Trips to France and Israel are essential

Today is June 6, a date that should never be forgotten in our American history, or in the history of the world. It was exactly 75 years ago when American troops landed on France’s Normandy beaches, marking a costly and painful beginning to what was actually to be the end of World War II.
It’s called “D-Day.” But, what’s the reason? In American war language, any big battle or military operation is marked with a D, which itself stands for Day. The day before it then becomes D minus 1, and the day after is D plus 1. But the day itself is D alone.
I can remember Pearl Harbor — December 7, 1941 — and also remember May 8, 1945 — when the great war officially ended.
The first was a time of surprise, terror, and quick mobilization that included immediate enlistment of many young men into military service. I was too young to be concerned. But, I was old enough to remember the rejoicing of the second when, as an almost 11-year-old girl, I joined my friends as we threaded crepe paper through the spokes of our new two-wheelers and rode around the neighborhood, adding that sound to the overall cacophony. Those were our first real bikes, the same ones we’d ridden around the neighborhood not quite one month before, minus the noisy paper, in silent tribute to the passing of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. No one will ever know if he would do as his successor, Harry S. Truman, had done — ordered the atomic bombings of Japan, the brutality that finally ended that brutal war.
My husband Fred and I were fortunately able to take many trips together before his life ended. One of the most essential was to visit those Normandy beaches, to see in person the places that, at such great human cost to our own country, heralded the end of the war in Europe. We made this visit via a river boat on the Seine. That trip showed us much more of France before and after we spent some time on what we had most wanted to visit. We had already viewed gritty films of the landing that took so many young American lives, but to stand there oneself was another kind of experience — one that was, in a way, even more real.
Then, after exploring other significant markers and parts of the area, we went to the cemetery that is the final resting place of so many of the men who died in that landing, and afterward. The rows and rows of crosses — punctuated at various intervals by Stars of David — evoked the World War I poem “In Flanders Fields.” But here, there were also live women and girls, area residents handing flowers to those who would like some to mark a grave; a perpetual promise was made to do this by the women who lived at the time of the beachhead, and it has been carried out by their descendants. And there are stones, as well, for marking the graves of our Jewish dead.
As I said: Fred and I were among those lucky enough to have seen many sights of our great world: the signature Mer-Lion of Singapore, the amazing Iguazu Falls between Brazil and Argentina that dwarf those of Niagara, China’s sad Tiananmen Square, the Holocaust remnants in Poland and the glories of Israel that have risen to repute that history by its very existence. It is never easy — maybe never even possible — to say which trip, which place, was “best of all.”
But, having been granted the great opportunity to visit so many interesting historic places, I must conclude this: that for every Jew, time in Israel must be at the top of the list. And, for every Jewish American, seeing the Normandy beaches should come second. Because those two have guaranteed all of us the freedoms and possibilities that — although these days they come under attack more often than they should — have yet to fail us.

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