Posts Tagged 'History and Memory'

Creating Memory – 9/11 for Another Generation

This week we commemorated the anniversary of 9/11. This was a transformational day for me personally. A the time of the event I was learning in yeshivah and living in Manhattan. There are so many memories I have from that time it is hard to imagine communicating them to someone who has not experienced it. I was shocked to realize that all of the Bnai Mitvah from now on were not even alive when 9/11 happened. I pause  to ask, how will we communicate the nature and gravity of this event to the next generation?

I was thinking about this when reading Ki Tavo, this week’s Torah portion. There we read about the ritual of Bikkurim, bringing the first fruit on Shavuot to the Temple. About this we read:

And you shall come to the priest that shall be in those days, and say to him: ‘I profess this day unto the Lord your God, that I am come unto the land which the Lord swore unto our fathers to give us.’ And the priest shall take the basket out of thy hand, and set it down before the altar of the Lord your God. And you shall speak and say before the Lord your God: ‘A wandering Aramean was my father, and he went down into Egypt, and sojourned there, few in number; and he became there a nation, great, mighty, and populous. And the Egyptians dealt ill with us, and afflicted us, and laid upon us hard bondage. And we cried unto the Lord, the God of our fathers, and the Lord heard our voice, and saw our affliction, and our toil, and our oppression. And the Lord brought us forth out of Egypt with a mighty hand, and with an outstretched arm, and with great terribleness, and with signs, and with wonders.  ( Deuteronom7 26:3-8 )

The generation who entered the land of Israel did not have first hand experience of the slavery and redemption in Egypt. This ritual was a means for this next generation to preserve a memory they never had. It is interesting that this ritual had a script. We learn later that in order to make the script more accessible the priest would say it and the person coming would repeat it.

We have a crises in being Jewish today. How will we share our memories with the next generation? I think we can point out a few things from the ritual of Bikkurim. Like the priest repeating the words,  we need to find ways to make it more accessible to more people. We need to build this difficult memory into something festive and not let the next generation get stuck in the gloom We also need to find the balance between the script that they need to say and the innovation. The next generation needs to find a way to breathe their own imagination into the ritual in order create their own memories around the ritual.

The script from this Bikkurim ritual is the foundation for the Hagadah. The Hagadah is the model of balance between tradition and innovation in order to keep memories vital throughout history.  In every generation we are to see ourselves as having been redeemed from slavery in our own Egypt. I would venture to say it is the most rewritten book in history. In order to get my children to connect to Jewish History  or even 9/11 I need to give them the space to explore what these events mean to them in their lives without the full burden of my understanding of history and what it means to me in my life. Rituals help preserve a dynamic tension between tradition and innovation. Without this tension we will break the chain linking our past to our future and our future to our past.

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Kodachrome

Memory is a powerful thing; it is central to our identity. However, it is interesting that our memory often has only a limited connection with the actual history of an event. This is brought to light through the words of Kodachrome, by Simon and Garfunkel. The lyrics read,

If you took all the girls I knew when I was single
Brought ’em all together for one night
I know they’d never match my sweet imagination
Everything looks better in black and white

The way in which we frame a memory colors it. In this song, memory removed all the pigment of blemishes.

It is interesting to reflect on the nature of color and memory in light of Terumah, this week’s Torah portion. Here we read about the Tabernacle in its entire splendor. It was gold, turquoise, purple, scarlet, and more. Every year we read about the building of the tabernacle. We are forced to recall its beauty while none of us has ever seen it. In the Mishnah when discussing the construction of the Temple, there are a number of disagreements. This is striking in as much as there was an actual Temple. The Temple was not just in color and 3D, it was real.  Why would there be a disagreement about a physical reality? Like everything else Jewish, the question is better than the answer. One answer must be in the importance of memory over history.

The question for us is how do we balance a reverence for the past and present, relevance of facts and feelings, and sense of mission for the future? In this new world in which history is being “documented” like never before (as evident by the proliferation of blogs like this one), we need to approach memory with an open heart and open eyes. How we will be remembered will not be aided by any rose-colored glasses.


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