Family, Memory, and Identity
Before my I got engaged (over 26 years ago), I insisted that my soon to be fiance learn a song that my parents had sung to me throughout my childhood. It was a silly song from my mother’s overnight camp. In my mind, no one could truly become part of my family without learning that song.
Every family has traditions. Every family has a historian, the one who can trace back the family tree, the one who remembers all the stories of how their grandparents met, the one who regularly retells the most embarrassing thing that happened to each member of the family, the one who the family turns to in happy and sad times to remember exactly what happened when. . . . The family historian is a crucial part of any family, for without a past, what is a family’s connection? What is their future?
One thing that makes Judaism different from other religions is that we are a big welcoming extended family with a deep history. For our Jewish family, everyone has the responsibility to remember the history. That is what Jewish education is all about: memory, identity, family.
Tonight, with the beginning of Tisha B’Av, Jews around the world will sit on the floor in a dark rooms reading the Book of Lamentations, describing the destruction of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. There will be tears, sad melodies, and stories of heartbreak of what happened to our family over 2,600 years ago. We will read about death, destruction, and the exile of our people. But why would Jews in 2017 cry over something that happened so long ago, in a far away place, and to people we didn’t know? For the same reason we laugh when we hear about the time Grandma Sal drank a bit too much and took off her shoes under the glass top table at a fancy restaurant or that we cry when we think about our third cousin twice removed who was murdered just for being a Jew. The destruction of the Holy Temple is part of our family history, not just another story in a history book; this is what happened to us, to our people..
At the Passover Seder, we say, “We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt, but God brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand.” At Purim and Chanukah, we thank God “for the miracles that God did for us in those days, at that time.” This is a unique approach to history. On the 4th of July, I am grateful to be an American and for my freedom, but I don’t feel as if I was there during the War of Independence. On Thanksgiving I think about the experiences of the Pilgrims and the Native Americans, but I don’t view my turkey dinner as a reenactment of the meal they ate together.
So what’s the difference between Jewish history and American history? Jewish history is my family’s story. American history is the story of my country. Both are important, but the connections are different.
So why go Jewish? Why choose a Jewish education for your child? In order to truly feel the connection to our family stories, we need to know them. Each of us must take on the role of family historian and tell the stories of our people to the next generation. A Jewish education prepares our children to be the keepers of our stories and to experience them throughout the Jewish calendar year.
To all those fasting, I wish a meaningful and easy fast. To all of my Jewish family, I wish a year of memory, meaning, and connection to our people. Go Jewish!