Abraham and Sarah ever experienced nostalgia? Did they ever look back and long for what they left behind? G-d commanded Abraham and Sarah to leave the land of their birth and travel to the Land of Canaan. There, G-d promised that their descendants, the Jewish people, would inherit the land. There, their descendants would grow into a mighty people and bring the knowledge of the One True G-d to all of the nations of the world. In this week’s parasha we find Rivka, too, making the decision to leave her family and travel to the land of Canaan with the servant of Abraham to be a wife to Abraham’s son, Isaac. Did Rivkah experience nostalgia? Abraham was already 75 years old when he left his parents; Rivka was but a young teen when she made the decision to leave her home with Abraham’s servant for a distant new land, a new life. Could you imagine how scary that would be, to travel to a place unknown, with Abraham’s servant, a man you had just met, to marry a man, Isaac, who you did not know — especially at such a  young  age?

As we observe Veterans Day, we are keenly aware of the emotional and psychological challenges faced by the brave citizens who leave home to heed the call for service. Rabbi Yanina Creditor, a chaplain in the United States Navy is one such citizen. Rabbi Creditor volunteered to serve in the military and to serve her country. In the military, she reminds us, you go where you are sent. Setting out for an unknown outpost, with the likelihood of facing danger in a foreign land, can be a daunting, lonely and scary process, she says. She identifies with Abraham and Rivka, who also left their families to serve a higher cause.  Their families back home naturally remained extremely important. When Abraham decides to find a wife for Isaac, he reaches back to his family in Mesopotamia. When Rivka fears for her son, Yaakov’s, life, she sends him back to her family to keep him safe. So, too, in the military, says Rabbi Creditor, your family and community back home remains an enormous source of psychological grounding, strength and support from which to draw.

Rabbi Creditor says that in the military, you both take your family with you and you build new relationships, new families so to speak, wherever you go. Even as you build new support systems, it is important for those serving in the armed forces to know that they remain a part of the family back home. Like Abraham and Rivka, having that family, that connection, those affirming bonds, reminds the soldier that they are not alone, no matter how far away they may be.

That brings us to two projects that we at CBS are undertaking to help our troops and veterans stay connected to home. Lisa Olhausen is heading up a local effort to send Chanukah greetings to our Jewish troops. Last year the national organization, The Jewish Soldiers Project, sent over 3000 cards from more than 25 states to Jewish soldiers at home and overseas. You can either stop by the synagogue to pick up some cards that have been donated for this purpose, send your own store-bought card or create your own card. It is a great project for entire families — particularly for kids and teens.

Our knitzvah team, led by CBS member Lisa Anderson, is supporting Warm up America’s Veterans Blanket Project.  Those who wish to participate can knit or crochet a 7 inch by 9 inch rectangle in red, white, or blue yarn. Lisa will collect all of our sections at the end of November and mail them together to “Warm Up America” where they will be combined into blankets to be delivered to veteran’s hospitals. The Knitzvah group meets online every other week. You can learn more about both these projects by clicking on our weekly Connections Update that comes on Wednesdays.

Let me close this sermon with a prayer.

God, please let every veteran of our nation’s armed forces feel truly valued and honored by the recognition, attention and appreciation from their fellow citizens. Let no one feel left behind, forgotten or neglected. Let every man and woman, young or old, feel the profound, unconditional and enduring gratitude of our nation and all its citizens.

Adonai our G-d, watch over those men and women who in their military service have sacrificed time, safety and comfort, who have put their lives at risk and their ambitions on hold, who have left loved ones behind, in order to assure the peace and safety of our nation, of family and friends and others they’ve never even known. Please reward them a hundredfold for all their sacrifice and service. Bless them far beyond all their expectations. Reward them richly for all they have given.”

And let us say, AMEN.

Photo by Sheri Hooley on Unsplash