How Will Yom HaZikaron, Israel’s Memorial Day, Be Different This Year?

Posted by Aviva Lauer on May 8, 2024
Topics: Yom Hazikaron, Israel National Holidays, Holidays & Special Readings

At least in Israel, maybe this is the one year to let it go.

A few weeks into the war, when the young adults I work with were feeling the need to process the dark, topsy-turvy world falling down all around us, a wise friend who is a psychologist told me: it is not time yet to process. You can’t process something that is still happening so imminently. All we can do is figure out how to put one foot in front of the other, each moment of each day.

One would think that by now, more than six months into this war, we would have arrived at the processing stage. And yet, we are not there. We are still consumed, each of us in our own ways, with simply getting through.

There were months when my son was fighting in Gaza, without a phone, without a shower, and I was existing without a wink of normal sleep or normal breath. There were and are the hundreds of days of not knowing – will Hersh come home? Will Arbel come home? Will Carmel come home? Will Eitan and Yair and Noa and Amit… and the list is endless. So sickeningly endless.

There were and still are dozens of indispensable-seeming texts and messages, bombarding us with information and warnings and check-ins and “how are you”s and “thinking of you”s, contributing to our inability to focus on the horizon. There is what my daughter calls “טפשת מלחמה”, or “war stupidity,” which I prefer to call The Fog.

Then there is the overwhelming sense that the world chooses to abandon us; that this war has exposed a hatred that has always been there. As a left-wing liberal Israeli, I have found myself feeling such visceral anger and hurt that I could never have imagined possible before October 7th.

So it isn’t time for processing yet.

And memory, by definition, is processing. Processing is the act of mentally or emotionally absorbing, and making sense of what one has experienced or perceived. Our mind holds on to what it wants to retain, and allows us to remember.

How, then, can we spend a day set aside for remembering and processing – A MEMORIAL DAY – when we are just not ready to do that yet?

The Torah, in Deuteronomy 25, charges us:

Remember what Amalek did to you on your journey, after you left Egypt! How, undeterred by fear of God, they surprised you on the march, and when you were famished and weary, and cut down all those who were slow and pulling up the rear.

Therefore it shall be, when God has given you rest from all your enemies all around, in the land which God gives you for an inheritance to possess it, you shall blot out the memory of Amalek from under the sky; you must not forget!

Why does the text feel the need to add “you must not forget” when it has already enjoined us to “remember”? Perhaps, as is often the case, the seeming repetition is meant to demonstrate its import.

Alternatively, Targum Yerushalmi (Pseudo-Jonathan) adds a different spin to the “you must not forget!” clause:

“Therefore it shall be, when God has given you rest from all your enemies all around, in the land which God gives you for an inheritance to possess it, you shall blot out the memory of Amalek from under the sky; even in the times after King Messiah comes, you must not forget.

The Targum assumes that after the Messiah comes and the world has turned safe and healthy and idyllic, we will believe that we have no need to remember. That we will think our processing days have come and gone and that we can float, happily, through life. So differently from how we are bumping along now. So the Targum tells us: Specifically then, when things are so good, you must not forget. Because, as we know, we can never perceive how good things are until we compare them against the alternative. At the end of days, we will have endless days to process. And it will be good processing. The type of remembering that won’t hurt, because we will be on the other side of it all.

So perhaps this year we allow the day of remembrance to pass without deeper probing. Perhaps this year we allow ourselves to be numb. To not remember. To just forget. To allow the Fog in.

If we know that the processing time will have its time and place, since, even after the Messiah’s arrival, where we will be tasked with remembering – perhaps this year we take the pressure off and just keep putting one foot in front of the other.

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