COVER STORYOctober 2022

Turning Memory Into Meaning

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By Dr Elana Heideman

We hold memory as essential, carrying the past into the present in a way that helps us strengthen ourselves for the future. Remembering is something we do not only as individuals, but as a collective, as a community, as a nation united — too often — by tragedy. For too many, the act of remembering becomes in itself a somber experience, one suited for ceremonies or symbolic gestures. And too often, the emotional burden of remembrances is one that feels, for many, too much to bear.

With increasing terror attacks happening around the world, more wars, riots, rallies, revolutions, we are living in a time with no shortage of heinous acts to remember. And yet, we are also living at a time when we feel overwhelmed by the mental and emotional drain of the post-Corona world. What more could we do to translate the frustrations so many of us feel into something meaningful?

Throughout the world, remembrance is changing shape. Songs, poems, and art have become a part of the memorial experience both in Israel and in Jewish communities around the world. In their search for engagement with their community, leaders and organizers are looking for new ways to reach the hearts and minds of their members. They realize that the strength of our memory is drawn from the strength of the connection we pass on to our children, helping Jewish history become a part of their Jewish identity in a positive and meaningful way.

Making this happen is a challenge every educator faces. How does one teach atrocities when they are happening more often and are more visible than ever before? How does one translate a painful past event into something meaningful that surpasses the desensitization of today’s young generation? And how can we teach them to embrace Jewish life in a way that incorporates memory in a positive and uplifting way?

It requires inspiration, and passion towards a purpose. To translate memory into meaning, Israel Forever is working to ignite a passion for remembering that stems from the positive ideals and values that our people and our faith have always embodied. When young Jews learn about other young Jews targeted, inhumanely tortured, and murdered for being Jews, for being citizens of the Jewish democratic state of Israel, they should not be afraid to feel a unique connection, but rather should be given opportunities to direct their understanding into a positive expression and connection.

As decades pass from historical event, how it is remembered is an important part of its enduring legacy. The events of the 1972 Munich Olympics serve as an important example. The 22-hour tragedy is remembered by those who heard the fateful words “They are all gone…” by Jim McKay in his broadcast covering the massacre that was heard all over the world. But it took 40 years before the world took notice of the lack of remembrance on behalf of the International Olympic Committee, and another decade before the families would finally be compensated in what has become a global effort to recall the murder of 11 innocent Israeli athletes at the hand of Palestinian Arab terrorists. For all these years, the message of this tragedy was unfortunately lost until efforts to transform the event into an educational tool began to take shape.

From communities around the world, from campuses to classrooms, a collaborative initiative sought to bring the cause to the attention of the world, the Munich Memory Project, that offered a selection of reflections and insight that educators, parents, coaches and community leaders could use to finally engage in an exploration of the impact, depth and personal relevance of the events.

Our memory of tragedy, of victims of terror, have a lasting impact in our hearts and on our minds. It may invoke silence for some, or discussion for others. But above all, it should bring about a connection; an understanding that we are all Israel, and that these fathers, sons, husbands, brothers, Holocaust survivors, fighters of Israel, Mizrahim and Ashkenazim, Olim from across the world – all united as athletes for Israel – remain a part of our collective identity and our collective memory as with all victims of hate and terror, targeted simply because they are Jews.

To foster understanding about its significance has been, for now 50 years, a challenge many have taken personally. Sadly, in mainstream media and global awareness, victims of terrorism in Israel do not garner the same sympathy as victims of other racial or religious terror attacks. It is in this complex reality that our children live. Empowering them with the knowledge of how to address the horror of terrorism and memorialize victims in a positive way is important not only through education, but also through personal experience. And that involves every one of us.

The tragedy of Munich is behind us, and there is nothing that can change the atrocities that took place. But it is our duty to honor the memory of those who were murdered and translate the lessons for today. Imagine if, around the world, people recognized that the murder of these 11 Israeli athletes is not about politics or religion. This is about the protection of human life and understanding situations when it is compromised by hate and terrorism.

Whether remembering the Holocaust, the Munich Massacre of 1972, the wars forced on Israel, or the terror that threatens Israelis and Jews everywhere in the world, teaching through personal stories has become a central element of transmitting the history in a dynamic way. Making the victims “real” in the eyes of the learner, a fellow Jew just like them, is crucial to making the black and white images of the past into something felt in the present. Discussing openly the ideas that explore our strength as a nation, the character of our people, and how each and every Jew fits into that story – these are the keys to ensuring that the legacy of the nation of Israel is not lost to the waves of hate, lies and propaganda so popular in modern media.

It is incumbent upon us to protect the memory of the Jewish men, women, young and old, and the message their death should send to the world: that we cannot afford to stay silent or inactive in the face of enemies who seek to destroy, murder, defame, and control mankind through fear. By learning of the importance of the events in our collective history to people then and to as Jews today, we are given a glimpse of the universal meaning of the events that took the lives of the 11 Olympic athletes, the over 6 million Jews murdered by the Nazis, the 21,863 fallen soldiers and victims of terror, and the Jews persecuted generation after generation. We are given an opportunity to say – this story speaks to me, because I am connected to them by our shared lives as Jews in this world. And that is a lesson every generation must learn, again and again, from which to find inspiration, hope, and strength to see the beauty, the miracle of our existence, and of our one and only Jewish state in the world with no politics, only pride and a connection as a people. Those we remember embody the spirit of Israel, and together, in their memory, we can carry on that spirit through an exploration of its significance to each one of us – as Jews, as citizens of the world, as part of Am Yisrael, and as a part of our hope for a future without terror, where we can live, remember, honor and celebrate as a proud Jewish nation.

For more information on Israel Forever, or to bring one of their original programs or resources to your community, please see www.israelforever.org.

Dr. Elana Heideman is a historian, educator, writer and Executive Director and visionary of The Israel Forever Foundation, an informal engagement organization that provides experiential learning opportunities to celebrate and strengthen the connection with the land, history and heritage of the Jewish People as the nation of Israel. A dynamic speaker and passionate educational consultant, Dr. Heideman has worked with groups of all ages on matters relating to the Holocaust, Antisemitism, Zionism, and Jewish peoplehood. Having earned her PhD under the mentorship of Professor Elie Wiesel, Elana is committed to exploring ways to break boundaries with the transmission of memory into a meaningful and purposeful connection. Elana made Aliyah in 2005, and now lives in Nes Harim with her 3 children.

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