We celebrated the Festival of Shavuot at the JCCH this year by studying Jewish approaches to the concept of “home.” We discussed whether “home” needs to be a physical place, like the home we grew up in. Perhaps, “home” can be defined by relationships such as- “I feel at home with…” or by experiences: “I feel at home when I’m playing basketball.” Home could be the place where “they have to take you in,” as the American poet Robert Frost argued. The Biblical Book of Ruth defines home in the same way for Naomi and for Ruth, her daughter-in-law.
As a group of us studied these concepts on Shavuot evening earlier this week, I thought about my own conception of home. Sitting with the group in the JCCH Library, I counted the number of homes I have had since graduating from high school in 1994. I stopped once I got to a dozen but could have kept counting. Of course, many of us move around a lot as we leave our parents’ homes and go to college and graduate school, marry, and establish ourselves in our careers. Particularly as my own parents moved from my childhood home in recent years, the concept of “home” is somewhat muddled.
I shared with the group that evening that, more than anywhere else, I feel most at home in our Jerusalem neighborhood, an area that I have been visiting since 1979, when my parents bought our first apartment in the holy city. The neighborhood is called “Givat Tzorfatit” (French Hill) and is located in the eastern part of the city, an area that was captured from Jordan during the 1967 Six Day War. Our Masorti Conservative) synagogue is located in the neighborhood – you’ll recall that Rabbi Chaya and Etai Baker (who visited several weeks ago) attend that congregation. Without the Six Day War, 50 years ago this month, that neighborhood likely would never have become part of the State of Israel. The 50th anniversary of the Six Day War gives us an opportunity to reflect on the City of Jerusalem – a place that we look to as our “spiritual home,” a place that I hope you will visit, again and again. Rabbi Reuven Hammer (no relation, only admiration) reflected on the holy city: “It would not be an exaggeration to say that no city in the history of the nations has been as important a part of the consciousness of a people for as long and continuous a period of time as has Jerusalem. For 3000 years, it has been the capital of the kingdom of the people of Israel, whatever name and form that people assumed. Even when there was no kingdom…. Jerusalem was the capital of the stateless people called the Jews.”
Some of you may recall the triumph of Jews returning to Jerusalem during the miraculous 6-Day War in June, 1967. Jerusalem’s famous Mayor, Teddy Kollek, said that “We are a privileged generation of Jews who have seen with our own eyes the return to Zion. We are those spoken of by the Psalmist: “When the Lord restored our exiles to Zion, it was like a dream” (Psalm 126:1).
Israel’s first (and thus far – only) female Prime Minister, Golda Meir, reflected on the liberation of the Old City and the capture of the Kotel, the Western Wall, “I went to the Wall with some soldiers… [There I saw] uniformed paratroopers wrapped in prayer shawls clung so tightly to the Wall that it seemed impossible to separate them from it. They and the Wall were one. Only a few hours earlier they had fought furiously for the liberation of Jerusalem and had seen their comrades fall for its sake. Now, standing before the Wall, they wrapped themselves in prayer shawls and wept, and I, too, took a sheet of paper, wrote the word SHALOM on it and pushed it into a cranny of the Wall, as I had seen the Jews do so long ago. As I stood there, one of the soldiers suddenly put his arms around me, laid his head on my shoulder and we cried together…For me it was one of the most moving moments of my life.”
As the the State of Israel and the Jewish world celebrate the 50th Anniversary of Jerusalem’s reunification, I encourage you to pledge to visit Israel in the months and years to come. Explore her culture, meet her people and walk in the footsteps of history, most notably in her capital city, Yerushalayim, Jerusalem.