In the reading entitled “Sites of Memory,” Jay Winter describes the life and history of sites of memory, and it’s continuation through life. The author exemplifies the Great War to memory and mourning for the cultural history of Europe, while sites of memory is broken down into categories such as aesthetics, history, ritual, and remembrance. It was quite interesting to see how the author pulled himself back from the topic of grief in a personal matter and instead, related mourning to a language, one forever linked to historical remembrance. “Historical remembrance subsumes these cadences as it admits the power of family rhetoric to shape the language people use when they come to sites of mourning (p. 315).
As I continued to read Winter’s piece I began to think of my favorite site of memory, as it links to many of the subjects reflected in this piece: The Whaling Wall. As one of the most significant sites for the Jewish people, it stands as the utmost site of memory. My first visit to this site in 2008 immediately initiated something within me, as an instant connection to my faith and everything I believe in. It is something indescribable, as it is a wall, pieces of stone, but yet carries so much meaning, while that feeling has forever embedded itself into my memory.
“Sites of memory are places where groups of people engage in public activity through which they express ‘‘a collective shared knowledge . . .of the past, on which a group’s sense of unity and individuality is based” (p. 312). Dating back to 70 CE, the remaining walls of a destroyed temple serve as a site of belonging and a collective shared knowledge of the past. This place brings people together for countless reasons whether pilgrimage, tourism, or curiosity, and Jews and non-Jews alike participate in a shared activity of placing a note in the crevices of this great wall, wishing, thanking, praying, and loving. However, this site of memory is named for the effect it places onto many people: Whaling, or crying. Personally, my first encounter with this space had this exact effect on me, and for no particular reason. Many have told me that the rush of emotions of previously mourning a loved one is heightened at this site, because they somehow feel closer to that person due to the holy atmosphere that surrounds them.
Jay Winter tells us: “Sites of memory materialize that message. Moments of national humiliation are rarely commemorated or marked in material form, though here too there are exceptions of a hortatory kind” (p. 313). In October 1973, the Yom Kippur War initiated in Israel, on the holiest religious day for the Jewish people, when Egypt and Syria surprise attacked the Jewish state. The Whaling Wall is the epicenter for religious congregation, especially on this day, and like the remembrance of the Holocaust, the events of this day created feelings of “Never Again” for the Jewish people. One can argue that this is just another category that situates itself into historical remembrance, but it is more than memory or history. As a country that faces harsh political repercussions, Israel and the Western Wall, serves as a site of memory that will always reflect the past while building on a future, and focuses on the ‘business of remembering’ as a tool to do so.