This week, JCDS observed Memorial Day with activities and gatherings led by faculty members Andrea Silton and Josh Mocle. By delving deeper into the journeys of the forefathers and foremothers of America, students gained a new appreciation for the freedoms that their sacrifice has afforded us. Students learned what effort it requires to preserve our freedoms in this country and how previous generations gave their lives so that we may live in the America we know today.

This concept of learning from the paths walked by those who came before us is evident throughout the early books of the Torah, where the life narratives of the forefathers and mothers are shared in great detail. One might ask why seemingly mundane details such as places visited and water sources identified are outlined so specifically, and indeed the Ramban thought it necessary to tackle this question outright in his commentary on Bereishit.

“I will tell you a principle by which you will understand all the coming portions of Scripture concerning Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. It is indeed a great matter which our Rabbis mentioned briefly, saying: ‘Whatever has happened to the patriarchs is a sign to the children.’ It is for this reason that the verses narrate at great length the account of the journeys of the patriarchs…” (Ramban Bereishit 12:6).

The Ramban quotes Chazal, the learned rabbis of old, who explained that the actions of the fathers and mothers are a sign to the descendants who will come later. We are given the histories and memories of those who came before us, the challenges they encountered and the choices they made, so that we can use those stories as signposts as we navigate our own choices and the contemporary challenges we face.

As we observed Memorial Day this year, we reflected on how history must inspire our own action, serving as lessons and signposts for us to follow. We discussed that we can honor those who sacrificed their lives by remembering them and continuing to work for freedom and equality for all. Students explored the freedoms we have in this country and ways that they personally could incorporate either their appreciation for these freedoms or the commitment to preserve these freedoms into their own daily lives. These ideas were written on star-shaped pieces of paper to complete the American flag.

In the Gettysburg Address, President Abraham Lincoln famously named the “unfinished work” of democracy, the noble goal that is always in progress. It is up to every one of us to continue to fight for the actualization of the ideals of the forefathers and mothers who founded this country and gave up their lives so that we could live in peace and freedom. It is the responsibility of each generation to take up the unfinished work and strive for the “more perfect union” that those who came before us dreamt about and sacrificed for.

Shira Deener is head of school at JCDS.

The School Sparks blog appears periodically by various writers among the JCDS educational team. Learn more about JCDS, Boston’s Jewish Community Day School.

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