I wrote this for our newsletter just before Veterans Day 2013.  It will be shared in our December Kol Tikvah. But I am sharing it with you know. As we express our gratitude as Thanksgiving approaches, maybe we can consider the “giving” part as we give “thanks” and find a way to support our veterans. Please read on…

As I write this, we are not far from Veterans Day. A day that is supposed to be devoted to recognizing and expressing gratitude to those who have served – and continue to serve – our country in the different arms of our military. Yet, it is often characterized by sales at the mall with few people who take stock in how fortunate we are to be in America.

For our own Jewish community, we have veterans who served in World War II through the most recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. From our Tradition’s point of view, we know well that there is a time to make war and a time to make peace. Even when war is about to break out, we are instructed to find a pathway to peace. Some of our greatest heroes were also warriors – Abraham, Joshua, King David, Deborah, among others. Even God is referred to as Ish Milchamah – a Man of War – as God brings the Israelites out of Egypt on their way to the Promised Land.

What does this say to me? Jewish Tradition does not embrace a pacifist perspective. While we must be rodfei shalom – pursuers of peace, there are times when we must defend ourselves or others who are vulnerable.

But as Veterans Day approaches and will pass, I will be thinking about our women and men in our military who will be putting themselves in harm’s way to protect our nation, its democracy and its interests worldwide. What happens to these soldiers, sailors, airmen when they return? How has our country expressed its gratitude?

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), it is estimated that 18 veterans die by suicide every day. The same report in 2010 found that as many as 950 suicide attempts each month occur among veterans receiving services through the Veterans Administration (VA). The rate is lower, however, among veterans aged 19-29 who are receiving services when compared to those who are not currently receiving care through the VA.

According to NAMI: While officials speculate that a better screening and reporting system may be a factor in the increase, it is also likely that repeated deployments during the extended conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan are a part of the equation. The suicide rate is also impacted by high levels of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in young veterans who served in one of these regions.

I have been reflecting on this a great deal since last Memorial Day. (Again, it isn’t really supposed to be a day devoted to shopping.) My family and I always attend Roswell Remembers, the local Memorial Day ceremony. There is a time where veterans come up and share their own memories and ideas relating to their fellow fallen soldiers. They are always moving tributes. But this year, a mom came up and spoke about her son who served, was recognized for acts of bravery, and yet could return to “normal life” here in the States. Her son took his own life. She pleaded to all of us to write our Members of Congress to advocate for better services through the VA, but also implored us to be better partners with other organizations to support these men and women who return wounded – physically, emotionally or spiritually.

For a list of organizations to support or to share with someone in crisis, visit www.nami.org and search for “Veterans and Suicide.”

Let us join together and show our truest sense of gratitude by making sure that when they return home, they have the tools the need to re-enter their lives, find meaningful employment, get the emotional and physical support they need to heal their wounds. And let us join with them as we return to Isaiah’s ultimate hope: “Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, nor shall they learn war any more.”

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