Portable Judaism

I'm writing this column before getting on a plane.  

I'm writing this column before getting on a plane.  Well, actually, before I cook a big turkey and then get on a plane. Thanks to the quirkiness of the Jewish and secular holidays, my family was able to gather from all points of the world for a rare opportunity to be together, not just in each others' homes, but in a country foreign to us all. The Israelis could come because it was Chanukah break, the Americans could extend a Thanksgiving break, and it all worked. So, off we go. By the time you read this, the tans will have faded and the pictures will have been posted. 

Some of the conversations prior to our trip had to do with searching out a Jewish community where we were going, since we'd be there over a Shabbat. My family represents quite a spectrum of Jewish life -secular Israeli, traditionally raised-now in Israel, traditionally raised-now agnostic, Conservative/Communal, Renewal, Reconstructionist upbringing-now-Conservative,  and Jew-by-choice-let's see, I think that covers it. We consulted the "Googleh-Rebbe," as my sister the rabbi calls it, which gave us some information, but ultimately we decided to make our own Shabbat. With a rabbi and a Jewish educator in the family, plus a host of really intentional, deep thinkers about all things Jewish/Israeli, it was quite a Shabbat. We lit candles, we talked a little Torah, and every night, we gathered to light the little travel-Chanukiah (Chanukah menorah) we had. 

Judaism is a pretty portable religion. It's designed to be so. When the Temple was destroyed, the community faced a huge dilemma. We could be tied to "place" and disappear when that place disappeared, or transfer the holiness of one place, to any place we went. Thank God (and the Rabbinic wisdom at the time) because the latter became the norm, and we have Jewish communities all over the world. As has so often been pointed out, the Korban-sacrificial offerings of the Priests on our behalf became the Avodah-prayer/service offered up by us, ourselves. The Holy Ark in Jerusalem became the Aron HaKodesh, the Holy Ark, in our synagogues. The Priestly roles were ceded to the Rabbinic leaders, and poof! Portable Judaism. This was a revolution. No longer was the wisdom of the tradition limited to the Priests behind the curtains; anyone (male, at the time, but now anyone) can study and access the chochma, the font of community and scholarly wisdom. It may not have been a situation we aspired to back in the first century, but since it was what it was, we made the most of it, and in my opinion, Judaism is the better for it. 

So many people say when they go to Israel, they really "feel Jewish," and that's certainly a wonderful feeling. We're centered and grounded there. It's a totally different experience to "feel Jewish" in Spain, England, Mexico…and I find that particularly invigorating and not to be missed.  Take one part surrounding culture, mix it with two parts ancient tradition, a few dashes of innovation and creativity, and we have schwarma, kugel, saffron rice and figs-real Jewish cooking.

So if you're lucky enough to get on a plane, get in a car, or hop a train and travel to someplace new, drink in the culture around you. It's a really big world God created, and we bless God's name when we appreciate its richness. The miracle of our Chanukah was that we were all together, we liked being together, and we could make Shabbat and Chanukah together. Yes, we Jews like to live in and through community. We thrive when we eat, pray, and learn together.  But no matter where you go, you can always take your Jewishness with you. Have a nice trip. 

Anita Silvert is a freelance teacher and writer, living in Northbrook. You can read more of her weekly Torah musings on her blog, Jewish Gems, www.anitasilvert.wordpress.com.

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