Zikaron is a sacred responsibility

This summer we study mitzvot through “mitzvah heroes.” Each week we remember — “We are standing on the shoulders of the ones who came before us!” 

Zikaron, the mitzvah of remembrance, has always been a sacred responsibility. Ever since we became a people, we have been commanded to remember.

The philosopher George Santayana said, “Those who cannot learn from the past are condemned to repeat it.” We remember our past by retelling our history, by observing the holidays and rituals, by saying Kaddish for those who died and by naming our children after those in the past. The Torah uses the term “remember” over 200 times.

Mitzvah hero of today’s world —
Steven Spielberg

In 1947, a Polish Jew named Leopold Pfefferberg vowed to make the story of Oskar Schindler famous. One day, in 1980, an Australian writer, Thomas Keneally, happened to stop in a Los Angeles luggage store where Pfefferberg worked. In a short conversation, Pfefferberg “sold” the story to Keneally. In 1982, a proposal for a screenplay was brought to Steven Spielberg.

At the time, Spielberg had little connection with his Jewish roots but finally, a decade later, he was ready to make the movie. Spielberg learned and connected to his Judaism through a film of remembrance. “The film is a remembrance for the survivors, for my mother’s generation and the people who should learn more. I am doing service, for the first time, to my Jewishness,” he stated. 

In our ancestors’ footsteps — Moses

One line in the Torah sums up the importance of memory: “ … and there arose a new king who knew not Joseph” (Exodus 1:8). If Pharaoh had only remembered how Joseph had saved Egypt from famine, perhaps the Jews would not have been slaves and the whole story of Exodus might have never happened.

But Pharaoh did not remember Joseph and Moses came forth to take the Israelites out of Egypt. Throughout the story Moses reminds the Israelites to remember that they were slaves and to remember to follow God’s commands.

Finish these statements

Steven Spielberg fulfilled the mitzvah of zikaron by:

Moses fulfilled the mitzvah of zikaron by:

I can fulfill this mitzvah by:

Family talk time

• With your whole family together, let each person tell of a special memory they have of each person in the family. Think of a way you can keep these memories — maybe a family memory book or even videotape.

• The rabbis say that “we were all at Sinai.” Pretend you are standing at Mount Sinai with Moses and tell what you “remember” happening.

• Play the game of telephone in which one person whispers something to the next and then passes it on. What happens? How are our stories changed when we tell them over and over? Do you have any stories that you remember word for word? Talk about how to pass on memories.

Laura Seymour is director of camping services and director of Jewish life and learning at the Aaron Family Jewish Community Center.

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