Monday, February 6, 2017

Yad Vashem, Har Herzl, and How We Think About Memory

Human memories are not always the most accurate. We idealize the past often, but we also sometimes tend to horrorize it, especially those times that are times of tragedy. On one of our last days in Israel, we went to Yad Vashem, the Israeli Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem which triggered a longer train of thought for me: How do we remember the Holocaust (or other deaths or tragedies for that matter) without forgetting to celebrate life? One of the things that I like about The Kaddish Yatom, the Mourner's Kaddish, is that it does not mention death. Instead, it is all about celebrating life and praising God for life.

And that's what I learned in the first room of Yad Vashem. We need to remember that the people who were killed in this horrific tragedy were people just like you and me. They had their own cultures, music, food, tradition, and relationships. They are not the bodies found at Auschwitz or the emaciated  people in the camps. We collectively decide what we want to remember about these people. Most Holocaust museums show more of the death and less of the life, and I don't know how I feel about that.

Later that same afternoon, we visited Har Herzl, Israel's military cemetery which, at the top of the hill, the Har, has the grave of Theodore Herzl, a man who was incredibly significant in the imagining of the state of Israel. But as one walks down the hill, passing the graves of past prime ministers, one comes to the graves of the ordinary people who were killed in battle, and there are a lot of them, and more and more are added. Sometimes, when we are not confronted with these kind of things, instead of with just the numbers on a page. Only we forget about the complexity of the lives of every single person. I just think we should think long and hard about who and what we remember and why. And we must not forget to remember not only those in our own lives, but those who are in danger of being forgotten.

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