It is curious, I guess, that we come to the Passover Yizkor moment at such a confluence of issues. This Passover season reminds us of memory. How many stories were shared at our seder of people who were present in spirit only? The recipes that had been handed down, the roles now transferred to another generation! And what a history reminder as well. Passover week marks the 50th anniversary of Dr Martin Luther King’s death. We are reminded that it has been 50 years since 1968 and that year that saw this country torn apart over civil rights issues and Viet Nam. In just 2 months we will remember another Kennedy assassination. Has been 50 years? What has happened? Have we progressed? That symbol of the wandering in the Wilderness that cements the Passover story, that symbolic searching is still with us.
We have witnessed in these 50 years much social change. The feminist movement, the breaking down of some racial barriers, a greater acceptance and inclusion for GLBTQ people. One can certainly say that we have progressed. Yet, there is that gnawing feeling that the more things change, the more things remain the same. Have we as people learned much? Have we really, as human beings, progressed, or is so much of this progress facadal? There remains so much evil and hatred, there remains still so much division and isolation. We may still be wandering in that Wilderness, not so different than the Israelites, just with better technology.
This is a time for reflection and, one hopes, renewal. We are not the same people we were in 1968. The world is different, at least outwardly. Our generation of Boomers, so active in those “good old days”, are now seeing the generational torch being passed to a new generation. We hope that they will go forth and fear not into their future. Progress, like the Exodus story, is slow and never linear. Like each of our own personal stories, we move forward, only to slide back or sideways before resuming our own life’s journey. Perhaps, a key is that, like the Exodus story, like King’s dream; there is the north star of hope that guides us. As Jews we keep that sense of hope alive. It is faith in a future, a future that we may not see, but a future that we trust will emerge.
It may be that “Messianic” ideal of Elijah that we saw at the seder. It may be our own internal belief that we have, each of us, a responsibility to save, as Pirke AVot reminds us, our own part of the world. Whatever, as we remember on this Yizkor and as we reflect on these past 50 years, let us keep the hope for tomorrow alive and allow it to serve as motivation and inspiration.
Rabbi Richard F Address