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Making time to remember

20/04/20 06:14:54 PM


Rabbi Boris Dolin

It is one of the most moving moments of the annual Montreal Yom Hashoah commemoration. After an evening of readings, songs and stories of individual survivors, one by one, the different generations are asked to stand up and be recognized. First, with a remarkable sense of humility in their eyes, the survivors slowly stand, a few scattered people spread around the room. Then their children rise. They are followed by the grandchildren and great grandchildren. Within mere moments, the survivors, those who saw and experienced unspeakable horrors yet somehow held on to life, are surrounded by a living web of others standing in support and solidarity. It is made clear in a way that only can be felt when you are in this space and this moment, that every life matters, and we can never take for granted the obligation to remember the past and the stories of those who came before us.

Sadly this year there will be no in person gatherings on Yom Hashoah, and the commemoration took place last night only online.  (You can watch it here). As in past years, it was a beautiful and moving collection of reflections, songs and prayers. Yet, without the experience of gathering together as a community, undeniably some of the emotional power was lost. Commemorations in Israel, Poland and throughout the world will be shared in similar ways. This year, we will not be able to stand together, or be able to look in the eyes of all the others around us who are holding onto the memories of the past. We will do our best to live this day with intention, but the challenges of our current reality make even this humble day of remembering even more painful. The tears may still flow, but for so many of us, we will cry alone.

This year, the pandemic has forced us all to to reexamine how we remember.

Not that long ago we had to upend our usual traditions of our Pesach seders. This year we had no choice but to let go of the joy of sitting with family and friends to remember our communal story. Instead, the table settings were few, and while we found a way to still hold our seders, and possibly even connect with more people than we ever had before, the experience was just not the same.

We remember all of the people who have died from Covid-19 in the past few months, and all of those who are still sick or in recovery. We hold on to the billions whose lives and livelihoods have been upended, and the pain and fear brought on by an anxious future. In this pandemic, the world simply seems so much more confusing, and the future so much more uncertain. We have no choice but to live day to day, unsure of when our lives will return to some sense of normalcy.

And as I am writing this, more information is coming in about the terrible mass murder in Nova Scotia on Sunday, a horrible tragedy for a community already broken up by the challenges of a pandemic.

This year the obligation to remember is one that spans generations, and crosses all boundaries of culture, religion and nationality. For the Jewish community, I hope we can use the lessons of the Holocaust to inspire us to continue our fight for a better world and to hold on to the signs of hope that we can still find all around us. The way we commemorate the day may not be the same, but the lessons are still just as strong.

Another moment of remembering. This past week was the yahrzeit of our beloved Rabbi Ron z"l, who died nearly four years ago. His leadership and vision was one which symbolized so much of what we need right now. He believed deeply in holding on to tradition, but also looking towards the future with an eye on intentional change and action as a way to strengthen our lives and make a more ethical and compassionate world.

Rabbi Ron reflected beautifully on the importance of remembering in a blog post on Parshat Vayechi in 2015. He wrote that our identity is not only formed from how we see and understand the past, but more importantly by what it does to our future. Our story, our individual and communal story is most powerful when it creates a “narrative of obligation for our future." Rabbi Ron concludes his essay with an important reminder: “For the sake of your own individual identity and that of the collective well-being of your nation, learn to transform your narrative of the past into a blessing for the future.”

What powerful words to hold on to on this day of remembering. This year, our world and our own lives may feel more broken than ever, and we are not even able to be together to hold on, and hold each other as we have done before. Yet, no matter how we remember this year, it is what this memory brings to our current reality that really matters. May we all remember the fullness of our history--the tragedies and the pain, but also the moments of victory and hope. This year, may we reach back into our past, listening deeply to the stories of those who came before us, so that we can know how we can best move forward. Even in these unsure times, let us be guided above all by hope, and let remembering give us the assurance that better days are ahead.

Fri, May 29 2020 6 Sivan 5780