One of my favorite twentieth century Jewish thinkers is Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. I found a poignant quote attributed to him as I read reflections in a Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur Mahzor (prayer book):
“The authentic individual is neither an end nor a beginning but a link between ages, both memory and expectations…. To us, recollection is a holy act; we sanctify the present by remembering the past. To us Jews, the essence of faith is memory. To believe is to remember.”
We remember through stories. We remember through prayer. We remember through practicing and performing our many customs, rituals and mitzvot. We remember through Hebrew, the language of modern Israel and our ancient texts. We remember through knowledge. Without memory there is no past and there is no future. Memory helps us to answer “Why be Jewish in 2016?”
Each one of us is who we are because of those who came before us. We are a product of our families and our people. We are the story – the inheritors of the sacred gift handed to us; our reason for being, our ethics and values, our traditions and idiosyncrasies. They are ours!
Without our sacred past we would exist in a void, trapped in the here and now, looking for meaning in the transient – coming up empty as so many people do today.
We are the story and to write our future, the expectations of tomorrow, we have to know our past to pass it forward. Yes, we are a link and that link must be strong at both ends.
The “authentic” individual needs authentic learning opportunities and experiences to author a future that will be sustainable. We get to add to the story and adjust it to reflect our times, our needs and our realities.
We live in a time when more people seem to want less commitment but expect more. Life does not work that way. To be a member of our rich and complex people demands time, effort and commitment.
Hillel parents and parents like you understand this. You demonstrate this understanding by sending your children to a Jewish day school. You strengthen our school and our community because you understand that we sanctify the present and create a future by remembering the past.
Your children will have a strong and rich Jewish memory to enable them to sanctify their present while creating a link to the future of our people by personally building upon it.
As the New Year approaches, please make your voice heard in the community. Tell the story of Hillel Day School as it is today and share the pride I hope you feel in our community. Most importantly convey to your friends, neighbors and family members that in addition to the outstanding general education, a priceless gift awaits their children – the gift of memory – to know who they really are, where they belong and the future they can create!