Remembering.. to Forget?

I awoke this morning keenly aware that it is September 11th, and decided I was not going to write about it. (So much for intentions.) When it comes to recognition of September 11th as “the day that will live in infamy” of my generation, I struggle — how much do I want to commemorate, how much do I want to just live my daily life? My Facebook wall has been littered with messages: one who lamented the absence of any recognition of this day in history in a major newspaper, another who composed a poem about his memories of that day, acknowledging his sadness but also his willingness to be happy and to move on, a third changing her Facebook profile picture to an American flag and cover photo to a majestic nightscape of the Twin Towers.

Last Shabbat, we read the maftir from Parashat Ki Tétsé, which we famously also read each year on the Shabbat before Purim. It concludes (with Deut. 25:19), “Erase the remembrance of Amalek from beneath the Heavens. Do not forget.”

As the boy of thirteen who celebrated his becoming a Bar Mitzvah last Shabbat on our bimah read, I suddenly realized that at thirteen years old, this child was born the year our lives were forever changed. He doesn’t remember the panic I experienced as a new ninth-grader in public school twenty miles from midtown Manhattan. Why should he? He was barely born then.

I am most challenged by this question: Why should he remember? Does it matter to this thirteen year old kid that we remember? Should we tell him the stories we see in our minds’ eye? By Middle School, unless they’ve heard from parents and friends, our students haven’t learned this history yet.

And perhaps more to the point, does it matter that we remember at all? They say that those who forget history are doomed to repeat it. But is it everyone’s history or just our own?

“Erase the remembrance of [X]. Do not forget.” Perhaps there is a blessing in forgetfulness, but also the lesson of compartmentalization. The comedic accolade “He’s forgotten more than I’ll ever know in my lifetime” comes to mind. On September 11th, as many other days in which we choose to commemorate sad or challenging events, we acknowledge the new-found distance another year has brought us from the tragedy, but we remember. Perhaps more important of all, however, is that we show our children and our students that we are coping — that we remember, that we have been scarred, but that we are actively trying to move our lives into a place that minimizes the impact of the tragedy on our day-to-day living. We in the 21st century will carry this scar as long as we live, but let us do positive, unifying acts that make the blow just a little less impactful each year.

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