By Rabbis Arthur Waskow & Phyllis Berman *
While most of the world has been riveted this past week on Japan’s cascading disasters, most Israelis and Palestinians have focused on death closer to home – the murder of an Israeli settler family in the Occupied Territories, including an infant. (The murderer, and even his ethnic identity, have as of this writing not yet been definitely identified.)
The murders and the response to them of Israeli and Palestinian authorities raise some profound spiritual as well as “political” issues. The questions are all the more poignant because they arise in a week that is set aside by Jewish tradition for reading what seems to be a paradoxical ancient text about remembering/ forgetting murders of the weak and defenseless in the readings of what is known as Shabbat Zakhor – the Sabbath of “Remember.”
What is the story? As ancient Israelites moved from slavery toward freedom in community, they were assaulted by a tribal community called Amalek, in a way that scarred their memories. Or –- maybe scarred them so badly that they could not bear to remember?
So they wrote a memorandum to themselves: “Remember how Amalek attacked when you were faint and weary. When YHWH your God has given you safety from all your enemies that surround you, you shall blot out the memory of Amalek from under Heaven. Do not forget!” (Deut. 25: 17-19)
Is this paragraph a bed of paradoxes? "Remember! Blot out the memory! Don't forget!" Is there any way to make sense of it?
In the generation after the Nazi Holocaust, this archetypal myth of disaster bit home to Jews with intense cruelty and fear. Suddenly, Jews for whom the Amalek mythos had become somewhat quiescent, became attuned to it.
And then, once that nerve of stark terror had been plucked, it would not stop quivering. As the memory of the Holocaust became intense ritual and literature, powerful museums, and agonizing music – many Jews locked themselves into that memory as if it were the whole future, not only one part of the past.
For some Jews, all Palestinians, or even all Arabs, or even all Muslims became Amalek. Indeed, the Israeli government responded to the recent murders in this mode -- by announcing that as punishment for them, thousands more homes for Israelis would be built on Palestinian land in the West Bank.
And since this way of thinking and feeling is hardly limited to Jews, some other version of "Amalek" came to reside in their own memoriesfor members of other communities, :
For some Palestinians, it may be Israel. All Israelis. Or all Israelis who have come to live in what Palestinians experience as the final theft of the last slivers of land remaining to them, making finally impossible the creation of their own self-governing society.