Healing Through Remembrance
November, which includes the Jewish months of Cheshvan and Kislev, contains three holidays of remembrance. On the 9th, Kristallnacht recalls the destruction which presaged the Holocaust. On the 11th, Veterans’ Day honors our military personnel who made the ultimate sacrifice. On the 26th, Thanksgiving not only celebrates our blessings but also recalls the collaboration between the Native Americans and the Pilgrims.
Remembrance is a core Jewish value. We remember our departed loved ones four times during the year at Yizkor and at every service with the Mourners’ Kaddish. We are commanded to “Remember the Sabbath, to keep it holy.” We read stories of our ancestors in the Torah weekly. We invite our matriarchs and patriarchs into our sukkahs. We pass our traditions down, L’d’or v’ d’or , so that they will be remembered and practiced by our progeny for generations to come.
Memories often bring up sadness, but brain science teaches that we can retrain our brains to transform those memories into positive ones. Proust wrote of the pleasant memories evoked by the taste of a madeleine. The recent movie, “Inside/Out,” depicted core memories which neuroscience reveals to be core consciousness colored by emotions. We can choose to remember the happy times, even if the sad ones come up first. If we can increase our focus on joyous memories and experiences, we can heal the past and carry forward positive expectations.
How do we do that?
The recently completed High Holy Days offer some possibilities. Rosh Hashanah itself is called Yom Ha-zikaron, the Day of Remembrance. In the biblical readings for that day, we are told that G-d “remembered” both Sarah and Hannah, granting them each a child. Heart-felt prayer was the vehicle for their healing/wholeness (shleimut).
In the Zikhronot/Remembrance verses of the Rosh Hashanah Amidah, we ask G-d to “Remember us for life,” and that “we may be remembered and inscribed before You …for life and peace.” We also “remember” our own sins, ask for forgiveness and resolve to do better in the New Year. This reawakened mindfulness can help us act from our highest selves and heal destructive patterns in our lives.
A ritual for healing through remembrance called “Making Caring Visible” is described by Rachel Naomi Remen, MD, in her book, Kitchen Table Wisdom. Friends gather at the home of a loved one facing surgery or illness and pass a stone chosen by the hostess in their hands. While holding the stone, each person speaks of a quality that helped them get through a crisis. After all participants have spoken, the stone, imbued with all the healing qualities, is returned to the person needing support. She can carry it as a remembrance of the qualities and people she can call on to help her heal.
Finally, healing inevitably leads us to feelings of gratitude. Every Jewish celebration includes a shehecheyanu for having reached this day. Miriam led the women in dance and praise after all the trauma of leaving Egypt and crossing the Sea of Reeds. We bench gomel, blessing G-d after emerging from a dangerous situation. We thank G-d every morning for awakening us to a new day and for restoring our soul.
Authorities as diverse as Albert Einstein, Rabbi Harold Kushner and Deepak Chopra, MD attest to the healing power of gratitude, of remembering our blessings, of giving thanks. In this month of November, as we celebrate our heritage, both Jewish and American, may we receive the many blessings of healing through remembrance.