The proof is all around us in Jerusalem. We hear it on the streets in the form of language and gestures. Since the reconstitution of our nation, the return from two thousand years in exile has brought Jews from all over the world. As I fumble to learn Hebrew, I listen to cadence and conversations on the street; not quite eavesdropping because I do not care about the subject matter, but care to understand sentence structure and word usage. The other day, two women were walking in back of me speaking Hebrew with French accents. This is Israel and how we build a nation. We come home, we learn the renewed version of our ancient language, and we rebuild our nation in our indigenous homeland.
Microcosms abound in this country and we talk about the tiny moments of Jewish geography when we connect with those with whom we have friends or acquaintances in common. It feels as if it happens daily, and it indeed does happen weekly. Last year, at a Shabbat dinner, I was talking with a 102 year old woman about where we each lived in the United States. I said Cape Cod for twenty-eight years; she told me had a home on Cape Cod in the neighboring town. The town she lived in had a total population of at the most 1500 people; where I lived, the total population never rose over 3500. Her son and I have many mutual friends. She and I (she will be 103 soon, B”H) were guests again at the same home for Rosh Hashanah. Jewish geography in Jerusalem arises even when the two people involved lived in very goyishe places.
At this Rosh Hashanah meal, the breadth and beauty of Jewish life was present in full force. There were eleven of us present, including six North American born (United States and Canada), one Australian born, one Polish born, one woman born in Iran, and a man born in Egypt. The eleventh person was the caregiver for the aforementioned 102 year old woman; the caregiver (from eastern Asia) is as much a part of Israeli life as the Jews with whom she shared a meal that night. Oh, and our hostess was not only born Jewish, but also Hopi, making her part of two indigenous nations that were exiled from their land: one has recovered their homeland; the Hopi and other tribes in the Americas have not.
We began the meal in the Sephardi tradition with blessings and symbolic foods and the rest of the night passed by with creative and wonderful food, song, laughter, conversation in both Hebrew and English (with translations needed for both languages sometimes), wine and whiskey, and a sense of instant connection although some of us had not met before.
Our hostess asked us each to go around and speak about the previous year and our hopes for 5777. These rituals, although lovely, are ones from which I usually defer. As a loner, instant intimacy is difficult for me and I rarely speak about myself in a personal manner; my comfort level is stronger when writing, instead of speaking. I am a good listener and sometimes I find that my role in someone else’s life is to listen. In groups of more than four people, unless I know them very well, I often stay silent. But, I am fortunate that the others at the table that night are not like me.
Several people mentioned the desire to help strengthen our nation by continuing to tell our own stories of return. Peace, everyone talked about hoping for peace. I listened and felt the emotion in the room.
Our host shared a piece of his family history in the making. Recently, he attended a brit milah and described the gathering of family members. When he pointed out that this was the first brit milah in his family in Israel for two thousand years, you could almost hear the heartbeats of those at the table. In his few words (and he is a modest man), the impact of this life, this blessed life, in our homeland resonated through our bodies and our souls.
There was more singing, more whiskey and wine, and we stayed late. Leaving at just before midnight, we were all smiling. I like to believe that each of us saw that what we had experienced is microcosmic in the telling of the return to Zion from exile. These are the moments in Israel when we feel the vestiges of diaspora cultures slide to the side and we are all fulfilling the promise of Hashem to our ancestral grandfather, Abraham, and that which Abraham and Sarah handed down through generations to us. And that we each know that we owe it to them to see ourselves as one nation: Jews gathering from exile to fulfill the dream of Zion.