When I see a picture of an infant’s stomach rising rapidly up and down with each breath, I remember. When I notice a billboard about cancer research, I remember. When I pass the turnoff to the hospital, when the sun breaks through the clouds just the way it did that morning, when I look at her picture in that hat with the oversized flower bought to hide the hair loss, I remember.
I don’t need a special day set aside. I will never forget my granddaughter.
And I’m sure the same is true with Holocaust survivors. Their continued daily traumas have been extensively documented. Whether in hoarding food as they recall the hunger, in refusing to countenance the performance of Wagner in Israel as they recall the negative association, or in their high expectations for their children as they recall unrealized potential, they never forget.
And for the parents of those who died to defend Israel and its people, whether in war or as victims of terror attacks, the memories are undoubtedly still fresh, the images still vivid. They don’t need a day set aside. Perhaps they sometimes wish they could forget.
Yet there may be a certain psychological wisdom to days of remembrance. Perhaps we need to have a unique moment devoted solely to remembering, a day where we can freely indulge and give vent to that painful emotion. No holding it in; no more stiff upper lip.
Maybe we need this time so that we can manage the rest of our lives, so that we are not constantly at the mercy of our pain, in order to diminish or suppress that sense of rawness and vulnerability. Maybe that’s a reason to set aside a day to remember.
But I think these occasions are not really for the relatives of those who lost their lives; they are for those who aren’t. They are for those who are in danger of forgetting -- those who didn’t meet my granddaughter because of the need for isolation but may forget the power of the prayers they said for her, may forget the sense of unity and connection they felt with other Jews as they recited Psalms on her behalf.
They are for those who didn’t experience the Second World War, who perhaps lived comfortable lives in America or were born in later generations, for those who Jewish consciousness was not shaped by the horrors of the Shoah. They need to learn and remember.
And for those who didn’t fight in Israel’s wars -- for Americans and Israelis who may have chosen to build their lives elsewhere or for children too young to remember the excitement of ’67, the terror of ’73, the disaster in Lebanon. For those who weren’t born at the time of the Gulf War or were infants during the Intifada -- they need a day of remembrance. They need to know all the ways in which we’ve struggled for our people. They need to understand what this means so they won’t cavalierly toss away what others have struggled so long and hard to preserve.
They need to learn our history so that they, too, will be prepared to stand up and fight -- whether with words or with arms, whether with the intellect or with might, whether with the spiritual or the physical.
There are those who are in danger of forgetting -- those who don’t even know what there is to remember. For them -- and for future generations -- we need these days of remembrance.