Returning Home

June 23, 2014
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We came from the desert.

Kind of, as the pre-Jewish tribes ranged across sections of Judea and Mesopotamia in an era when the Middle East was likely a bit greener than it is today, and life was still not easy. Our communities began as semi-nomadic groups, herding, then tilling, practicing disparate religious customs until one day patriarch Abraham started a movement that led to the eventual unification of the 12 tribes under one banner.

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Dates and Sunset, Negev 2012

But before even that, there was more desert…

In Cannan, through Mitzrayim, and then the long march under water, over land, to the mountains, into milk and honey. At the base of Sinai our stories say, the law was received, and the core of what makes the Jewish faith today was brought to the to be Israelites. Though the people existed before, the base of our community began there, in awe, in wonder, in strife, in Exodus.

 

We grew, recovered, built, and thrived in the land promised.

Let’s be honest, Jews thrive in suffering. It’s one of our hallmarks, it’s what even anti-semitic writers will admit is impressive about our people (though the comparisons they use to elucidate the point may not be so becoming). That doesn’t mean we like to suffer though; as from experience, I’ve found Jews to be most fond of, and skillful at achieving, comfy homes, packed fridges, and loving families. But we keep getting thrown curve balls. Few peoples in history have seen the persecution Jews have seen and lived on as an identifiable cultural group. We built the temple a couple times, put up with assaults from some of the most powerful civilizations in history, and yet garner enough accomplishment that some still feel the need to accuse us of running the Illuminati.

Then we lost the temple, and World War II happened.

Most of the Jews in the world between these two time periods did not live in the desert anymore. Most eventually made it to more temperate European climates, lived in tight knit communities, and spread like satellites around the world to survive in little pockets. Some eventually formed a little pocket in NYC, which became quite a large pocket. Others found China, South America, basically everywhere; from desert to jungle, to urban forest. We changed, we adapted, we tapped into some genetic memory that said: “we will survive” and “we will be good” and “there will be chubby, happy Jewish children eating whatever it is my grandma made in the Shtetl forever ago.”

And to the desert, we returned.

Because we are committed, capable, and a bit nuts; without any of which we likely would be gone and identifying as peoples of our current nations, with a handful of heirlooms from a time long past. Yet again, Jews sit in government, in the desert, in Jerusalem, in the holy land, speaking a dozen languages, including Hebrew, which if you think about it doesn’t make any logical sense as the country is 60+ years old and only a few of the founders were native Hebrew speakers. It’s not that comfortable in Israel, with lions at some of the borders, it’s not as fun as it could be (unless you are a regular at the Tel Aviv clubs), but in more ways – it’s home.

A home for a Wandering Jew.

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Ketura by Day, Negev 2012

“Not all who wander are lost,” but most of them don’t have a home, at least not one they can return to. I’ve traveled to and met with Jewish communities on most continents, I grew up in New York City, and the one quintessential similarity discovered is that Jews are always where the should be, but never quite seem to belong. We are travelers, on some cyclic journey through the ages. Israel represents a longing in the heart of the Jewish people, not necessarily a longing for kingdom come, but a deep need to belong, a place to finally rest a seeking, ailing heart.

And yet, our homecoming is bittersweet. The last thing most Jews wish to do is inflict pain on another; though Israel, whether I like it or not, is embroiled in a harsh conflict, leaving all sides bleeding and bruises on every Jew in every country of every age and time.

Two years ago I had the privilege of studying at the Arava Institute in the Negev Desert, studying with Israeli Jews, Israeli Arabs, Jordanians, and foreign Jews and non-Jews. With my own eyes I saw that a home must be a place where neighbors are welcome as equals and friends, else no home can be. With my bare feet I walked through the same sands that my ancestors walked on their way to an ancient homeland. The desert is still and wise, calm and resilient, quiet but wide awake. If this is the place from which we come, then so must we also be.

When the pain of centuries of transgression is allowed to ease, and the longing in our hearts for rest prevails over the fear of losing what has been gained, then we may get what we want most of all: a home, a place of our own, and peace.

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Lee Frankel-Goldwater is a professional environmental educator, writer, and social good project developer as well as a recent graduate of NYU's Environmental Conservation Education masters program. Lee has also studied at the Center for Creative Ecology on Kibbutz Lotan, Israel and at the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies. Currently he has been leading development of the Global Action Classroom, an Earth Child Institute initiative focused on global youth environmental cooperation and helping to create the Global Sustainability Fellows, a program of The Sustainability Laboratory seeking to design a new and innovative, international sustainability masters program. Other projects include: developing mobile applications for encouraging social action, mixed media video design, leading peace and environmental education workshops, and doing his best to live a life in connection with the Earth while helping others to do the same. At heart Lee is a poet, traveler, musician, and philosopher with a deep curiosity for new experiences, unfamiliar cultures, learning languages, and often dancing to the beat of a different drummer. As student of yoga, meditation, and spiritual arts, Lee aims to connect the inner journey with the outer one, hoping, as he can, to share what is learned along the way, enjoying the journey.

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