Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Made You Cry

I consistently get weepy on the last few days of any trip to Israel. Here are the things that made me cry this time:

The day before we left, we met with the head of a seminary to which we are considering sending our oldest daughter when she finishes high school. As we were leaving, almost as an afterthought, he told us about how the seminary’s trip to Poland is so impactful and how it helps the students appreciate the importance of Eretz Yisrael.

He told us about a student who called her American parents from Warsaw, Poland last year to say, “Here in Poland, I’ve decided that I need to stay in Israel. I’m making aliyah.” Her parents responded with pride and support and as he’s telling us this story, I’m standing on a residential street in Jerusalem, crying.

Later that day, I went with some friends to see an all women’s production of the story of the Book of Ruth. After the production, with the whole cast on the stage, the director comes out to make some announcements. “One of our lighting and tech crew members is leaving to join the Israeli army tomorrow,” she says. And then she proceeds to bentsch him, as parents do for their own children on Friday night, by reciting the Priestly Blessing. “I want to live in a country where such a thing as this can happen,” my soul shouts.

And then everyone sings Hatikva, the Israeli national anthem, and I begin to weep, covering my face with my hands because the longing is so intense.

One of the last things I did before we left our apartment was walk around and kiss each mezuzah. These are the very mezuzot I visualize in my mind each night when I say, “U-chtavtam al m'zuzot baytecha u-vi-sharecha: And you shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” While waiting for the taxi, I stood on our porch and looked over Jerusalem, sending up prayers that Hashem bring me back very soon, weeping the whole while.

I always cry as the taxi drives out of Ma’ale Adumim and on to the airport. It takes all of my control not to wail. This time, on top of all the heightened emotion of the moment, the taxi driver said Tefillat Haderech aloud as we left Ma’ale Adumim and entered Jerusalem.

And I had to stop crying long enough to say "Amen".

Thursday, January 25, 2007

What’s in a Name?

In Baltimore, where my family lives most of the year when we’re not in Israel, there is a main road named Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.

Nothing wrong with that. It’s just not my history.

In the immediate neighborhood where we live in Baltimore, the streets are named for members of the builder’s family. Nothing wrong with that. It’s just not my family.

Ah, but in Israel, the streets are named for Jewish prophets and kings: Rechov Shmuel HaNavi, Devorah HaNaviah and Rechov David HaMelech. Streets are named for men and women of the Torah: Rechov Asher and Rechov Rivka. Streets are named for great rabbis: Rechov Hillel and Rabenu Tam. And streets are named for leaders throughout Jewish history: Sderot Golda Meir and Sderot Ben Gurion.

My family.

My history.

In the community of Nof Alyalon, the streets are all named for the stones in the breastplate of the Kohein Gadol. In Ma’ale Adumim, there is a neighborhood where all the streets are named for instruments mentioned in Sefer Tehillim (The Book of Psalms).

Even driving to the grocery store on the streets of Israel, we proclaim our history. Everywhere in Israel, the names are saturated with Jewish resonance.

More evidence of being home.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Why Israel Really Is a Completely Different World

I saw a man kiss a mezuzah today. Okay, he was a Jew, albeit without a kippa, tzitzis or any outward sign of religious devotion. The mezuzah was on the door of an office. In the IKEA store. In Israel. His gesture was guileless, totally integrated with who he is. This profoundly Jewish gesture would simply NOT happen in any other part of the world.

Another notable event in our adventures at IKEA: we ate lunch. In the cafeteria. Like normal people do all over the world. But it’s an experience kosher consumers don’t often have, except in Israel where almost all restaurants, even cafeterias in Scandinavian furniture stores, have kosher supervision.

This, then, in two tiny episodes, is the power of a Jewish country.

There are thousands of ways a Jew, especially an observant Jew, adapts him/herself to a foreign culture. It becomes so ingrained, we don’t even realize we’re doing it. Until we’re in a Jewish country and it becomes possible to stop adapting because the country is already in synch with a Jewish life. That’s when you begin to notice all the ways you’ve been adapting.

Like getting off for Christian holidays but having to use leave time for Jewish holidays. Like bringing kosher food with you when you travel. Like Blue Laws or no mail on Sunday, because that’s the Christian Sabbath. Like celebrating, or at least marking, the “New Year” based on a lifecycle event of a Christian god. Like always feeling, ever so subtly, that you’re a minority in someone else’s majority culture. And don’t even get me started about the “not-our-holiday” madness, another season of which we have just endured. For five weeks a year, I cannot listen to the radio, shop, watch TV or read a magazine without being assaulted by a holiday that is not my own.

But in the only Jewish country in the entire universe, a non-religious IKEA employee with a screaming yellow shirt kisses a mezuzah as he goes from the Returns Department back to the Sales Floor, and nobody thinks he’s peculiar.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

A Pointed Question

Last week, a friend asked me an intriguing question. Given that there are so may things I love about Israel, would I be as interested in making aliyah if I didn’t understand it to be a mitzvah – that is, Gd’s explicit instruction to the Jewish people? So I asked him, “If it wasn’t for the mitzvah element, would you still keep kosher?”

My answer to his question, and his answer to mine, were the same.

Probably not.

Since I have come to understand the preciousness of Israel in the Eyes of Gd, I have come to look to Israel with loving eyes. But what drives my intense desire for a life in Israel? Only that Gd wants me there.

After all, I don’t even like falafel.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Ikkar and Taful

Some years ago, my husband and I spent a Shabbat in Elazar with a Tehilla Pilot Trip . Since we were nearby in one of the Gush Etzion yeshuvim , the trip organizers were able to convince Rabbi Shlomo Riskin of Efrat to come and speak to our small group after Shabbat.

Over the years, Rabbi Riskin has spoken some memorable sound bites. This talk was no exception. One of the things he spoke about was how the Orthodox community in America was so focused on taful (the details) that we completely missed the ikkar (the essence). We’re obsessing about the wrong stuff!

There is so much concern over the minutiae of Halacha in so many behaviors. A Google search on how to open a potato chip bag for Shabbat yields at least half-a-dozen solutions. There is a raging debate in Halacha about whether electric shavers are permitted or forbidden.

We are drowning in taful.

At the same time, while all these halachic discussions are going on in the Orthodox communities in America, the voices of the halachic community, urging people to live in the one place in the world where the Torah was meant to be kept, are utterly silent.