History in the making

What I learned from my Facebook experiment last week is that I have to have a good first sentence hook and an interesting first picture.  Alternatively, I should start my post in the middle or the end.  That said, here’s the end: We have to keep telling our stories because our lives, even at this moment, are history in the making.

National Archives and a great quote from Shakespeare

National Archives and a great quote from Shakespeare

History in the making

This week marked the 20th anniversary of Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination.  Bill came.  Yes, Bill “Shalom, Haver” (goodbye/peace, friend) Clinton.  He spoke at a memorial rally in Rabin Square (renamed to honor Rabin after his assassination there).  The week was filled with what-ifs:  What if Rabin had lived? What if Oslo had really worked? What if, what if, what if.

I’m a little cynical about what ifs.  The truth is that no one knows what would have happened if events unfolded a different way.  As an idealist, I understand the desire to spin what-ifs and wouldn’t-it-have-been-great-ifs.  But as a historian, I believe it is more important to analyze the past and learn lessons from it.  Otherwise, you end up in a spiral of history, revisiting in different ways the events of the past, and repeating them over and over.

This is not to say that I’ve analyzed the past and have come up with a solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict, but I’m pretty sure that if we keep doing what we’ve been doing, we’ll continue to get the same results.  (A similar quote was attributed to Einstein, but apparently he didn’t say it.  “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.”)

Viva la Revolution!

I’ve been thinking about history as a spiral because of the events in Romania this week.  Since I was there in September and I asked a lot of questions about the revolution in 1989, I was stunned to hear the news that the government stepped down this week after protests over a nightclub fire.  The fire was representative of the corruption of government agencies and the disregard the government has for its citizens.  I also spoke to a friend in Timisoara about it – not that I have a deep understanding about it now, but at least I feel a little more informed.

Here’s a video of the protest this week in the same square that the 1989 revolution took place in (and the square that I passed through every day I was in Timisoara).  My friend tells me that some of the chants and songs in the video were part of the revolution in 1989.  Here’s a LINK.

Telling the stories

I’m a historian by training, but the part of that word that is important to me is “story.”  Not just a collection of facts in a particular order, but an understanding of the events of the past that speak to us as human beings.

A few weeks ago, I saw a German film called “Labyrinth of Lies” about the guy who brought German citizens to trial in Germany for war crimes at Auschwitz.  This is not a Holocaust movie.  It is a story about having the strength, even when you barely have the will to go on, to tell the truth about the capacity of humans to be inhuman to each other. Here’s the trailer.

A documentary that caught my eye was “Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom.”  Evgeny Afineevsky, the director, was in the middle of the uprising in Kiev and documented it.  When he spoke about it in the interview I saw, he said something that stayed with me: “The history is happening.”  Here’s a trailer.  And an interview with the director.

History is now

Film today is yesterday’s book.  History is remembered when it touches our souls.  And hopefully, we can learn from it and do things differently.

I remember the events of 1989.  I remember Rabin’s assassination.  These are events that took place in my lifetime that are now history.  We have to keep telling our stories because our lives, even at this moment, are history in the making.

Yom Kippur and the Revolution

Upon arriving in Timisoara, Romania, this week, my first visit was to the Museum of the 1989 Revolution. I remember the events of 1989, but somehow I had forgotten that Romania was also one of the countries that overturned its government.  I learned a lot, earned a few points with my hosts, and saw Timisoara in a whole new light.  This was the birthplace of their revolution.



Since Yom Kippur is next week and I wanted to write about that too, I thought about how the two things fit together.

The 1989 revolution started with a small demonstration with something like 20 people who didn’t want their priest to be arrested.  One thing led to another until the Opera House in Timisoara became the headquarters of the revolution and the frenzy of it all swept across Romania.  Change begins with a small action; sometimes it’s hard and painful, but hopefully things will be better afterwards.  There are no guarantees.  You just have to believe in the cause and keep moving forward with your hopes and dreams to guide you toward something better.

Yom Kippur is not so different.  Yom Kippur is the 10th day of reflection at the beginning of the Jewish New Year.  The religious tradition is that for 9 days, you make peace with your fellow human beings.  On the 10th day, you make peace with God.  On Yom Kippur you fast for 25 hours (no drinking either!) and you dedicate yourself fully to prayer, reflection, and confession.   By the end you are an empty vessel ready to start anew.  For the next year, you start small and try to fill up your vessel self with something better.

In my own attempt to make peace with my fellow human beings, let me apologize for any slights or insults.  If I hurt you in any way, I’m sorry. I know that a general blanket apology pales in comparison to a real and personal apology, and I’m sorry for that too.

This year Yom Kippur falls on my birthday.  While I’m not looking forward to fasting on my birthday, perhaps this is an interesting coincidence that serves as a reminder that every year begins anew, with a clean state, full of potential, a chance to refill my newly emptied vessel self with something better.

G’mar Hatima Tova! (May you be written in the Book of Life!)


Next week I’ll write about my visit to Timisoara.  I still have 2 days left of my trip.