Opinions expressed in opinion columns are the author's own.
On Monday, May 1, Israel commemorated Remembrance Day for fallen soldiers and victims of terror attacks. This day is revered in Israel and is integral to its existence. Last year on this day, I stood in uniform at the grave of a soldier who also served in the paratroopers units, trying to comfort his parents, whose uncontrollable sobbing 25 years after his tragic death broke my heart. The entire country approaches this day with utmost respect. And at 11 a.m., the people stand together in a moment of silence as sirens blare. Independence Day immediately follows Remembrance Day, to acknowledge that the country would not exist without the soldiers' sacrifices.
Juxtapose this veneration to America's irreverence for its Memorial Day. This stems from the gap in the percentage of citizens who serve as soldiers in the two countries. While 74 percent of eligible Israelis enlist, only about 7 percent of Americans have served in the military. This poses a huge problem when American soldiers return home from war.
When Israelis return from war, they have more people to speak to who shared similar experiences. These conversations can help reacquaint them with civilian life. American veterans face a populace with little idea the terrors they faced in war and hardly any effective system in place to help the soldiers readjust to civilian life. Some soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan tragically took their own lives because they could not deal with the horrors they experienced. In 2014, 20 veterans committed suicide each day.
America also differs from Israel in the nature of its wars. While Israel has fought all its neighboring countries — Egypt, Syria, Lebanon and Jordan — in its 69-year existence, America in the last century has fought wars far from home in Iraq, Afghanistan, Vietnam, Europe and the Pacific. American soldiers might often wonder why the only American lives at risk are their own.
The discrepancies between the two countries mean that America's Memorial Day is not commemorated like it is in Israel. And in this regard, America should attempt to mirror Israel.
In America, Memorial Day means store sales, barbecues and going to the beach. It's easy to forget about the fallen soldiers the holiday is really meant to commemorate. Conversely, in Israel, commemorative songs play on the radios, television networks run tribute programs all day, sirens sound throughout the day and night and people attend memorial ceremonies at the cemeteries for their loved ones. America should attempt to connect with its soldiers to build empathy for their struggles and appreciate their immense sacrifice. We should value living in a country without a compulsory draft rather than view Memorial Day simply as a vacation from work. We can meet as communities and as individuals with those brave veterans among us, who can recount their personal stories of those lost to war.
Rather than having Memorial Day exemplify the disconnect between American soldiers and the civilian population, we should ensure that the sacrifice of those who died for our country is not ignored. Moreover, let us use this day as a signal to veterans that we care about their well-being, that although we might not understand the rigors of wars they faced, we will still be there for them no matter what.
Through these improvements, we can comfort the families of those who have lost loved ones and make Memorial Day much more meaningful.
Joseph Kuttler is a freshman English major. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.