These and Those

Musings from Students of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem


Posted on March 3, 2013 by David Bogomolny

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

I often find myself reflecting upon something that my father shared with me about his early impressions of Israel after he made Aliyah from Moscow in ’74. He told me about his being a security guard on Mt. Scopus before the Hebrew U. campus had been fully constructed, and gazing from his post across the hilltops of Jerusalem (the view today is obstructed). He said he felt then as though he could see his ancestors walking along those very hills… and felt deeply that he was living in the Land of his People Israel.

Even now I’m touched by this, but it is not my own, despite my deep connection to this Land – the Land of my birth – the Land that changed the course of my family’s history forever – the Land that I frequented during my childhood on visits to grandparents and cousins. My own connection feels less dramatic to me – no moment of epiphany.

While my parents’ lives were changed forever with Aliyah from the Former Soviet Union (FSU), my life literally began with Israel. While my generation hadn’t been around to internalize the worldwide Jewish passion, amazement and collective pride of the Six Day War, I was raised with the profoundly simple truth that Israel was my family’s true home – not only because I had been born there – not only because my parents’ Jewish identities were rooted there – not only because so much of my extended family lived there – but also because we were Jews. I was raised to feel in the depths of my soul that Israel was the Jewish national homeland.

It was so natural for me to feel this that I never dwelt upon it. I never questioned it. I never thought to question it. And while my connection to my Land was very personal, I took it entirely for granted.

I liken this to many people I’ve met who were raised in traditional Jewish homes, attending Jewish day schools, and observing the Jewish holidays with their families every year. It’s easy to take something for granted when you’re raised with it – when it’s a regular part of your daily life. Not having been raised in a halakhically observant Torah home, I find that my excitement about Jewish tradition has much to do with its newness in my life – I’m often discovering new nuances and insights that inspire me in unexpected ways.

This stream of thought was recently kindled by my attending Shabbat morning services at the Western Wall for the past four weeks in a row. My first week was with a visiting friend who requested that we daven at the Kotel, but the following three Shabbatot were on my own – of my own choosing. And I each time I vacillated – should I go to the Kotel? should I go to another shul? why do I care about the Kotel anyway? what’s so special about davening there? and ultimately: it’s amazing that I have unrestricted access to this holiest of holy sites, which Jews have yearned for and prayed towards for millennia, and yet I’m vacillating about whether or not to pray there. And each time I returned there – feeling myself not sufficiently appreciative – feeling that I should care more than I do about the Kotel – feeling that it was my natural right to pray there, but feeling out of place – feeling moved by the history of the place, but feeling detached from the idea of Temple Judaism…

And it struck me that regardless of my feelings towards the Western Wall, I’m always praying towards it, as halakha stipulates. At the very least – I’m directing my thoughts towards it when I am unable to face in its direction during my prayers. I’m struggling to sort through my complicated relationship with this special, holy site, but it will forever be part of my daily, traditional Jewish life – and it’s a matter that I shouldn’t allow myself to simply take for granted.