Always Remember vs. Never Forget
Sometimes the strangest things stick with you. For me, Marlon Brando says something in his monologue in Apocalypse Now that has never left me: “I remember it, I never want to forget...” That line always stuck with me and I have, on occasion, pondered it.
What is the difference between “always remember” and “never forget?”
Yesterday, we, along with the whole of the Jewish people, observed Yom HaShoah - Holocaust Memorial Day. It is a painful reminder of the darkness that descended upon our world and our people in the not so distant past. The words “never forget” are now inseparable from our thinking about the Shoah. And yet, life goes on. Just this morning I was noticing the pointy bright green shoots that have suddenly broken through the mulch outside our school. The seasons turn, life moves on. Things are beautiful on days they have no right to be.
Likewise, yesterday we had an amazing celebration. HBHA Upper School Principal Todd Clauer, one the most beloved people I have ever met, completed his final chemotherapy treatment for colon cancer. Last night he was able to “Ring the Bell” at his cancer treatment center, signifying the end of his long, arduous journey. I must say here, that Todd has been inspirational - resolute, optimistic, and energetic beyond my wildest expectations. Yesterday afternoon, teachers, Upper School and Middle School students celebrated Todd's achievement by cheering and hollering for him in the hallway at a designated time. A very surprised Todd was able to deliver an impromptu speech that was meaningful and touching.
On the one hand, it felt odd to be celebrating a simcha (joyous occasion) on Yom HaShoah. On the other hand, we must celebrate when we can and never fall prey to pessimism, depression, or fear.
This is the difference between always remembering and never forgetting. If we are to always remember pain and loss, we would never have room to feel joy and celebrate. We would be too busy remembering pain. But to never forget allows us to keep the pain of our history meaningful and important - and also keep it in check. We have room in our hearts and minds for celebration and joy - and we know that that is ok; we will still never forget.
Teaching about the Holocaust is hard. It is one of history's darkest moments, in which we were the primary victims. Focusing too much on that aspect can create a Jewish identity that is “always remembering” - with too much emphasis on survival, defiance, and fear of others. We are building identities that see Judaism as joyous, exciting, and compassionate. This is the tightrope we walk in teaching our students about the Holocaust - yet we know it is our responsibility to do so. We must never forget, and we must too, raise young adults who will never forget, even if they aren’t always remembering.
May you always remember the joys of your life, and never forget the struggles.
HBHA Head of School