Weekly Teaching 9/05/2014
As we approach our High Holidays I find my mind drifting back to my trips this summer, first to Israel and then our Temple’s Jewish Heritage Tour of Central Europe. Roseanne kept a travel log while we were away and I asked if I could review it. I hadn’t really taken note of Roseanne’s log at the time, but what struck me right away was her choice not to use one of the large sized journal she often writes her reflections and poetry in. Instead, she used a small, mostly empty spiral notepad that had a picture of David’s Tower in Jerusalem on the front. Under the picture are the words: "A Pilgrim’s Journey".
When I asked Roseanne about using such a small journal, she said it was purposeful, having purchased the notepad at the Masada gift shop. While in Israel, Roseanne liked the idea of writing her notes on something Israeli. But more than that, when traveling to Europe, a place of both Jewish heritage and suffering, she wanted a reminder that Jerusalem is once again under Jewish self-autonomous rule.
Knowing she had put so much thought into the specific journal, I was now even more interested in what she had written.
Her entries caught the moments we shared. A few that rang especially powerful for me:
· A Tel Aviv sunset shimmers as a perfect round orange rolling across a pink Guava horizon, slipping into the dark sea depths.
· In Caesarea, the eyes of Hannah Senesh saw this sea . . . . and I saw a bride and bridegroom there.
· The paths and roadways of Israel connect me with the Biblical people who travelled them.
· Now in Auschwitz-Birkenau; I feel a very different type of historical connection.
· I walked the train tracks that the Nazis built for efficiency.
· I stepped upon the imposing platform, so very large, that led to Dr. Mengele’s hand pointing left or right . . .
· Rainy, wet and cold, we moved through the Death Camp; there was no shelter and the paths held sharp and jutting rocks.
· Through a narrow door in a rectangle room there were 4 white blemished cement walls – this was the gas chamber -- as I prepared to leave I saw the scratch marks!
· I can’t stop seeing the photos of faces; the Clothes; the Shoes; the Grieving.
· In Terezin, I saw the drawings, the musical compositions, the small spaces. I saw and read each of the children’s poems upon the walls.
· In an old synagogue cemetery in Prague there were tall trees of Life, and their thick roots edged over ancient tombstones.
· We went into the synagogue; "God’s House"; and prayer eludes me.
Roseanne’ log ended with these words:
There are hopes for a better world, a kinder human family, health . . . all of our many default petitions.
Of course, there are the prayers of praise, the wonder and gratitude for our world, beauty, love . . . our default spirituality.
I have come to consider remembrance as a prayer.
A prayer for the souls of loved ones.
A prayer for my soul.
A prayer to be close to God.
Remembrance at the Western Wall.
Remembrance safe in my country.
Remembrance in places darkened by hate.
Now I find myself praying best by remembering.
I had prayed with my feet on the streets we used to walk.
My most important discovery from my lengthy journey is my Prayer by remembrance.
Reading what Roseanne had written, thinking about our visits to Israel, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and the Czech Republic; Auschwitz-Birkenau and Terezin; Roseanne pointed me in a different direction for these holidays. I often perceive prayer as self-examination first and then the worthy words go out to God. But, praying by remembering is so fundamental to our tradition and an anchor I needed to more firmly grasp. The Amidah, our Standing Prayer, starts first with our recalling the God of our ancestors. Only by first remembering our history can we then move on with our prayers.
I recalled the writing of Martin Buber when he rightfully noted that memory is the key to being a Jew in the modern world. He wrote: "The People are for us a community of people who were, are and will be a community of the dead, the living and the yet unborn - who, together constitute a unity… The past of the People is her or his personal memory, the future of the People his or her personal task. The way of the People is the basis of our understanding of ourselves. When out of our deepest self-knowledge we have thus affirmed ourselves, when we have said ‘yes’ to ourselves and to our whole Jewish existence, then our feelings will no longer be the feelings of individuals. Every one of us will feel that we are the people, for we will feel the People within ourselves."
Our Torah states over and over again that we are commanded to remember the different experiences of our People throughout the centuries. It’s the act of remembering that firmly anchors our Jewish soul as part of the collective that is the Jewish People. The High Holiday liturgy will prompt our mitzvah of zichronot (remembrance) over and over again. We will sit together with all the Jews who have come before us, all the Jews in the world today, and all the Jews who will come after. Without the prayerful intention of remembrance we would be cursed to live as Jews only in the present. Such a curse would deny us our collective roots and with the strong winds of modernity we would certainly be blown away within a finite period of time.
In Israel, and then in Central Europe, Roseanne and I, along with our fellow Temple travelers, had the opportunity to witness firsthand the physical space that is intertwined in our Jewish historical consciousness. Like a seder table, where we become part of the story of redemption, we experienced a liberation from the enslavement of our beginning to forget. There, we were bluntly reminded.
With the arrival of our High Holidays, may we all find ourselves praying best, by remembering.