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Memories of the Future

Let our Israeli friends, cousins, our extended mishpacha, know that we have not forgotten them

We are honored to host this gathering of solidarity with Israel. I speak here as the rabbi of this congregation and as the father of a former Israeli soldier who served in a tank unit guarding Jewish settlements formerly in Gaza.
Years ago, as a university student, I shared a meal with Isaac Bashevis Singer. He was a vegetarian and we spoke of the holiness of life. At some point, Singer said that Jews have a strong memory of our past, but we also must nurture a strong "memory of our future."

I think that Yaakov Avinu had a memory of the future. There was a time when he felt terribly alone. Years later, with his death approaching, he was no longer alone. Surrounded by family, the old man recalls the promises of God to his parents and grandparents. He asks to be buried in what will be called the Land of Israel and anticipates that Yosef will return there himself:

“Here, I am about to die. God will be with you and bring you back to the Land of your ancestors”

He lives with a memory of the past and a memory of what he wants the future to be.
[To this day, we bless our children with the words of Yaakov and ask that the angel that guarded him should protect all the future young people that descend from the children of Israel. So too for the young men and women who defend the State of Israel.]
Yaakov sees the events of his life in light of the future of his family. He has what Singer called “a memory of the future.”
The great poet of Israeli life, Yehuda Amichai also has a memory of the future. In his poem, “Tourists” he writes:
Once I sat on the steps by agate at David’s Tower,
I placed my two heavy baskets at my side. A group of tourists
was standing around their guide and I became their target marker. "You see
that man with the baskets? Just right of his head there’s an arch
from the Roman period. Just right of his head." "But he’s moving, he’s moving!"
I said to myself: redemption will come only if their guide tells them,
"You see that arch from the Roman period? It’s not important: but next to it,
left and down a bit, there sits a man who’s bought fruit and vegetables for his family."
The poet remembers and anticipates a future that is defined not by the historic past of ancient times, but in the reality of Israeli life as it is lived now.
Allow me to share with you a different memory of the future, one suggested by my friend, Rabbi David Wolpe. Imagine that some years from now you are sitting at a bus stop in Israel. A young man limps to the shelter and sits down. You begin to talk about the weather, life, an ordinary conversation. You tell him who you are, who your parents were, where you came from in Canada, even the shul you attended back home.
The man tells you that he was injured in the Hamas bombings of Ashkelon, a time when thousands of missiles were launched from Gaza into the cities and towns of the Negev. He remembers the tzeva adom, the red warning siren, and how he ran with his child, seeking some shelter, when a shrapnel fragment entered his leg. “At least it wasn’t my daughter.”
He speaks of the terrible time and the difficult choices. His brother was a pilot. He remembers: we didn’t want to go to war or kill others. But there was only so much restraint, only so much we could take. Eventually, we had to act. A nation has an obligation to protect its residents.
Even so, he recalls, his brother told him of the restraints the air force pilots were under, the careful instructions they were given to be precise, to avoid civilian casualties as much as possible. “No one ever fought with as much concern for their enemy as we did. We followed the words of the Bible: Do not rejoice when your enemy falls.”
He remembers a time when people thought that there would be no peace. He remembers those who helped in the difficult years. Indeed, he recalls Toronto, how the community always stepped up to help. He even remembers the synagogue that helped fund shelters for kindergarten children at the Masorti congregation in Ashkelon.
Nothing can take away his pain or his limp, but he tells you that he personally benefited from the support you offered. The people who helped him were funded by Jews from Toronto, Jews who cared. He remembers. And he thanks you.
What we do now will build that future memory. Let our Israeli friends, cousins, our extended mishpacha, know that we have not forgotten them. Do everything you can to ensure that Israel continues to fight a just war, avoiding as much as possible collateral damage to innocents. Keep alive the hope of better long-term relations between Israel and her neighbors. Keep working for shalom v’tzedek.
Support Israel in any way that you can. Write and speak up for her. Plan a visit. Send a care package to soldiers. Give tzedaka for special relief for the South.
Build a memory of the future the way Yaakov did. Construct what you want to be recalled, the way that Yehuda Amichai did. Act in a way that you will want that stranger at the bus stop to remember years from now. Let Israel’s children and their parents know that they are not alone. For among the most important needs we have as humans is the awareness that we are not alone. Be with our people so that we continue to live. Am yisrael chai.
Baruch Frydman-Kohl is the Anne and Max Tanenbaum Chair in Rabbinics and Rabbi of Beth Tzedec Congregation in Toronto, Canada. He is a Rabbinic Fellow of the Shalom Hartman Institute. He made these remarks at a Toronto rally for Israel in January 2009 attended by more than 5,000 people.

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