Ukraine, Russia, and the Unbearable Lightness of ‘Never Again’

What if we remember well, but cannot act upon it? Will Jewish memory become a prison of our powerlessness?

“After decades of fearing that we would forget the horrors of our recent past, I am starting to fear the opposite possibility: that we Jews remember our history all too well but feel powerless to act on its lessons.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine invites analogies to our traumatic past. History begs us to learn from what came before. These analogies to the past are never perfect. Seeing analogies between past and present does not mean we think that anything that happened in the past would be identical to anything happening in the present.

For comparisons to be useful, however, they need not be exact. It is enough for us as Jews to see familiarity in the past and resemblance in the present. We do this to activate our sense of responsibility, to ask if we have seen this plot point before, to figure out how we are supposed to act in the story to change the inevitability of the outcome. We become different people when we remember, as the past merges with the present and points to the choices we might make. What if we remember well, but cannot act upon it? Will Jewish memory become a prison of our powerlessness?”

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