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A Collective Jewish Memory

Tags: Memory, Holocaust, Jewish Identity, Diaspora, Judaism, Justin Amler

By Justin Amler

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A member of the World Jewish Congress lights a candle at the Gleis 17 (Track 17) memorial of the deportation of Jews from Berlin to concentration camps during World War II, in Berlin Sept. 16. Tobias Schwarz - AFP/GETTY

It has often been said that Jews have long memories. Memories that stretch back through the pages of history, unravelling the chapters of the past, reaching out to our humble beginnings. It is an obsession of ours – the energy force that governs our every action.

We guard our past jealously, because we have seen too many attempts to destroy it – to make all that has happened in our past…unhappen.

We saw it during the Holocaust where Jewish centres of cultural life, hundreds of years old, were eradicated. We saw how in the Arab world, Jews who had been living there for thousands of years were forced out and expelled. We see it today where Iran attempts to convince the world the Holocaust didn’t exist. We also see it being done by the Palestinian Authority with continuous attempts to try to remove our connections to our homeland, with their outlandish claims that we are occupiers in our own land.

But we do remember.

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Remains of the Grybow synagogue, southern Poland.

I have walked through the old city of Krakow in neighborhoods that once housed vibrant Jewish life. I have entered abandoned synagogues where the faint etchings of faded Jewish symbols are still visible among the peeling layers of paint. I have walked upon the cobblestoned paths, where the old Yiddish signs can still be seen along the sides of the road. I have closed my eyes to the eerie silence around me, and imagined the buzz of activity that must have once existed. In my mind, I have tasted the freshly baked challot on a Shabbat evening.

In my mind, I have brushed past the hive of people going back and forth, little children clinging to the safe and protecting hands of their parents. I have seen old black and white photos of the haunting images of people who stare back at me curiously, frozen in a moment of time from a life that once existed and was then no more.

I have walked through the streets of Israel and witnessed the vibrancy of life in its full glory. I have heard the smatterings of conversation, laughter and arguments and the din of the busses going by. The spicy aroma of felafels and shwarmas have filled my nostrils with culinary ecstasy. But I too, have closed my eyes, and imagined a much earlier time, where the Israelite tribes fought to hold onto their land against the foreign invaders of their time.

Perhaps, in the diaspora, it’s even more important, and at times, even more challenging to maintain our Jewish identity.

And so today, I wear around my neck, a Magen David, or Star of David forged from the Greenstone of New Zealand, where I once lived.

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Greenstone is important to the indigenous Maori population, and its various designs and depictions are used to tell stories. My design, which I had made, also tells a story – it is a story of myself, and my family and my people. It has limited financial value, but unlimited spiritual worth. And when I wear it, it is the symbol of who I am and my place in the world.

Despite the many attempts that have occurred in the past, and undoubtedly the many attempts that will occur in the future – we hold onto our memories, because memories are that invisible force that binds together the very foundation of who we are – despite where we might find ourselves in the world.

I wear my star with pride as it accompanies me on the journey of my life, as I too make my own memories. And when times are dark, and hope is scarce, I hold it close and I hold it dear, because it means I’m part of something greater than myself.

It is the affirmation of who I was, who I am, and who I will be.

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Justin Amler is a South African born, Melbourne based columnist who has lived in South Africa, New Zealand and Australia and is currently working in the Information Technology industry. He is an avid contributor to discussions on Israel, writing frequently to local newspapers.


How Do You Make Meaning of Memory?

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Share Your Story memories@israelforever.org!



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