I would be remiss if I didn’t offer a few words about the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. The assassination took place nearly nine years before I was born. Despite this his death is not without personal meaning.
My Dad has often told the story of how my paternal grandmother lit a candle for JFK that night. It is important to note that such an honor is normally reserved for Jews. Kennedy was, of course, a Catholic. But as far as my grandmother was concerned he was one of our own.
Now let’s fast forward 25 years later. I spent most of the summer of 1988 in Israel as part of a youth tour sponsored by the Canadian Jewish Congress. One of the highlights of that trip was our sojourn to John F. Kennedy Forest just outside Jerusalem. This coincided with the 25th anniversary of his assassination.
The centerpiece of the JFK Forest is a memorial called Yad Kennedy. It is comprised of 51 pillars representing the 50 states and the District of Columbia and is shaped like a tree stump.
I remember that the other kids on the tour were puzzled as to why the memorial was shaped like a tree stump. Sensing this bewilderment, our guide asked us, “Why is this memorial shaped like a tree stump?” My hand shot up. Upon being recognized, I said, “Because it symbolizes a man who was cut down in the prime of his life.” At that point, the other kids on the tour nodded in understanding.
It is impossible to know if life in America would have been better or worse had JFK had served two terms in office and lived a full life. All we can say for certain is that American history would have been different if not for the actions of an unabashed Communist as it would have been if Abraham Lincoln hadn’t been felled by unabashed Confederate.
Even though The Cold War was at its height, the Kennedy presidency epitomized an age of optimism where Americans explored new frontiers be it providing running water to an African village or building a rocket to the moon. Although these frontiers would be reached that optimism would be dimmed by Kennedy’s death. It is why The Byrds sang, “He Was a Friend of Mine”. It is also why my Jewish grandmother lit a candle and the Jewish state built a forest for a Catholic President.