Saturday, June 22, 2024

The Dangers of Selective Memory – Behaalotecha, 2024

Shabbat shalom!

In Numbers 11:4-6, we find the following:

4. And the mixed multitude that was among them had a strong craving; and the people of Israel also wept again, and said, Who shall give us meat to eat?

5. We remember the fish, which we ate in Egypt for nothing; the cucumbers, and the melons, and the leeks, and the onions, and the garlic;

6. But now our soul is dried away; there is nothing at all, beside this manna, before our eyes.

It’s amazing to me how the Children of Israel could have such a selective memory…..  It hadn’t been all that long that they were slaves in Egypt.  And yet, the memory of the horrors of enslavement have begun to fade – all that they can remember is the fact that their bellies were full….

I think of this on this Shabbat because as we have learned so many times throughout history, the way that we remember the events that defined our past has a direct impact on our future.

·      80 years ago, on June 6 1944 – the Allied forces began an all out offensive against Germany that became known as D-Day

·      57 years ago, on June 10, 1967 – the 6 day war broke out in Israel

What ties these events together?

The fact that memory is selective.

So much of who we are and what we do is dependent upon who and how we remember the major events and individuals who made it possible for us to be here in the first place.

On June 6, 1944 – 80 years ago -- more than 160,000 Allied troops landed along a 50-mile stretch of heavily-fortified French coastline, to fight Nazi Germany on the beaches of Normandy, France. Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower called the operation a crusade in which, “we will accept nothing less than full victory.” More than 5,000 Ships and 13,000 aircraft supported the D-Day invasion, and by day’s end, the Allies gained a foot-hold in Continental Europe. The cost in lives on D-Day was high. More than 9,000 Allied Soldiers were killed or wounded, but their sacrifice allowed more than 100,000 Soldiers to begin the slow, hard slog across Europe, to defeat Adolf Hitler’s crack troops.[i] 

57 years ago, the world held its collective breath as the Israel Defense forces prevented an all-out assault on the fragile Jewish State.  For 6 days, the IDF waged a bloody campaign that not only established the State of Israel as a modern, powerful nation, but, for the first time in over 2,000 years, the Holy City of Jerusalem was returned to Jewish Hands.  The territorial gains achieved by Israel were a mixed blessing, of course.  They provided the framework for a peace treaty with Egypt, but, at the same time, the policies of settlement and occupation created new frontiers of conflict and tension that resonate in the headlines to this very day.

Even though I was only 8 years old at the time, I have a visceral memory of the fear of those 6 days – when the news of Israel’s potential destruction at the hands of multiple Arab Armies sent tremors throughout the Jewish world.  I also remember the euphoria that replaced that fear when, after the dust had settled, the scope of the victories achieved by the IDF became known.

These two events are well documented.  They still resonate in our souls because of the fact that, had they not taken place, the world would look very different today than it does.  Had we not stood up to the Nazi Death Machine at Normandy – every freedom that we take for granted – our ability to live as Americans, as Jews, in a society that, despite our political differences, still values and believes in the goodness in all of humanity – would not exist.

Had Israel not prevailed during those 6 days in June, our Jewish identity would be radically different.

And yet – there are those in the world today who either can’t or won’t remember the realities of history.  There are those who deliberately manipulate the human capacity to shut out painful memories to further their own hateful propaganda.  Those who would deny the holocaust.  The fact that throughout Europe we are seeing a dramatic rise in Far Right political parties gaining power is terrifying.

Likewise, in the aftermath of October 7th, the constant anti-Zionist rhetoric we see coming from both the left and the Right ends of the Political spectrum – particularly in the oft-repeated canard that Israel is an Apartheid state, charges of genocide, colonialism and the legitimzation of Hamas propaganda, the fact that Israel is an occupying power in the West Bank and Gaza Strip has far overshadowed the historical reality of the fact that these territories were gained – not for the purpose of territorial expansion, but for self-protection in the first place. It is easy to look at the torment of the Palestinian population in Gaza and blame Israel for the fact that they were defenseless civilians targeted by a powerful occupying power.  It takes perspective and a will to dig deep to learn about the fact that Hamas deliberately places civilians in harm’s way when they place their rockets, ammunition depots, leadership and terror-tunnels in heavily populated neighborhoods – knowing full well that the images of women and children killed by Israeli missiles serve the purpose of gaining sympathy around the world. Nobody asks why Hamas made the decision to use 70% of the relief monies it receives from the United States, Qatar and other funders – not to improve the lives of its population, but rather to buy missiles, and build tunnels with the sole purpose of invading Israel and killing as many Jews as possible. Nobody takes the time to read the Hamas charter and see the blatant anti-Jewish rhetoric that was taken directly from the notorious 19th century forgery, the Protocols of the Elders of Zion – rhetoric that claims that Jews control the banks, the media, and were responsible for all of the world’s ills. The brutality of the attack on October 7th and the fate of the hostages of the hostages still in captivity in Gaza are overshadowed by the prevailing narrative in multiple circles that Israel somehow deserved to be attacked.

The past months of anti-Zionist morphing into Anti-Semetic rhetoric and actual violence against Jews on college campuses, in the streets and subways of major cities and in pro-Hamas demonstrations in America and throughout Europe is yet another reminder of the insidious nature of those who would reject, deflect or blatantly retell history in the pursuit of a hateful agenda is being played out on Social Media and the streets of cities around the world.

Like the children of Israel in our parasha – there are those who don’t want to remember.  There are those who cannot see past themselves and their own warped sense of reality.

·      This past June 12th – Would have been Anne Frank’s 95th  birthday

These past months have taught us to remember – to be vigilant- to realize that there is still so much work to be done if we are to be able to remember the vision of a 12 year old girl who wrote the following in her diary:

It's really a wonder that I haven't dropped all my ideals because they seem so absurd and impossible to carry out. Yet, I keep them, because in spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart. I simply can't build up my hopes on a foundation consisting of confusion, misery, and death. I see the world gradually being turned into a wilderness, I hear the ever-approaching thunder, which will destroy us too, I can feel the sufferings of millions and yet, if I look up into the heavens, I think that it will all come right, that this cruelty too will end, and that peace and tranquility will return again. 

The Israelites, in our parsha, were not able to focus on the truth of their enslavement and subsequent liberation. They focused only on their fears and desires for creature comfort. It is much easier to click on a link that spreads falsehoods and bigotry, than to try to learn how to see the holiness that is just beneath the surface – and that emerges with a little bit of digging. Our task is to do all that we can to educate, illuminate and illustrate the potential for goodness – even when we are living in the midst of falsehoods. Ultimately, I believe that truth wins out – whenever or wherever it is stifled, silenced or voted down by those in power.

As we move into the future, let us pray that we will remember and learn from the past.

Shabbat Shalom

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