Kristallnacht and Veterans Day

Kristallnacht and Veterans Day

This year was odd in so many ways — our second year of covid, first year of vaccines, a year when schools experimented with different ways of keeping kids safe, sane, and socialized, and the mask wars escalated to jaw-dropping levels (not that you’d know that a jaw had dropped, one great advantage to wearing a mask) — that it’s easy to overlook how it’s also a year when disparate holidays come together, often to our great inconvenience.

Although it seems as if it were ages ago, it was just about two months ago, at the beginning of September, when erev Rosh Hashanah ludicrously fell on Labor Day.

This year, Thanksgiving and Chanukah share opposite ends of the same very long weekend; at least both of those holidays are joyful, and both involve major helpings from the brown food group. (That includes turkey, stuffing, fried foods like latkes and chicken, sufganiyot, chocolate, and Scotch; it’s one of my favorite food groups.)

And far less joyously, this coming week includes two somber commemorations, Kristallnacht on Tuesday and Veterans Day on Thursday.

Kristallnacht, of course, marks that terrible night in 1938 when the Nazis sent their murderous thugs to demolish Jewish property and menace Jewish lives throughout Germany. The name comes from the sound of breaking glass as windows were smashed in and their shards trodden beneath the Nazis’ boots.

I knew a woman from my synagogue — a lovely, elegant woman, with an extraordinary sense of style and warmth of manner, the sort of hostess who is so marvelous that you could feel welcomed by her grace without feeling inadequate because you couldn’t possible equal it — who had been a child in Germany, the daughter of a judge, safe in a wealthy, well-established family. That family fled the country soon after Kristallnacht, and their daughter entirely forgot the sound — until she happened to be downtown on September 11, 2001, and the Kristallnacht sound of the Twin Towers coming down awakened her horrible memories. I always think of her when I think about Kristallnacht; about beauty and grace on the one hand, and evil and destruction on the other.

I also think about the sound of real crystal as it clinks against another piece of real crystal. It’s a beautiful, unmistakable sound. It’s not smashing. It’s not destruction. It’s a clear, mild, but stirring sound. It’s crystal, not kristall.

And two days later, it will be Veterans Day. It’s inherently different from Kristallnacht because it commemorates not evil but valor. It’s a day not only for veterans who died protecting us — that’s Memorial Day — but for all veterans, alive and dead.

Had it not been for those veterans who protected us 80 or so years ago, most of us never would have been born. Had it not been for the veterans and first responders who protected us during our own Kristalltag — Day of Breaking Crystal — it’s not at all clear where we’d be now.

So thank you to all our veterans, and to their families who waited for them while they were out protecting us. Thank you for keeping us safe. We honor you, and we honor the victims and survivors of the Holocaust. And we pledge to keep up the fight against fascism and authoritarianism, in whatever form it presents itself, in their honor and memory.