What Day Is It? Depends Upon Your Memory Place

Today is New Year’s Day – secular new year’s, of course. What do you do to mark the day? It seems somehow appropriate to note the passing of the year, the turning of the calendar page, the beginning of a new count of days. It’s arbitrary, of course, but it does help to give shape to our days, and significance to our years.

I spend some time on New Year’s Eve going through my datebook for last year, and speaking my memories of significant times aloud with my beloved. Do you remember this, and how do you remember that…. There are, of course, days of which I have no conscious memory. They have no “memory place”:

The “Memory Place” creates an encounter between the individual and the collective and the commemorated object, event, or symbol. This encounter disturbs the daily routine, which, because of its nature, encourages forgetfulness. Like a person who encounters the past by passing from time to time by a physical monument in his neighborhood or visiting a memorial, the past is also encountered  when the person faces the temporal “Memory Place” on the calendar. This encounter is cyclic by its nature and with it, the person reflects about the past event, and in a way, even experiences it every year. (Dr. Guy Miron, Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies)

Judaism gives us many opportunities for memory places in a year, and in so doing enriches our lives immeasureably. One of those Jewish memory places occurs today, by coincidence. Today is Asarah b’Tevet, the tenth day of the month of Tevet. The day commemorates the beginning of the end of the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians, in 586 BCE. Clearly, this is a day that would have long since been lost to us, if the Prophet Ezekiel, in his leadership position among the community of Jewish exiles in Babylon, had not mandated it as a day of remembrance.

There are those who suggest that such Memory Places as a day of destruction and exile should now be erased from the Jewish calendar, since the State of Israel has been re-established in our day and all Jewish exiles are able to come home. Yet the day has been on the calendar for so very long that for some to erase it seems wrong, and others of us might be left asking, how long is long enough to remember something that was once significant to us?

There’s another option. This particular “Memory Place” was chosen in the 1950s by the Israeli Rabbinate for a new significance: that of the yahrzeit for all the unknown victims of the Shoah, the Holocaust. Since traditionally, Kaddish is recited by an offspring on the date of a person’s death, what were we to do with all these Jewish deaths of unknown date? “Let the date of the first hurban (disastrous destruction) be the date of the last one”, suggested the Rabbinate, and so it is, we pray!

Read more about Asarah b’Tevet below, or by clicking on this link: http://www.myjewishlearning.com/holidays/Jewish_Holidays/Minor_Fasts/Ideas_and_Beliefs/Tenth_of_Tevet.shtml?p=0

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