Memory Good or Bad?

November 7, 2023, Israel

Is it good to remember, or better to forget?

The answer is not simple. In fact, you might say it is a major philosophical issue. Some say that those who choose to forget, to "put the past behind them", are happier. There is a certain logic to this. We all experience various traumas throughout our lives and are advised not to "dwell in the past", but rather to "move on". Those who wallow in their misery are pitied but soon ignored. As they say, cry and you cry alone, laugh and the world laughs with you. 

We want to be happy, we want to enjoy life, to live it to the fullest. 

I know of people that experienced some terrible things in their early years. We had a relative who as a teenager was brutally beaten, a sexual assault. Throughout her life the event never was mentioned, never came up again. Towards the end of her life, my dear mother, may she rest in peace, wondered about this relative. She was say to me, "Did she totally forget it? bury it in the past? or does she just prefer not to talk about?"

My mother of course never raised the issue, and died with the question unanswered. Perhaps it is better to forget such a terrible experience rather than let it cripple you emotionally for the rest of your life.

Or perhaps not?

Perhaps if this individual made a point of remember her terrible experience, she might have raised awareness to the issue. Perhaps she would have created centers to deal with the emotional trauma of such a violent assault? Perhaps she would have urged young women to learn self-defense?

Remembering a past trauma does not mean that we are destined to a life of misery. But you can see both sides to this question; is it better to remember or to forget?

The Jewish people, the Jewish religion, on the whole, have chosen to remember. Memory is a major theme of our religion and is incorporated into our life cycle. Every Sabbath we are told to remember that God created the universe. Every holiday we are reminded of some historical event. Every Passover we are commanded to retell the story of the Exodus from Egypt. Remember, do not forget, we are told. 

Remember, Zachor, in Hebrew, is a commandment. Remember what the nation of Amalek did to you when you were weak and leaving Egypt! Remember the 6 million martyrs of the Holocaust. Remember lest you forget!!

We remember for various reasons. We wish to honor the victims. They died as martyrs, if we forget them, it is as if they have died twice, a physical death and an historical death. We like to say, Gone but not forgotten. When we forget these holy martyrs they are indeed Gone and Forgotten. This is unacceptable. 

The second reason is to learn from what happened. As the saying goes, he who forgets the past is destined to repeat it, and this is very true. Many Israelis forgot about the atrocities the Arabs committed in the 1929 Hebron Massacre, sadly they had to experience it themselves in the October 2023 Massacres. Now they are vowing never to forget. This morning I read about an initiative by Prof. Dina Porath to leave one burnt house in each of the many villages that were attacked by the Arabs of Gaza, as a reminder, and a warning for future generations. While rehabilitation efforts are already underway, already the world is denying that these atrocities took place. In 1945 American general, Dwight D. Eisenhower told his soldiers to film everything they saw as evidence of the atrocities of the Holocaust, he predicted that a day would come when haters would deny that these horrific events actually took place. He was so right! 

Remember, do not forget, do not allow it to happen again.

Even now, no less a figure than the queen of Jordan, our neighbor with whom we supposedly have peace, openly claims that the atrocities committed by the Arabs from Gaza are "unconfirmed", a journalist had to politely correct her, and say, "I am sorry, but I have to stop you here, international experts have confirmed these events, we have seen babies riddled with bullets". 

Yes, we must remember. 

All over Europe there are stolpersteine, stumbling stones, to indicate where Jews once lived before being deported to the deaths. Yes, it can be depressing to see these every day as you walk into your home, but it is a reminder. Remember what happened, remember what can happen again if we allow ourselves to forget. 

So yes, Prof. Dina, I agree, leave one destroyed home in each Israeli village. Leave it as it is with baby carriages covered with blood of innocent young ones, with childrens' rooms strewn with their music cd's and clothing, homes of the elderly with their walkers and canes and photos of their beloved grandchildren shattered on the floor. Leave it as the Temple of Jerusalem, in ruins as the day it was destroyed, as a monument to cruelty, as a reminder that He who is merciful to the cruel will end up being cruel to the merciful

And now, let us not be complacent, let us begin our training, to be ready, when they come for us. 


Moshe Katz, 7th dan Black Belt, Israeli Krav Maga. Certified by Wingate Institute. Member Black Belt hall of fame, USA and Europe.

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