25 September 2020
The Jewish people are a people of memory. As teacher and thinker Avraham Infeld describes, the Jewish experience is characterized not simply by history—learning about and recounting past events—but by our ability to claim the stories of the past, the triumphs and the tribulations, as our own. In doing so, we are able to forge connections across time and place that not only inform our actions today but also who we hope to be tomorrow.
At the groundbreaking of the new Lillian & Albert Small Capital Jewish Museum site last week, I spoke about how memory can be a catalyst for change. Indeed, the reimagined museum (slated to open in 2022) will perform an essential service, helping us to learn about the story of who we are while also pushing us to leave our mark on the future of our community and our country.
For centuries, the Jewish people have used the stories of generations past, from our grandparents to civic heroes to biblical ancestors, to find hope and resilience in complex times. This is something that was modeled for us so beautifully in the life of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (z”l), whose connection to Jewish peoplehood and experience helped inform her profound passion for building an inclusive America.
I wonder then, after a year such as this one, what new contributions might we make to the wellspring of Jewish memory? What stories will we write for a new generation? Will we create memories of isolation or of community? Will we dwell on the challenges or embrace the opportunity for quiet, connection, and creativity? In what ways will we change the course of history by being of service to others?
In just a few days, we will have the chance to ponder these questions and more. On Yom Kippur, the day of atonement and holy reckoning, it is said that the Jewish people stand collectively before God and accept responsibility for each other. We have the chance to reflect on our actions and to consider what Jewish memory demands from us as a community.
My guess is that memory’s rallying cry will be especially loud this year. If memory is a through line, blurring the lines between past and present and helping to connect us more deeply to our tradition and to each other, then it is our responsibility to bring Jewish memory to life and add to it in the best ways possible.
During these Days of Awe during what has been a less than awesome year, I hope we take the time to think about our community’s collective imprint on Jewish memory. Together, we can provide the makings of new stories and forge new ways of thinking that spark comfort and joy in the present and pave the road toward a strong and vibrant future.
Shabbat Shalom and with wishes for a meaningful Yom Kippur,