By Laura Seymour
It has been said that we are what we remember. Jews are told from the Torah onward to remember and never forget. In the Torah, “remember” is repeated again and again:
- To remember the Shabbat (Shemot 20:8)
- To remember the sin of the Golden Calf (Devarim 9:7)
- To remember the Exodus from Egypt (Devarim 16:3)
- To remember the sin of Miriam (Devarim 24:9)
- To remember the attack of Amalek (Devarim 25:17-19)
- Plus many more times the word “zachor” is repeated.
How does a people remember experiences they never personally experienced? Jewish collective memory is not the same as history. Not only is it not always recorded, but memory is selective. Collective memory must be transmitted through conscious efforts of the individuals and the institutions. Ritual and recital through our holidays has connected us to the past. Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, of blessed memory, observed: We are also joined vertically to those who came before us, whose story we make our own. To be a Jew is to be a link in the chain of the generations…. Memory is essential to identity — so Judaism insists…. To be a Jew is to know that the history of our people lives on in us.
Knowing our history, our collective memories, is essential; however, the most important step is to find meaning in it and to have it guide the present and plans for the future. We may not have all the answers but we continue to question and our choices are always guided by our past as individuals and as part of our people. We are a people who question, who wrestle, who struggle TOGETHER.
Today we remember that we stand together. Years ago, the bank Chase Manhattan promoted: “You have a friend at Chase Manhattan.” To which Bank Leumi responded: “You may have a friend at Chase Manhattan but at Leumi, we are mishpacha [family].” We are family and today our family includes all who remember the past and have visions for the future along with us. Someone recently gave the best answer: When asked, “Do you have family in Israel?” they responded, “Yes, millions.” Our history connects us and guides us — “zachor” tells us to remember, never forget and act.
Laura Seymour is Jewish experiential learning director and camp director emeritus at the Aaron Family JCC.