“Jews don’t have history, they have memory!”
While history is about what happened in the past, memory is about how that past drives our present and our future. As Avraham says, If history is prose, memory is poetry.
Jewish life and language is filled with opportunities to remember our past – “lizkor” and “zikaron” in Hebrew – so that the present can be a strong bridge to the future.
Remembering things that never happened
The difference between memory and history
The most important part of being a Jew is a sense of Jewish memory. That is why the verb that appears most in our ritual is Z’chor . Zecher, Zicharon Remember, remember, remember.
If someone asks me to describe who is a Jew in one sentence, I would say, ‘a Jew is one who is strictly forbidden from suffering from amnesia. But you cannot build a Jewish family, build a new Jewish home, you cannot create Jewishly without calling upon Jewish memory.
What is the difference between history and memory? History is knowing what happened in the past. Memory is asking how does what happened in the past impact on who I am today?
That is why we don’t teach our children that our forefathers came out of Egypt. We teach them that each person must see oneself as if he or she personally came out of Egypt.
The challenge to the Jew is how do you take this collective memory of this people and make it a part of your life. Because as a Jew you don’t function out of your own personal needs, you function out of a collective memory of a people.
Questions to think about
How does this memory help you recognize yourself?
Memory, Stories and Heritage: how do they affect our identity?
Collective Memory and Conflict: What happens when we meet someone who contradicts our “memory version”?
Are Truth and Memory truly interdependent?