The Importance of Remembering

The best way to honor the memory of Holocaust victims is through Jewish continuity.

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While ceremonies to commemorate the Holocaust are still being created, other reactions to this modern catastrophe have arisen within the Jewish community. One of the most widespread reactions is that remembering means preserving and enhancing Jewish continuity. In this article, the author argues passionately for commemoration of the Holocaust through creative and meaningful Jewish living.Excerpted from Celebrate! The Complete Jewish Holiday Handbook. Reprinted with permission from Jason Aronson Inc.

We always talk about remembering in conjunction with the Holocaust. Remember the six million. The world must remember so that a holocaust can never again happen. Remember those who perished in order to honor them and give their deaths meaning.

Memory has Brought Us This Far

It is memory that has allowed us to last through thousands of years of history. Our religion and our people are founded on the collective memory of revelation at Sinai. Scripture throughout commands us to remember: Remember the Sabbath day (Exodus 20:8), observe the Sabbath as a reminder of the Creation (Exodus 20:11) and of the Exodus (Deuteronomy 5:15); remember, continually, the Exodus; remember what the evil Amalek did

All those memories define us and help us keep focused on the goal of our national mission. As the Baal Shem Tov (the founder of [Hasidism]) taught, "Forgetfulness leads to exile while remembrance is the secret of redemption," words that appropriately guard your exit from the history museum at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem.

The wall above the eternal flame in the Hall of Remembrance of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC also invokes memory. "Only guard yourself and guard your soul carefully, lest you forget the things your eyes saw and lest these things depart your heart all the days of your life. And you shall make them known to your children and to your children's children" (Deuteronomy 4:9).

Memory as a Positive Force

The biblical citation etched into that wall, while an apt admonition in the face of Auschwitz, is out of context. What the original usage enjoins us never to forget is the experience at Mount Sinai and the laws given to us there, the positive context for purposeful living.

What we have to keep in mind in recalling the Holocaust is that memory must function, as it does in the Bible, as a positive force. It should not be used to inflict guilt and exact vengeance and certainly should not be (as unfortunately occurs) the defining element of Jewish life. We cannot raise our children to be healthy, constructive Jews by cowering them with expectations that the anti-Semitic world will force Jewish identification on them. Being Jewish mainly because the Holocaust happened or because anti-Semitism continues is not sufficient reason to hang on to a culture.

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Lesli Koppelman Ross is a writer and artist whose works have appeared nationally. She has devoted much of her time to the causes of Ethiopian Jewry and Jewish education.