Holding Life and Death Together

On November 9th, I noticed that it was the anniversary of two dramatically different events.

The first is the feast day of the rededication of the St. John Lateran Basilica in Rome. This is the closest papal basilica to where I now live. The church was established in 324 and the feast is to celebrate its rededication in 1724. The basilica is the seat of the bishop of Rome and is called the “mother of all churches.”

The second event is known as Kristallnacht when, in 1938, Nazis destroyed thousands of Jewish businesses and property and desecrated synagogues throughout Germany and Austria.

And so, on this date, I realized that we have the anniversaries of consecration and desecration, of sanctification and dehumanization.

Can we hold them together in one day?

Or, do we need to choose which one to commemorate?

When Jews marry, there comes a point during the wedding at which they stomp on a glass and break it. I have read that this tradition goes back to the fourth century AD. “And then, at the moment of our greatest joy, we broke a glass, in memory of the destroyed temple,” Yossi Klein Halevi reflects on the experience in one of his memoirs.

Psalm 137 speaks of keeping Jerusalem in memory “even at my happiest hour.”

Might there be something to being able to hold together, in a single thought, in a single moment, two dichotomous realities?

In a sense, I think that such disparate human events need each other for reinforcement of their meaning.

On the feast day of a rededicated basilica, I will choose to remember the desecration of synagogues.

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