The Stories We Tell
How should we remember the past so that it best teaches us how to live our lives into the future? Parashat Ki Tavo gives us a very interesting answer and model for us to use.
Israelite farmers were commanded to bring the first cuttings from their produce in a basket to the Temple where the Kohein (priest) would place them in front of the altar. The farmer then had to recite a declarative paragraph casting himself as an actor in the history of the Israelite people (Devarim/ Deuteronomy 26:5-10):
That first-person internalization is doubtless one of the reasons why the rabbis included much of this declaration in our Pesach Haggadah.
What we decide to remember and retell about the past informs us about who we are and what we want to be in the future-- which is what makes the Leo Martin March of the Living such an educational challenge.
Are we remembering the Shoah (Holocaust) just... to remember?!? And what parts exactly are we going to remember? 'Never Again!' is a common cry, but it's too late. Genocidal acts have already happened... just to other people. Does the lesson 'Never Again!' only apply to Jews? Surveying world history, I think we have a right to be self-centered by protecting ourselves first-- but of course, we shouldn't stop there.
Exactly what should our study about the Shoah and Israel teach us? And how should they (or shouldn't they) be intertwined in our Jewish storytelling narrative? That's what our team at CAJE is deeply engaged in exploring this year, so that the March curriculum reflects clearly thought-out messages, the best educational methodology for teens and metrics that are built in to evaluate if we accomplished what we intended.
Last year I had a fascinating conversation with Ido Frommer, who runs the Science Center in Yerucham (Miami's partnership city) and was here for the Robotics Initiative described above. Ido is an officer in the Air Force and former F-4 fighter pilot, so his Zionist credentials are unimpeachable. He is also the child of survivors-one of the Nazis and the other of Stalin.
At dinner, I asked him what he believes the Shoah teaches us. His answer was eye opening! There are 2 main lessons of the Shoah for him, and each of them relates to how he perceives Israel. One lesson comes from the narrative of the victims and one from the narrative of the murderers.
The indiscriminate killing of Jews and the inability of world Jewry to do anything much to stop it (the narrative of the victims) teaches us that we need a Jewish state- a sovereign country with a strong military where Jewish lives are a top priority and Jews can come home to it whenever they have need or desire.
The unimaginable cruelty and evil perpetrated by the Nazis against Jews and so many others (let's not forget them) teaches us that Israel needs to be a moral state- a country that serves as 'Or La'Goyim' (to paraphrase the prophet Isaiah 49:6), a City on the Hill, a beacon of morality in an immoral world that applies Jewish values to the complexities of statecraft.
And then he noted: "The right-wing in Israel only seem to remember the narrative of the victims and the left-wing only seem to recall the lessons we learned from the murderers; but the best course of action is for the State of Israel to work on achieving the delicate dialectical balance between both of these essential teachings."
What lessons do you derive from the Shoah? Do they inform your idea of what the State of Israel should be? And overall, what stories/messages do you tell to remember the Jewish past, so that it best teaches you and your family how to live your lives into the Jewish future?
As we look towards the New Year of 5780, this is a good time to reflect on the Jewish narrative we hold and how we are passing it along.