What Am I Doing Here
Drash for Rosh Hashana Service at Sinai Temple, Champaign IL
Yesterday, Erev Rosh Hashana, I spent all day in my kitchen preparing for the 35-people Dinner we were giving at our house to our friends in town and their families. At 10 AM I took a break to say Shana Tova to my Mom, my sister and my kids in Israel who were just about to sit down to their own Rosh Hashana Dinner.
All of them together. Without me. For ten years in a row.
I was all in tears when I resumed my kitchen work. What the hell was I doing here, in America! Away from my family, away from Israel – in Exile!
It was then that Art Robinson called to ask if I was willing to give a Drash on the morning after, at the Rosh Hashana Service.
A Drash about what?
Well, said Art in his slow hesitant manner, you’re an Israeli. And you’ve been living here in America for quite some time. Perhaps you can tell us what you are doing here…
I knew for sure only what I was doing here, in America, at this particular moment: I was weeping. And longing to be in Israel.
So I took a hike on the tears. And they led me to some interesting places. And into somewhat of an Answer, if only a temporary one.
They first took me to visit old relatives of theirs: tears that rolled down my father’s cheeks some sixty years ago. He was a Holocaust survivor, living in Melbourne Australia at the time. A rumor came to town that an Israeli military ship had just sailed into Melbourne’s harbor, full of Jewish sailors.
A Jewish Sailor! That was an impossible combination! Unheard of for at least two thousand years!
He was standing there at the harbor among many other Jews, weeping hard at the sight of the handsome sun-burned strong young men who disembarked the ship in their impeccable white uniform.
It was then and there that he resolved: No more tears! He would take his young wife and baby daughter, myself, and move to live in Israel, where the sight of a Jewish soldier will be so mundane that it will no longer bring tears to his eyes.
And so he did.
But tears did come up in his eyes some 50 years later, when he was watching his grandson graduating as a combat pilot from the Israeli Military Flight School. It was indeed an exciting moment when the ceremony started and the young cadets came marching into the field. Getting accepted to the Military flight School is indeed a great deal in Israel. Graduating it is so much more! So I, the mother, was very excited.
But then I saw my father standing up behind me, his arms spread out to his sides as wide as possible, his face all over in tears.
“What happened?” I asked him.
“Nothing,” he replied. “I’m just holding on to five generation.”
“What do you mean?”
“You see,” he said, “I need to tell my grandfather, the poor shoemaker in the pogrom-ridden Shteitle in Poland, that his great-great-grandson is now a combat pilot in Israel. But I’m not sure he’s getting the message.”
So here I was, exited for my son and his extraordinary achievement, for myself as his mother, for the high prestige this kind of achievement gains you in Israel – a moment of pure “Naches” in a war-ridden country infested with political scandal and corruption and traumatized by the murder of its Prime Minister. As keen as this moment of excitement was, it was only one-generation deep.
And here was my father, weeping an excitement five-generation-deep, with two thousand years of yearning invested in it his tears…
For a moment – I was envious…
Some four years later I relocated to the US for just one year of business assignment, which extended itself into ten…
So what am I doing here?
Could be that I too needed a touch of that 2000-year old yearning, a Mount Pisgah glimpse into the Promised Land veiled in tears of yearning, through which no amount of corruption can penetrate to blur the vision.
And have the extra privilege of watching the Promise getting fulfilled every single day.
And be able to appreciate it.