Paying Honor & Respect To All Veterans – In The Most Appropriate Way
In response to several questions recently received about the placement of wreaths at Jewish headstones, we wanted to reprint the following address shared in December 2012 at Arlington National Cemetery, by Rear Admiral Harold L. Robinson. Admiral Robinson is also ordained as a Rabbi, and serves as the Deputy Chief of Chaplains for Reserve Matters and the Director of Religious Programs of the Marine Force Reserves.
We have over 900 participating locations and each is informed each year that our policy is to follow the direction of the Cemetery Administration (where we are guests). We also share the policy and practice at Arlington National Cemetery, where volunteers are asked to stop, pay their respects in appreciation, but to not place a wreath on the stones bearing the Star of David. The only exception is when families of the deceased request a wreath, and then their wishes are honored.
We have met with many different member of the Jewish community (and other faiths as well) such as the Jewish War Veterans. The wreath with the blue and gold was not deemed the right solution. Leaving small stones is also not an issue because of the hazard they create when mowing the lawns of the veterans cemeteries.
Here are the notes from Admiral Robinson, as they were shared:
Thank you all for what you are doing today at this sacred place, honoring the sacrifice and the memory of those who fought for our way of life. Those who lie in here fought for our freedoms. They struggled and some died to protect this unique land with all its diversity.
They originated here at home or from all corners of the globe, they represent all faiths, all cultures and every race, yet they struggled together to create and defended this United Stated of America. The diversity of their ranks is ought but representative of the diversity of our land the very diversity from which America’s strength derives.
For it is a diversity of acceptance not toleration. As our founding Father, George Washington, famously wrote on becoming our first President: “It is now no more that toleration is spoken of as if it were the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights, for, happily the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.”
And we recall also the many American heroes who rest in other sacred sites, at home and abroad. And those whose choice it has been to rest eternally in local cemeteries of their towns, their churches and their synagogues.
Yet all those whose service makes them eligible for burial here must know that here, in this hallowed ground our nation assures them a repose of dignity where their culture and their customs will be honored as they honored those of their comrades in arms. At the JWB and the Jewish War Veterans, we assure Jewish veterans and their families that Here, in this Sacred Place, in America’s Shrine to those who fought for our American values, our distinctive tradition will be honored and respected. We know that the administration here and the DVA in other national cemeteries work hard to do just that.
Today we call on you, wonderful, heartfelt volunteers to assist in that effort to respect diversity, for you to understand that Jewish tradition does not call for floral decorations of Jewish graves.
Jewish culture sees floral offerings as a sign of the blossom of life cut off before its time even as we recognize that for most Americans the beauty of these boughs bring a special splendor with which to decorate the memory of those lost. Respecting the memory of those non-Jews who lie here I am honored to join you place wreaths on their graves but I beseech you to respect our culture and refrain from placing wreaths on the graves of Jews, those with the Star of David unless an immediate family member is present and requests otherwise.
Your restraint will be your gift to them and to their loved ones at this sacred season just as my laying wreathes at the honored graves of others is my gift to them. By not putting a wreath on Jewish graves, you will be honoring them for their service and honoring their lives, our ancient faith and the American values by which they fought and for which many died. Moreover, you will help send a powerful and solemn message to those of all traditions who must yet decide their final resting place; this sacred ground welcomes them in thanks to their noble and worthy service to this our Nation.
Thank you and bless you for being here today, for the honor you do our fallen and our nation, that the sacrifices of those resting here will not, in our generation, be forgotten. God bless those who defend us still and God Bless the United Stated of America.
WAA is all inclusive, non-partisan, and non-denominational. Here is the official Wreaths Across America policy:
Wreaths Across America is not affiliated with any religion or political view. It is our mission to Remember all the fallen, Honor their families and Teach our children about the cost of freedom. Because we are a guest at the more than 900 participating cemeteries we visit each year, we abide by each cemetery’s rules when it comes to the placement of wreaths on veterans’ headstones. At those cemeteries without a formal policy, we do not place a wreath on the headstones of those graves marked with the Star of David, out of respect for Jewish custom. We simply pause and pay our respects. The only exception is when families of the deceased request a wreath, and then their wishes are honored.
Our goal as an organization is to use this dialogue as an opportunity to share and Teach younger generations about the diversity of our American heritage, and the freedoms for which so much was sacrificed.