I marvel at the resilience of the Jewish people. Their best characteristic is their desire to remember. No other people has such an obsession with memory. — Elie Wiesel
Elie Wiesel was right. We Jews are big on remembering.
We remember those who have come before us at their yarzeits, and with the breaking of a glass under the chuppah. We remember our redemption from Pharaoh’s hands each year at our seders. We remember the military victory of the Maccabees every Hanukah. And we remember the murder of 6 million each year on Yom HaShoah and utter the words “Never forget,” as if we need an extra reminder to remember.
This Shabbat is the Shabbat of memory: Shabbat Zachor, which always falls on the Shabbat before Purim. Just before we celebrate one of our most joyous holidays, we remember the evil. The Torah tells us, in our special maftir section from the end of Chapter 25 in Deuteronomy, “You shall blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven. Lo tishcach: Don’t forget.” Essentially we are told to remember to forget Amalek, and his descendants, who are thought to include Haman, whose name we blot out with boos during the reading of Megillat Esther.
Remember to forget? If we forget entirely, we will not remember. If we remember entirely, can we go about our lives?
Memory is a funny thing. When I was younger, and I would complain about something, my Aunt Minnie used to say that there was my version, the other person’s version (the other person was usually my mother,) and somewhere in the middle was the truth. There is personal memory and collective memory and it can be somewhat disarming when we hear a story that is so far from the story that we have always learned.
This idea was never as evident as during our day in Zippori with the Leadership Institute, a group 40 Jewish educators from the NY area who have been traveling thoroughout Israel and discussing change. Zippori is about halfway between Haifa and Tiberias in northern Israel. There we met Amin Muhammad Ali who told us the story of his childhood in the town he calls Saffuriyya. He now lives in Nazareth “temporarily” as he says, but keeps the memory alive of the night of July 16, 1948, when, as he says, the Zionists forced his family and his neighbors from their homes and their land. Amin told us this story, with great drama and emotion, through an interpreter, in a Arab cemetery in Zippori. I suspect that he remembers this story quite a lot. I suspect that he has made a life of remembering. He told us his tale of war and relocation. He told us his history. He told us that he wants to “come back to Saffuriyya and live with the Jews who live here now…We are waiting for peace, real peace.” He sees no differences between the Arab and the Jew but has a problem with the Zionists. (Shlomit, an Israeli educator who was part of our guide team, explained that by Zionist he means “everyone who came to Zippori after 1948.” So that would essentially mean all of the Israelis. Was she correct?) I was waiting to hear why Amin wanted to meet in this cemetery. Was there a massacre? A desecration? No, not that we heard. Clearly, this was a place where the impact of his memory could be felt most strongly.
We then heard an entirely different narrative. This was our story. We visited the ruins that have been uncovered in Zippori. The ruins where Yehudah HaNasi, the redactor of the Mishnah, lived and worked. We sat in the remains of the synagogue where he prayed and we remembered the beginnings of the Talmud. We saw the amazing mosaics and imagined his life and the society there. Why did Yehudah HaNasi go to Zippori? The Talmud answers that question (Ketubot 103b): “Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi was in Bet She’arim, but when he became ill, they brought him to Zippori, for it is high and has good air.” That it does. So this place has become part of our collective memory, our history as Jews.
And after being steeped in Jewish memory, memory that goes back almost 2,000 years, we were brought to the present. We visited the home of our leader, Roberta Bell-Kligler, the Head of the Department for Jewish Peoplehood at the Shdemot Center for Community Leadership at Oranim College. The previous day, Roberta and her colleagues had organized a ground-breaking conference bringing Israeli educators and American educators together. Roberta and her family lived on Moshav Zippori, a collective founded by 200 holocaust survivors in 1950. She explained that she moved to Israel years ago with a group of friends from Berkeley. In her lovely home, a stone’s throw away from the digs we had just visited, we were shown pottery handles, stones, and ancient money that she had found nearby. We heard of the children that she and her husband raised there. We also heard the view of Israelis who live their lives in the modern Zippori. This is their home. The Zippori where they live, and work, and created families, and created new memories.
As with most stories, the story of Zippori is complicated. And it is filled with many sides of remembering, all of which we should not forget. Albert Einstein said: “Memory is deceptive because it is colored by today’s events.” That certainly is true in Zippori. Today’s events and yesterday’s events. And as my Aunt Minnie might have said, somewhere in the middle of all of these stories lies the truth.
For more information, check out these links:
Article on Amin Muhammad Ali: http://electronicintifada.net/content/israel-begins-sell-refugees-land/8394
Zippori National Park: http://www.parks.org.il/BuildaGate5/general2/data_card.php?Cat=~25~~685252593
Oranim College: http://friends.oranim.ac.il/node/86