Nostalgia Redux

As Pesach approaches, I’ve been feeling extra nostalgic for my time in St. Louis. Just a year ago, SJ and I sat on this fire escape, washing and checking endless heads of Romaine lettuce for the seder, preparing small mountains of vegetables to be sauteed and roasted, and enjoying the sunshine. I already knew, even as I lived through it, that I would look back on this as one of the best times of my life.
Even so, I couldn’t be happier to be spending this Pesach in Jerusalem, where the grocery stores are advertising special deals for a holiday I actually celebrate, where the city arranges while-you-wait blowtorch kashering and biur chametz stations on street corners, where “chag kasher v’sameach!” has already been the standard greeting for at least three weeks. There is an indescribably comforting camaraderie in being surrounded by thousands of people who are all, at this moment, making the same preparations that Jews have made at this time of year for hundreds of generations: cleaning and purging the house of all chametz, cooking for the seder, buying wine and matzah by the crate, and then, in one mad dash to the finish line, searching the house by the light of a candle, burning the leftover bits of bread, preparing the charoses, checking pounds of lettuce (or grating pounds of horseradish), setting the table, arranging the seder plate, and, finally, with a deep breath, lighting the yom tov candles and sitting down to a night of storytelling and good food. There is nothing, but nothing, quite like Pesach.


Second-Class Citizens

I’ve always been mystified by those who maintain that Orthodox women are oppressed. (The problem seems to be, more often than not, that they’ve never actually met an Orthodox woman.) But I’ve found the solution: everyone would understand the honor accorded to women in the Orthodox community if only we could bring them all to Yerushalayim. Why? Because of the death notices.
Huh? What are those?

Thwarted Again

When I first thought about spending some time in Israel after graduating college, I planned to go to a different program than the one I ultimately chose – not a seminary program, but a professional training program, of sorts. I was really jazzed about it, and I spent a great deal of time tracking down scholarships and grants and cost-of-living stipends from every Jewish organization under the sun. I was a finalist for a generous award from my local JCC, and they really seemed to like my application – but in the end, they gave the main award to someone else, and I received a smaller grant that wouldn’t be much help in defraying the considerable cost of the program I liked.

I moped about it for a while before deciding that, as disappointed as I was, the reason I hadn’t gotten it would reveal itself in time. Meanwhile, I turned my attention to finding another way of getting to Israel. I remembered a seminary I’d visited and liked on my last trip, and found out that I could get a Masa grant for studying there. I completed a University Jewish Experience course, and got a free voucher for a plane ticket to Israel. After spending months trying, in vain, to line up the cash for the first program, the finances for going to seminary fell into place in less than a week.

So I booked my free flight, started brushing up on my Hebrew, got some plug adapters, and packed my bags. I was all ready to leave as scheduled, on Sunday, August 28. Then a hurricane came barreling up the East Coast.

Guilt and Grieving

This is a time of mourning in the Jewish calendar. We mourn for the destruction of our holy Temple in Jerusalem, and for the many other tragedies that have befallen the Jewish nation in our history. I’ve been feeling a deep and genuine sadness, but for all the wrong reasons.

I moved away from St. Louis, my home for the past four years, last Sunday. I loved living there; I miss it terribly. I miss the Southern hospitality, the absence of traffic, the delicious tap water, the friendliness of strangers, the tree-lined streets, the amazing shul that became my home and my second family. I miss Forest Park. I miss my cozy little apartment. I even feel a bit nostalgic for the thick, oppressive heat of a St. Louis summer.

At another time of year I might allow myself to wallow in missing this place I love, but not this week. I feel guilty for being sad about moving, when there are so many real tragedies to mourn. And on a deeper level, I feel guilty for being so attached to the “home” I’ve made for myself in galus. I shouldn’t accept or enjoy my life in exile. I should have this same grief, this same homesickness, all the time – but I should be missing Eretz haKodesh, the Holy Land.

People often say that it’s so difficult to tap into the grief of Tisha b’Av because we no longer remember what it was like to have the Bais Mikdash – we don’t even know what we’re missing. This is true for me, not just regarding the Temple, but regarding the entire land of Israel. I’ve visited briefly, I’ve vacationed there, but I’ve never lived there, so though I miss it intellectually – because I know I should – I’ve never felt the painful, acute longing that I want to feel.

This year is a bit different. This year, I’m putting my money where my mouth is and heading back to my Homeland to learn Torah. Between leaving St. Louis and arriving in Israel (in three weeks!), I have no real home base – I’m floating around, feeling pretty unanchored. This is how it should be for a Jew in exile: we should feel unsettled, unstable, homeless, because we are. So instead of suppressing my feelings, I’m redirecting them. I’m allowing myself to feel the anxiety that comes with not having a permanent place of one’s own, because the next time I have a home – a place where I can unpack my bags and stay awhile – I’ll be in Israel.

I wish everyone a meaningful fast. May this be the last Tisha b’Av we mark with fasting.