Thursday, June 28, 2012

Chasing the Dream

It’s been an up-and-down sort of week, and that’s not even starting in with the Supreme Court ruling about the constitutionality of the Patient Protection and Affordable Health Care Act. (I’ll write about that on another occasion when I’ve had more of a chance to digest the implications of the court’s ruling.)

On the down side, a German court in Cologne ruled that the circumcision of boys brings them “grievous bodily harm” and that, therefore, anyone who circumcises an infant risks arrest for assault. (More on this in weeks to come. The Jewish and Muslim communities did not take the news kindly) The Sephardic chief rabbi of Israel, apparently acting with the approval of his Ashkenazi counterpart, publicly referred to me and my colleagues as “destroyers and saboteurs of Judaism” whose sole wish in life—or at least whose sole professional wish—is to “uproot the fundamental principles of the Torah” and thus actively to be working to “destroy the vineyards of the Lord of Hosts.” (He was responding to the decision by the Israeli government actually to pay the salaries of some few non-Orthodox rabbis who serve in remote, rabbinically underserved regions of the country, just as it pays the salaries of countless Orthodox rabbis who serve in every imaginable capacity throughout Israel. The Rabbinical Assembly of Israel, led by my colleague Rabbi Mauricio Balter, responded by filing a police complaint against Rabbi Amar accusing him—not at all unreasonably, in my opinion, given the shrill, angry tenor of the rabbi’s call for activism in the face of incipient pluralism—of inciting others to violence against him, and his and my colleagues in Israel.) The first vice-president of Iran, Mohammed Reza Rahimi, formally blamed the entire international drug trade on Jews and Zionists, whom he also noted, just a bit disconnectedly, were also responsible for the Russian Revolution of 1917. A man wearing a giant Elmo suit spent a few days in Times Square and Central Park delivering rabidly anti-Semitic speeches to the passers-by in which, among other things, he suggested they immerse themselves in the four volumes of Henry Ford’s viciously anti-Jewish pamphlets published together as “The International Jew.” (The police finally stepped in not to arrest faux Elmo, but merely to prevent him from polluting public space with his hate-filled venom. Elmo, for those of you too old to have watched Sesame Street as children and who haven’t watched with your own children or grandchildren, is the monster with red fur known for his famous disinclination ever to refer to himself in the first person. The actual Elmo is cranky, but not at all bigoted.) It’s been that kind of week!

On the up side of things, Joan and I bought a refrigerator. We also bought a washing machine and a dryer. Under normal circumstances, this would hardly be newsworthy. (The purchase was made without reference to circumcision, the Russian Revolution, the international drug trade, Henry Ford, the president’s health care initiative, or the Israeli chief rabbinate. Nor was I wearing an Elmo suit at the time of the purchase.) Nonetheless, it was a big moment for Joan and for me. And I thought I would wrap up this year of letter-writing to you all by telling you why.

One of the secrets of happy marriages that I always try to remember to share with my brides and grooms when we meet before their weddings is the concept of the shared dream. All sorts of compatibility issues sink marriages all the time, but the one area that seems to me the most essential to future happiness is the ability of a couple to project their commonly held hopes into the future, then to agree to travel together to the emerald city…and to subjugate less important projects to the sense of productive movement towards a great common goal. That lends marriage a sense of purpose, as well as a dynamic sense of motion forward…and that, in my opinion, is what differentiates marriage from even the finest and most satisfying friendships.

Somewhere along the way, Joan and I began to wonder what, if anything, we were going someday to leave to our children. Clearly, it is not going to be a fortune of money. And, yes, we talked and still do talk about one day composing a kind of ethical will stating clearly what we’ve learned of life and what we’ve come to value above all else, and what lessons we therefore wish to bequeath to our descendants as our moral legacy to them. But we also developed the idea of wanting to tie our family to Israel in a way that would transcend mere allegiance to the Zionist ideal, and which would constitute a kind of physically real link between our family and the Land of Israel (and the people of Israel and the State of Israel) that would say by its very existence how we view the world and our place in it. For a long time, this idea percolated around, taking on different guises and permutations as we moved forward through the years of our married life together. And then, about a decade ago, we finally concluded that what we want to leave our children—aside from a huge amount of what I heard someone refer to the other day as “non-electronic books” and some more and less valuable tchotchkes we’ve acquired or inherited along the way—was a home in Israel, and specifically one in Jerusalem.

We talked about it forever, unable to decide if we should wait until everybody’s out of college before attempting this or whether it made more sense to dive in right then and there before we lost our nerve all together. We stumbled down different paths as we tested our resolve to see if we really meant it and then, in 2005, as Israel was withdrawing from Gaza while we were actually present in Israel, it struck us that the moment had come. How did we know? I have no idea. Prices were low. We didn’t have anything else to do that week. We found ourselves standing next to the local RE/MAX office on Herzl Street in downtown Jerusalem. We went in. Tentatively, we started talking. We got cold feet repeatedly as we shlepped along after our agent, a nice woman originally from Holland, from apartment to apartment. And then, once all the flats we were seeing started looking alike, we just chose the one that appealed to us the most and made an offer. To our shock, it was accepted. (Who would have made that offer if we really thought it was going to be accepted? It was really just to keep the agent from thinking we were wasting her time! Or was it?) And so, reluctantly but also very proudly, we became property owners in Israel.

In Israel, apartments are sold without appliances. That didn’t matter, because the tenants who have lived there ever since we bought have all had their own appliances. But now the time has come for us to set foot into our own apartment a mere eight years after last being there. And that’s why, after diligently saving up for this move forward towards our shared dream, we bought a fridge the other day, and a washing machine and a dryer. We were shopping in Israel via internet and phone. Joan did an excellent job on the phone with the salesman when we finally made contact. I hovered in the background trying to think of a way to express the concept of a “self-defrosting freezer” in Hebrew. I came up with an idea, but it proved unnecessary: by the time I was ready to express myself, she was all done. This was all probably for the best. And the salesman’s English, it turned out, was fine. And he surely knew more about freezers, self-defrosting and otherwise, than I do!

And so that’s where we’re going this July: to our apartment in Jerusalem. So far, we own no furniture. The place has no bookcases. (This won’t be much of an issue—there are also no books.) But, at least so far, we do own a fridge, a washing machine, and a dryer. The rest will come too. (There’s an IKEA in Netanya we expect to get to know well.) And eventually we will have a flat to call our own that we can actually spend time in. And that will begin, we both hope, the beginning of a chapter in our family’s life that will eventually become permanent and provide a living, breathing link to Israel for us and for our descendants.

We endlessly reference the inviolate bond between the people of Israel, the God of Israel, and the land of Israel in our prayers. Some of the phrases that express that idea are so familiar that we almost have to force ourselves to consider them carefully and to ask ourselves what they imply regarding the future of the Jewish people. I’d like to explore some of these questions in more detail with you in the future, but this summer is turning out to be a season of practical things for Joan and me. We’re thinking of buying a television. We’re definitely going to buy a couch. (What good is a TV without a couch?) We’ve been saving up for a long time and now we’re going to take a leap forward in making real, even just a little bit, this dream that Joan and I have come to share. If you’re in Jerusalem in July, come by! We have a fridge. We’ll have a couch. We have a very nice balcony. We’ll make coffee!

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