Each year on Purim, we Jews read the story of Esther. When the villain Haman’s name is read, we shout, hiss and boo to drown it out. We write his name on the soles of our shoes and stomp them on the ground until the name disappears. We say, “May his name be erased.” And then, the next year we do it again. We say we don’t want to remember him or his ten complicit sons* and yet we do it again and again. We do, in fact, want to remember him. We want to remember Haman because we want to be warned and vigilant. But we want to do so also remembering that we despise him and what he stood for.
We don’t name the Hebrew, Yiddish, Ladino, Judeo-Persian, Judeo-Arabic or any other Jewish language days of the week or the months after Haman. We don’t have Haman Street in Tel Aviv. We don’t have a Haman memorial in Williamsburg. We don’t even have a holiday named after him (although we – Ashkenazi and Sephardi Jews – do, actually have cookies, named after him).
Let’s apply these ideas to statues of Confederate generals and of prominent racists, to names of bridges and schools, and military bases that honor them. Where does that take us? Sure, we want to remember those horrors of humanity and those who were so compromised by their bigotry that their otherwise notable accomplishments are tainted. We want to be warned and vigilant. But we want to remember that we despise what they stood for.
So, yes. Let’s learn about them. Let’s discuss their perfidy and their flawed accomplishments. Let’s know our history, the praiseworthy and the blameworthy both. Let’s gather in the classrooms and civic centers to hear the stories. But let’s not make statues of Haman, name our towns Hamanville and our university libraries Haman Hall. Let’s not call our military bases Fort Aridai and Joint Base Poratha and Camp Daiphon.
Tear down the statues. Rename the buildings and bases. We won’t forget the traitorous Confederacy. We won’t forget the horrors of human slavery. We won’t forget the casual racism of otherwise progressive leaders. We’ll just stop honoring them.
Trust me – we Jews are experts on memory.
We won’t forget.
*Parmashta, Daiphon, Adalia, Aridai, Aridatha, Aspatha, Arisai, Poratha, Vaizatha, Parshandatha.