This coming Shabbat is Shabbat Zachor – the Sabbath of Remembrance – just preceding the celebration of Purim, which falls next Wednesday night -Thursday, March 23/24. Shabbat Zachor takes its name from three extra verses of the Torah that we read this Shabbat, in addition to the regularly scheduled portion at the beginning of Leviticus. These verses come from Deuteronomy, Chapter 25, verses 17-19:
Zachor – Remember – what Amalek did to you on your journey, after you left Egypt – how, undeterred by fear of God, he surprised you on the march, when you were famished and weary, and cut down all the stragglers in your rear. Therefore, when the Eternal your God grants you safety from all your enemies around you, in the land that the Eternal your God is giving you as a hereditary portion, you shall blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven. Do not forget.
Memory is a core value for Jews. We are commanded to remember the Exodus from Egypt, the Creation of the World, the Revelation at Sinai. We weren’t there, of course, yet we are commanded to remember as though we were, and transmit this memory to our children and all future generations. We are commanded to remember our parents and teachers. And, we are commanded to remember Shabbat and observe it every single week. In the post-Holocaust world, our people have embraced the responsibility to remember, wherever we may live. Zachor – Remember.
But we also understand two basic realities of memory. First, memory is selective. We remember what we choose to remember because it is important to us. If the commandment to remember seminal events of Jewish heritage is important to us, then we engage in perpetuating the memory of them. We remember what it is important for us to remember. (Of course now we have any number of devices in our lives that help us to remember what we need to, and far more as well.). But memory is also interpretive. We look back at events with the specific perspective that we have developed over time. Our world view comes into play when we look at events of the past and try to figure them out as we look back.
The ongoing stalemate between Israelis and Palestinians is complicated by conflicting interpretations of the events leading up to situation in which we find ourselves now. Was the declaration of the State of Israel a triumph of the spirit and a redemption of the Jewish People out of the ashes of the Shoah? Or, was it a naqba – a disaster of untold proportions, as the Arab world characterizes it? Is the Israeli presence in the West Bank territories an ongoing destructive Jewish occupation of a subjugated people? Or, is it a realization of the promise that God made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, that their descendants would live on this land, Judea and Samaria, for all time?
The reality on the ground in Israel and the territories exists in and of itself. But there are many narratives about what exists that come into conflict with one another, and at the moment, are responsible for the continuation of the stalemate.
Is there a way out? Can we – all of us – accept and honor each other’s narratives and still find a way to get past them so that both groups can arrive at a peaceful and secure compromise, and live on the land side by side, in peace and acceptance of the other?
I don’t know the answer to this question, but I fervently hope the answer is yes. And now for my “shameless plug.” This Wednesday, March 16, one of the most significant insiders of the ongoing negotiation process since Oslo is going to be speaking in Brooklyn, as part of our Shalom Hartman series. Tal Becker, international lawyer, key member of the Israeli negotiating team, and Senior Research Fellow at the Hartman Institute, will be speaking at the Brooklyn Heights Synagogue at 8:00PM. The series is being funded by UJA-Federation of New York, and cosponsored by ourselves and our sister congregations in Brownstone Brooklyn. I urge you to come and hear Tal, and ask him questions, which you will have the opportunity to do. While there is no admission fee for members of the congregations of Brownstone Brooklyn (including Union Temple, of course), it is important for UJA-Federation to be able to track the registration and the response. Please register HERE and use the registration code UT16.
While memory informs our perspectives, we have the power to shape and reshape our vision of the future. Ultimately it is our values and ethics that need to guide us as we seek to carve out a future of peace for ourselves and our children.