Memorial Day Weekend in the United States, and in New York City in particular, brings about a mix of emotions. For many people it signals the unofficial start of summer. For military veterans and their families, it can be a bittersweet time, conjuring up memories at times proud, painful and more. For many other people it just means shopping sales, barbecues, and the opening of beaches.

There are a few familiar activities of a more patriotic nature for New Yorkers. For more than two decades there has been a group of Navy and Marine ships arriving for Fleet Week. People flock to a few sites in Brooklyn and Manhattan to see ships and the staff of these ships. This year, on Wednesday morning, I drove along the Belt Parkway, a circumferential highway in Brooklyn (and also in Queens, to the east) and saw two ships slowly approaching  Fort Hamilton in south-western Brooklyn. I parked along the highway and joined some people fishing, jogging, biking and strolling, to see a ship and a carrier moving glacially toward land. It was interesting but an exercise in patience. I snapped a few pictures with my phone.

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But I participated more actively in another Memorial Day Weekend ceremony later that morning. I drove over to the Brownsville neighborhood in Brooklyn, to the Zion Park World War One memorial at the junction of Pitkin Avenue and East New York Avenue. This plaza and its memorial are not in great shape, but for the second year in a row, my committee, the Brooklyn Jewish Historical Initiative along with a local school, a regional Jewish War Veterans group and other organizations, held an hour-long ceremony to commemorate the fallen in spirit with this weekend.

There were several dozen people all told, including participating speakers, elementary school kids who sang, veterans and curious onlookers. A Marine color guard presented the colors and flags, the kids of Brooklyn Ascend School sang the Star Spangled Banner, a few people gave speeches, including Howard Teich, the founder of the BJHI and Rita Schwartz, a member of the committee, as well as the Reverend Herbert Daughtry and a few other local civic leaders.

This somber and educational program was especially devoted to and poignant because this year is the centenary of the United States entering World War One, and the Zion memorial has a wall etched with the names of Jewish military men who died during WW1. Their names were all read aloud.

My role was to take photographs, video, and be a respectful and interested onlooker. It was a thoughtful ceremony, and the sun dipped in and out throughout the hour. It was also nostalgic because Brownsville was once one of the most heavily Jewish neighborhoods in Brooklyn, if not in New York City as a whole. But due to changing demographics, it has perhaps only a handful of Jews remaining. It is now a predominantly Black and Latino area, with some south Asian and Middle Eastern people moving in. But the various groups present are concerned about preserving history and passing down some lessons on American history and ethnic pride. Thus we were present on this Wednesday morning, saluting the past and thinking about the future of America.

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