How do we get memory into a day? That is surely what “Yom Hazikaron” Israel’s Memorial Day is summoning us to do? It seems an impossible task, the pain and reminders are constant. Yehuda Amichai Israel’s celebrated poet captures the dilemma so succinctly;
I have many times, like many watches
On the walls of a clock shop, each one shows a different time.
My memories are scattered over the earth
Like the ashes of a person who willed before his death
To burn his body
And scatter his ashes over seven seas.
“Like the Streams in the Negev,” A Life of Poetry 1948-1994
The somber mood of Yom Hazikaron adds an additional communal aspect to the anguish of the individual. We are invited to jointly Re-member, to re-affirm our membership as a people. This concept so powerfully articulated by Ruth,whose story we aptly read on Shavuot, where she famously exclaims, Your People are my People, Your God is my God. She implies that to be a part of this people is to take on their very essence. The public ceremonies, music and the grief on people’s faces somehow transcend the respect and honor for our fallen soldiers and victims of terror from the families to the family.
Our tradition is rich with these attempts and as educators our role is on the one hand to connect these memories to specific events but also expand these emotional experiences that must give expression to the multiplicity of our story; as we remember in grief so we must remember in joy. הזורעים בדמעה ברינה יקצרו “They who sow in tears shall reap in joy.” I would humbly suggest that our educational mandate change shall to must.
The juxtaposition of Yom Hazikaron to Yom Ha’atzmaut is an educative exemplar of this par excellence. But of course there is more, Yom Hazikaron and Yom Haatzmaut, occur between what perhaps must be the seminal events of Jewish History, they are celebrated during our journey from Egypt to Sinai, during our long march to Freedom; between Pesach and Shavuot.
The prototype of the Seder that we just celebrated is also based on this impossible task as instructed in the Mishna Pesachim 116a and consequently debated in the Talmud that follows; מתחיל בגנות ומסיים בשבח “one opens the story, (and hence the experience) with admonition and concludes with praise”. Rav and Shmuel then debate what this means or which parts of our stories should be used to illustrate and fulfill this requirement. I would like to suggest that their debate is not simply technical but it reflects a deeper angst of how is this done? How are we able to “limit” these memories both in time and content?
Again Amichai so poignantly captures this almost impossible task and provides a profound perspective anchored in our heritage
“Look, just as time isn’t inside clocks
love isn’t inside bodies:
bodies only tell the love.”
The Selected Poetry of Yehuda Amichai
Yom Hazikaron isn’t only one day for remembering though the name confusingly implies this. It is the occasion to tell the story and the time; to count and recount, to grieve and love, to educate optimism that as with all our seminal and cyclic stories begin in grief but end with joy.