Shabbat Shalom: Collective Memory and Story Telling

Aug 24, 2023 | Article

Shabbat Shalom: Collective Memory and Story Telling

Aug 24, 2023

By: Cindy Coons
Director of Jewish Explorers and Family Engagement

I was recently going through old photos and came across a picture of an uncle of mine who is no longer with us. These pictures brought back such sweet memories of time spent with him. Towards the end of his life, I often visited him during times of the day when no one else was able to visit with him. In these quiet moments, while playing cards (which he loved to play), I asked him to share stories about himself and our family. Some of these stories I had heard throughout the years, and some were new to me. There were times that he couldn’t remember all of the details and other times when he was able to share stories with great ease. The latter were often stories connected to celebrations, especially holidays and rituals such as the lighting of candles and their associated blessings for Shabbat and Chanukah. He beamed with pride in sharing these stories and rituals with me. For me, I loved how he chanted blessings with slightly different Hebrew pronunciations and melodies than me. For him, he loved that these rituals and blessings were as meaningful to me and my family as they were to him. 

The importance of collective memory on the future of the Jewish people, like the rituals and memories that brought my uncle so much joy, comes up in this week’s parsha, Ki Teitzei. 72 of the 613 mitzvot appear in this parsha, the greatest number of commandments of any Torah portion. Moses reviews these with the Israelites, covering a wide variety of laws regarding family, animals, and property. Moses knows that our future cannot be disassociated from our past, and that the Israelites need to bring forth a collective memory of our people into the promised land since he will not enter the land with them. 

Maurice Halbwacks is credited with coining the term “collective memory,” defined as “memories that are transmitted through the group’s telling and retelling of shared stories.” As a Jewish people, we continue to strengthen our collective memory through the retelling and sometimes reenacting of our stories through our rituals. Collective memory creates a framework that is passed down l’dor v’dor, from generation to generation, while still allowing families to weave in their own unique traditions that enhance and elevate their experiences. 

Many years ago, our family started the tradition of having everyone at our Seder table write their name and the date on the inside cover of their Haggadah. This started out as a way for our family to remember who joined us each year. What we hadn’t imagined was how this simple tradition would lead to everyone sharing stories about past Seders together and the people we missed because they couldn’t join us that year, had moved away, or had since passed away. For our family and those who join us for Seder, this cherished tradition has become an important part of our Passover celebration and is now part of our collective memory.  

Collective memory connects our past, elevates our present, and ensures our future. As you and your family gather with family, friends, and community in the new year, may the stories and rituals you share during the holidays further enhance and elevate your shared experiences knowing that they will be woven into and become part of our collective memory for generations to come. Shabbat Shalom from all of us at JEWISHcolorado! 

Please email Cindy Coons at with questions or comments.