We were enjoying a relaxed Sunday brunch sharing stories and reflections when she decided to tell her story. She attended the same high school in Buenos Aires as my wife so I already knew that many students had disappeared during the military junta, but no one at the table knew her story.
She was walking home from school when a policeman grabbed her. She was thrown into jail, a hood was placed over her head, and she was tortured for eleven days. She had no sense of time. She had no idea what to expect. No one told her why she was in jail or why she was being tortured.
One day she was placed in a car and dropped off on the street. She made her way home and her parents, who were desperately searching for her, immediately placed her on a plane to Israel. Just as she was landing in Israel, the police broke into her parents’ home looking for her. She had been released by mistake.
Some of the people at the table knew her for more than thirty years and were shocked that she had hidden her story for so long. She chose to hide her memories from her children and friends until recently. She held her hidden memories close for so long because she did not want anyone to view her as the “person who was kidnapped and tortured.”
A person can hide her memories. A community may not. Many Germans would like to forget their memories of the Holocaust. Many of our enemies are trying to erase any memories of the Holocaust or that the Jews ever lived in Israel. We will not allow anyone to forget our past; the glorious parts and the nightmares.
We read Parashat Zachor this Shabbat. We remember how Amalek attacked us soon after we left Egypt, when we were on our way to Sinai. Why do we care about something that happened so long ago? Why must we take out a second Torah scroll once each year to remember what Amalek did to us? We survived their attack. We quickly recovered and soared to the heavens at Sinai. Amalek seems to have been a pinprick in our history, no more, and yet we remember that attack now, three thousand years later. We are not commanded to remember what the Egyptians did to us; only that God saved us. Yet, we have to remember Amalek’s attack.
So many other nations attacked us and caused far more damage. Why do we remember this one attack with more care than any other?
I believe that the Mitzvah of Zachor – to remember Amalek’s attack – was intended to train us from the beginning of our history as a nation to be a nation that remembers and keeps its history alive. We were instructed to connect to our past as a living reality so that we never see ourselves as standing alone in time, but as a people that can connect with all the generations and places in our past. It is only by being the Nation That Remembers that we can hold on to our sense of destiny.