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The Jewish Press of Tampa and the Jewish Press of Pinellas County are Independently- owned biweekly Jewish community newspapers published in cooperation with and supported by the Tampa JCC & Federation and the Jewish Federation of Pinellas & Pasco Counties, respectively. Copyright © 2009-2018 The Jewish Press Group of Tampa Bay, Inc., All Rights Reserved.


September 25, 2015  RSS feed
Rabbinically Speaking

Text: T T T

Things that are difficult to remember

By RABBI GARY KLEIN Temple Ahavat Shalom, Palm Harbor

I imagine some of you have heard about or possibly even read the recently released book by To Kill a Mockingbird author, Harper Lee. The book, Go Set a Watchman, presents a very different view of its main character, Atticus Finch, than the view of him that one gets when one reads To Kill a Mockingbird where Atticus is about as close as a man could come to being perfect. He was a fighter for civil rights and justice, as well as a very good father in the South in the 1930s.

In the recently released book, which is set in the 1950s just after the Supreme Court’s decision in Brown vs Board of Education, Atticus exhibits considerable prejudice against black people. He even participates in his town’s Citizen Council which was an organization established for the purpose of finding a way to negate the effects of Supreme Court decision.

The contrast between Atticus’s attitudes in the 1930s and his views in the 1950s has led some reviewers to think that the book is a prequel to To Kill a Mockingbird rather than a sequel even though it is set in later time. Perhaps, after having written the first book, Harper Lee chose not to publish it, and instead wrote and published the second book in order to present an image of a person she could idolize, an idealized version of a decent man living in the South at the time.

I was thinking about both views of Atticus Finch as I was preparing to lead my congregation’s Yizkor (memorial) service on Yom Kippur. Yizkor is one of the tools our tradition provides to enable us, for a few minutes at Yom Kippur, Sukkot, Passover and Shavuot, to feel close again to loved ones who have died. Harper Lee’s idealization of Atticus Finch’s personality and character in her To Kill a Mockingbird depiction of him reminded me that many of us, as we think about our loved ones who have died, attempt to remember them as perfect beings. We get the sense that it is our obligation to remember them that way. Yet, we all know that no one is perfect. Furthermore, feeling that we need to try to remember them that way, may make it difficult to feel close to them and to enjoy their memory.

Our effort to present them as perfect even to ourselves and the contradiction between what we feel we need to do and our understanding of reality, may make us very uncomfortable, and cause us to forfeit the opportunities to feel close to them that our tradition provides.

We may find ourselves angry at them for their imperfections, angry at ourselves for being disingenuous, and sad that we weren’t blessed with parents, siblings, spouses or children about whom we could feel completely good. We might also feel sad about things we now see that we could have done in order to have had a better relationship with them despite their and our imperfections.

Knowing that no one and no relationship is perfect, and knowing that there is good in most human beings and in most relationships, we can be more effective in reconnecting with the good that was part of our loved ones who have died and the good that was part of our relationship with them if we do not idealize them. Let us acknowledge those aspects of their being that were flawed. Let us reflect upon those aspects of their being that were ennobling. Let us never say “never” or “always” as in “He never loved me,” or “She always hurt me,” when speaking about them. Let us use those terms when thinking about our loved ones who have died, only in reference to ourselves, as we say to our loved ones who have died, “I will always love you.” “I will never forget you.”

The Rabbinically Speaking column is provided as a public service by the Jewish Press in cooperation with the Pinellas County Board of Rabbis. Columns are assigned on a rotating basis by the board.

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