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The Pain of Memory

09/12/2019 09:41:04 AM


Rabbi Sam Trief

I’ve heard a lot of chatter lately...many people have been commenting “It has been a weird summer.”  For us at Sinai, we can partially attribute this to the construction and our “diaspora” to the Weber School. But on a personal note, I also realized there was something else going on. This was the first summer in a decade where I had not visited Israel. I felt an inner longing, one that I could not quite put my finger on until I read a poignant article this week, “The One Thing No Israeli Wants to Discuss” by Matti Friedman. It gave me pangs of nostalgia for my days frolicking the streets of Jerusalem as a college student in my Junior year abroad; a year also characterized by emails to friends and families, promising them it was safe to come visit over spring break.

The article analyzes the film “Born in Jerusalem and Still Alive”, which recently won the prize for best first feature at the Jerusalem Film Festival. Through this article, Friedman enables us to enter the Israeli psyche to understand the pain of memory, specifically of the Second Intifada, and how that also informs the Israeli present. Of course, these past few days here in the United States, we are all too familiar with the pain of memory, having just marked 18 years since the attack that changed our country and ourselves forever. 

Yesterday, people around the globe united and mourned the thousands of lives lost on September 11, 2001. Sadly, this is yet another turning point that links these two countries together. It turns out that Israel is the only other country in the world with a 9/11 memorial that lists all of the names of those who perished in the attacks, including five Israelis. The memorial, in Israel’s capital Jerusalem, is also the only 9/11 memorial in the entire Middle East. Perhaps it is because Israel is an ironclad democratic ally of the United States, or perhaps it is because that pain of memory that Friedman mentions above burns so deep in Israel. 

We mourn, and we commit ourselves to never, ever forget. Just as we never, ever forget the brutal attacks that took place during the first and second intifadas—all representing the worst of humanity.

It turns out this coming Tuesday, September 17, Israel will hold national parliamentary elections, an election unlike ever before. These elections mark the first time in Israeli history that the Knesset voted to dissolve itself before a government had been formed, after the earlier elections this year on April 9.

As many may know, Israel has a unique law that requires citizens to be physically present in the country in order to vote. Knowing my husband Natan, I begged him not to fly to Israel for the day to vote, as he was insisting. Sitting here now, I feel badly that I, partially, prevented him from fulfilling a great civic duty, one that fills him with pride. 

It would be easy to think these faraway, unprecedented elections do not matter. It would be easy to throw up our hands in frustration given the complex realities of coalition politics, and the fact that Israel just had elections a few months ago. It would be easy to do the same given Israel’s complicated geopolitical status, and the various groups within Israel competing for a voice. The barrier to entry can be high. To understand Israel requires determination and commitment. And yet for those of us who have been there, we know how well it is worth it. 

An exciting event looms on the horizon for the Jewish people. The World Zionist Congress will conduct elections shortly, an opportunity for every Jew over the age of 18 around the world, to vote and leave an imprint on Israeli and Jewish society. Stay tuned for more details on how you can vote and get involved. In the meantime, we commit ourselves to making Israel a deep part of our lives, even if thousands of miles separate us. 

As many of you know, the Hamas terrorist group continues to fire rockets on civilians in Southern Israel. 18 years since we saw vicious evil face to face, that same implacable evil persists. 18 years since the heart of the second intifada that so scarred the Jewish homeland, the same hatred persists. 18...also a number in Judaism that represents life. 

Let us commit ourselves to life, to sanctifying life, and making all of the victim’s memories into the blessings they so deserve. As we find ourselves deep in the month of Elul, and as the High Holy Days approach, we say, L’chayim, to Life. 

Shabbat Shalom

Sat, July 4 2020 12 Tammuz 5780