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.


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.


The Season of the Giving of Our Torah

Summer has descended upon my corner of the Midwest. How can I tell? A few ways:

Juicy, fresh, non-imported summer fruits are appearing in grocery stores and farmers’ markets.

Last summer, we picked our own peaches. Not all of them made it home.

I bought this impossibly summery dress to wear to my friend’s June wedding.

I already let out the hem; now begins the epic battle to combine shells and shrugs and still look like a normal human.

And, of course, Shavuos is just around the corner. As in, tonight. I have quiche and cake and challah to make, but I thought I’d share this humble little thought with you, Internet, an amalgamation of several divrei Torah I’ve heard recently:

Of all the chagim, I’ve always had the hardest time connecting to Shavuos. I know it’s not just me.