The Torah tells us, in Parshat Ki Teitzei, Devarim 25:17, that we should “wipe out the memory of Amalek from under heaven.” And yet it immediately concludes with the statement “you should not forget.”
In order not to forget, each year before Purim we have a special reading of the Torah reminding us of what Amalek did to us in the wilderness as we were fleeing Egypt. Twice a year in the weekly Torah cycle we are reminded of Amalek. On Purim we read Megillat Esther, which chronicles the evil deeds of Haman, a direct descendent of Amalek. Children in yeshivas regularly learn in Tanach about the wars of Amalek with the Israelite kings, which occurred centuries after the Hebrews’ initial encounter with the Amalekites.
If we read about Amalek so often, what then does the Torah mean when it tells us “wipe out the memory of Amalek from under heaven”?
The Torah is teaching us that we must wipe out everything that Amalek stands for. As long as there is hatred, racism and intolerance in the world, we must never forget what the Amaleks, the Hitlers and even the Austin Corbins have done and are doing. If we don’t learn from the past, we are doomed to have history repeat itself.
Recently, there have been a number of newspaper articles announcing the “newly discovered” fact that Austin Corbin, for whom the border street between the Brighton Beach and Manhattan Beach communities in Brooklyn is named, was a virulent anti-Semite. This is a little bit of history that many of us in the Jewish community have been aware of for a long time.
(For a detailed account of who Austin Corbin was, please see the front-page essay in next week’s Jewish Press.)
Currently, a large number of Jewish families – including four Orthodox rabbis who serve various congregations in the community – reside on Corbin Place. Those rabbis, as well as most community members, do not want the name of the street changed.
The very fact that there is a vibrant, growing Jewish community living on the street named after the man who wanted to make this community Judenrein is a slap to his memory. Removing his name would actually permit him to escape into the fog of history and not be remembered for the terrible man he was.
If the name of Corbin Place is changed, will there be newspaper articles 50 years from now reminding future generations about hostile anti-Semites like Austin Corbin?
I had always believed that the money spent on Holocaust memorials and museums would be better spent on yeshiva education. Hitler wanted to eradicate the Jewish people from the face of the earth. He failed. Every time a child goes to yeshiva and becomes a better Jew, it’s as if we’re spitting on Hitler’s grave and memory.
But I have come to understand that Holocaust memorials and museums are needed to remind us that the hatred and racism that existed in Nazi Germany still exist in the world today. If we forget this lesson even for a moment, that hate will reappear in our own midst and to our own detriment. There are always going to be Amaleks, Hitlers and Austin Corbins ready and willing to finish what their forebears were unable to.
Only when hatred, racism and intolerance are wiped off the face the earth will we have the luxury of forgetting about our enemies and finally consigning their names to oblivion.
That is why Corbin Place should not have its name changed.