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Of all the moments you’ve experienced, which ones are emblazoned in your memory? I am afraid of heights, and I screwed up enough courage to ride on the ferris wheel in Coney Island one day when I was ten or eleven, and it got stuck, with me on the very top. I was scared! I remembered the glint of the sun on the sea, and the sway of the car – I’ll never forget.  As Rosh Hashanah draws close, it is my Grandparents whose memory looms large in my life as I spent the holiday with them: the odors of holiday meals,  the scratchy feel of Grandpa’s clothes & talit as I sat with him to hear the sound of the shofar, the warmth of their smiles and embraces.

History is memory writ large. My daughter has recently graduated as a History major.  In particular, she has taken the tragic history of America’s native people to heart, and is impassioned to show people their story, and to expand that to awareness of all who are trodden.  History and memories are a strongly valued in Jewish tradition, I would even go so far to say we don’t exist as a people without them. REMEMBER WHO YOU ARE! advises Rafiki to Simba (from Passover post )

This week’s Torah portion ends with an injunction to REMEMBER the scoundrels Amalek, who attacked us from the rear in wanderings through the wilderness, attacking the most vulnerable among us.  And we are paradoxically told to blot out their memory. Perhaps we should forgive, but never forget. This has become the mantra of how so many deal with Holocaust history. But what is it me must blot out about Amalek?  Perhaps this: shame on us for letting them straggle behind, rather than embracing the elderly, the children!  The uncaring behavior of ours is what we needed to blot out.  Memories are not blank, they come with emotions and lessons – as my daughter’s history scholarship shows.

We don’t exist as individuals, as souls, without memories either.  Physically, the people we used to be no longer exist! The molecules that make you up come from the surroundings: the air you breathe, and the materials you eat and drink. You are completely rebuilt after about three years, made of molecules that, guaranteed, were once part of dinosaurs, of Leonardo daVinci, of Shakespeare.  The surface of your skin, even on the oldest person, is completely replaced and new every six or seven weeks. Each new day we are reborn, according to the morning blessings.  The ONLY thing that gives us an identity through time, that says I’m the same soul as I was a year or a decade or a half century ago, that tells me who I am, are the ideas and images our memories stitch together as a continuum.

Do you remember the musical Cats?  The song Memories is about Grisabella, the glamour cat, who lives in the memory of her younger self.  What makes it so poignant is how true it is for some. Further, how many of those family and friends we’ve lost to death continue to inform our lives today? Their memories are powerful for us.

Of course, for many the heartbreak is that Alzheimer’s disease,  erases what is so crucial. It is the long term memories that tell us who we are do persists the longest for patients. Ironically it is the loss of memory that drives home just how crazy important it is.

This incredible poem is by Alden Solovy is an ode to the value of History and Memory


History is sacred,
Memory is holy,
Time is a blessing,
Truth is a lantern.

Source of sacred moments,
Creator of time and space,
Teacher, healer and guide:
Thank you for the gift of memory,
The gift that allows us to see beyond the present,
The gift that allows us to remember our past,
And to remember our lives.

Thank you for the gift of vision,
The gift that allows us to imagine the future,
The gift that allows us to learn and to teach
The lessons of the ages,
The lessons of millennia,
So that we may heal ourselves and the world.

Eternal G-d,
Thank you for the gift of history,
The gift of ancient moments and modern tales.
Grant us the wisdom and understanding to see history in the light of truth,
To trust the enduring power of memory to guide us from generation to generation.

Alden Solovy and All rights reserved.

As the passing days bring us closer the Days of Awe, it is our memories that come front and center: memories of absent family members, memories of the deeds and mistakes of the past months, memories of last year’s resolutions, of past Holidays. They all converge to a sacred point in time. Awesome!


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