by Rabbi Elisa Koppel
I love the idea of collective memory–of those things that we remember ourselves, but even moreso, that we remember together. Those moments when our own memories meld with those around us, and multiple stories are woven together into one tale. Moments that we each remember differently as individuals, and yet have all become melded together over time as we tell and retell our stories. Moments that we may not even have been there for, and yet are indellibly printed into our minds. Stories that we’ve heard so many times that it is as if we were there. Memories that belong to each of us as much as they belong to all of us.
This is why we tell the story of the Exodus each Passover at the seder, so that we can all join into the collective story of the beginning of the Jewish people–making the story our own as we tell it once again.
And this, to me, is the power of the shofar. A sound that has been described as being as ancient as it is timeless. It’s amazing to me that the basic sound of the blast of a shofar has essentially not changed since that moment on Mount Sinai. For all this time, we’ve been hearing the same sound. It connects us to our past and to others. And for that moment, time stops, and the universe outside of that sound ceases to exist, and that shofar is the sound of our story.
And yet, at the same time, the shofar calls to us differently each year–we experience that moment differently. Because of who we are at that moment. Of where we’ve found ourselves within our collective memory and our shared story.
I’ve been thinking a lot about conversion lately, and look forward to welcoming some new souls into the Jewish people next week. One of my favorite things about working with people through the process has always been–and continues to be–seeing them begin to, themselves, start to remember these collective memories, as they begin to take their own place in our story. Watching them figure out how to tell and retell the tale it in their own way.
So that when they embrace the Torah scroll for the first time, it’s a scroll that contains their own memories that they are holding in their arms.
And when they hear the shofar for the first time as a Jew, it is a sound they’ve been hearing–we’ve all been hearing–for thousands of years.
I have been participating this year in #BlogElul, an online project in which individuals share their insights on High Holy Day themes throughout the month of Elul, through blogging and other modes of social media. I have to say, #BlogElul has been a powerful part of my spiritual holiday prep over the past couple of years–I encourage you to read my words and words of others–and maybe even add some of your own (or images, or videos, or sounds, or anything else you can think of). There’s more on #BlogElul here if you want an overview!
Rabbi Elisa Koppel is the Acting Associate Rabbi at Temple Beth-El in San Antonio, TX. When she’s not creating shared memories, she enjoys making memories of her own, and frequently trying to remember where she put her keys.
This post is crossposted from her personal blog: Off the REKord
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As a newborn, four-months-old Jew-by-choice, this was really meaningful to me…it’s a beautiful truth how suddenly the history and Torah and the people became MY history and MY Torah and MY people. It definitely did not always feel that way, and I’m not sure exactly when it happened. This Shavuot was a mere two weeks after my conversion, and it felt like emerging from the Mikvah all over again in the way it moved me. I really did feel myself there at Sinai with everyone else.
The last piece of the puzzle for me is the culture – that is more taught than felt, and I stumble through traditions and rituals and I don’t have memories of how my Bubbe used to make the most AMAZING matzoh ball soup every Passover and how she used to teach me to make challah with all the women of our family together in the kitchen. Those cultural memories are more individual and personalized, and when things like that come up in conversation with other Jews, I suddenly feel a little more separate again. It’s sudden and jarring and a bit uncomfortable, and I have to remind myself that my past and my own personal history and pre-Judaism culture is part of what makes me who I am, and that THAT is now Jewish too. I also look forward to my own future children (God willing) being able to have their own personal memories and associations that I myself don’t have.