Day 2: Recognizing Our M Chromosomes

Israel: the Central Warehouse of Jewish Memory – April 27, 2022

By Maggie Blehert

As our first full day of programming in Israel got underway, we in Cohort X gathered to hear from Avraham Infeld, an esteemed teacher and leader known around the globe for his efforts to help Jews find meaning and joy in their Jewish identities.

He noted that our trip to Israel coincides with a stretch of time that covers the most important days in the life of Israel: Yom HaShoah, Yom HaZikaron and Yom Haatzmaut: Holocaust Remembrance Day, Israeli Memorial Day and Israeli Independence Day.

These holidays will be a study in contrasts, a time to remember the pain and unimaginable suffering of our people, and the recognition of the importance of Israel as not just a country but as a Jewish state. For it is here that the Jewish people, our family, has a home.

There are extremely powerful ways in which these holidays will be commemorated over the next week or so, much more so than some of the bizarre ways we mark certain holidays in the United States (no Memorial Day mattress sales here).

At one point, Avraham looked directly at me, stared me in the eye, and abruptly asked, “Have we met before?” Of course, I knew I had never met him, but just as I was trying to piece together why he would stop his speech mid-sentence to ask, he explained that was referring to the one time and place in our Jewish history that we ALL have been together, which was at Mt. Sinai when God gave us the Torah.

Having this collective history gives Jews a special chromosome: the M chromosome—for memory. Having the M chromosome allows us to ask, “Who am I because of what happened in history?” How can I link my personal memory to the collective memory of the Jewish people?

Depending on where in the world we physically grew up, along with many other factors that cause us each to be individuals, we have drastically different views on what Judaism is. As Avraham Infeld related, the struggle is to discover how we can be unified in our definition of Judaism without being uniform.

Part of being unified means recognizing that as Jews, we are part of a family and as such we might not always like each other, but we still have an underlying love for one another. And on this first full day we are starting to see how our family comes together in Israel. We’re getting a taste of some programs that have been established to help members of our family in Israel who may be struggling.

For example, we visited Susan’s House, a bustling rehabilitative vocational center for at-risk teens where they learn to create—and ultimately sell—different types of creative arts (glassware, ceramics, jewelry, etc.). On a festive note, we enjoyed an amazing family dinner as a group—hopefully just one of many more wonderful meals we will come together for as the Cohort X family.

And in the evening, we gathered at the Montefiore Windmill overlooking the Old City. Here, after sundown and when Yom HaShoah was underway, several members of our cohort shared some of their families’ personal Holocaust stories. Speaking only for myself, I recognize that each time someone shares a deeply personal story such as this it can open up many wounds and I truly appreciate the time and emotional strength it took for them each to share.

As Avraham Infeld so eloquently noted, here in Israel we are in the central warehouse of Jewish memory. Having the unique opportunity to personally experience these three momentous holidays of Yom HaShoah, Yom HaZikaron and Yom Haatzmaut here in Israel will give me a new perspective on the land of our people, and to feel more in touch—unified even if we are not uniform—with the many different members of our Jewish family: within Harry Kay Cohort X, within our homeland of Israel, and in our daily lives when we return back to the United States.