This story was originally published on My Jewish Learning.
(JTA) — What is home? The question sounds like it would best be answered by a children’s book on which each page proclaims a sweet tautology like, “Home is where you feel at home.” There would be a picture of the family nest, parents, grandparents, kids and a dog, a fire in the hearth and soup on the table. Home as Norman Rockwell painted it. Home as so many have sung it: “O say does that star-spangled banner yet wave / Oe’r the land of the free and the home of the brave.”
But pondering what home really is opens us to what is arguably the most troubling political and theological puzzle of our times. For we have entered an age of homelessness and Homeland Security, of mass migrations and refugees fleeing scarcity, tyranny, drought and famine, of rising oceans, poisoned air and water, ongoing wars that destroy homes while killing and displacing whole populations. We have entered the age of the loss of home.
It is especially important for Jews to reflect on the meaning of home today. Not only because that is precisely the philosophical task of this week’s Sukkot holiday, but because we live in the aftermath of a war in which we were almost erased from the earth. And because we live in the presence of a 75-year-old reborn Jewish state, where many Jews feel they have come home to a security unavailable elsewhere.
So what does it mean, for a person or a people or a species, to lose home or to come home? What exactly is lost when you lose home and what is gained when you recover it?
Historically, Jews know much more about exile than home, more about wandering the wilderness than inhabiting the land. On Sukkot, we are instructed to consider that home may not be fixed, stable and enduring but rather fragile, temporary and portable. How dissonant it can sound then to ears inured to exile when they hear Jerusalem, the object of millennial yearning, described as the “eternal undivided capital” of a state, a national possession, a city like any other.
Consider the reflections of a man born in rural Austria in 1912, the son of an assimilated Jewish father and a Catholic mother who, forced to recognize his Jewish ancestry in 1935 when the Nazis passed the Nuremberg Laws, finally fled to Belgium with his Jewish wife in 1938 after Hitler annexed his homeland. An adamant atheist, he was arrested by the Gestapo in Brussels, tortured and then bounced among various camps for two years until the war’s end. When he returned to Brussels anxious to reunite with his wife, he discovered she had died. Alone, unknown and penniless, he changed his German name to Jean Amery and became a journalist and essayist.
In one of his essays, he writes: “For there is, after all, something like a transportable home, or at least an ersatz for home. That can be religion, like the Jewish one. ‘Next year in Jerusalem,’ the Jews have promised themselves for generations during their Passover ritual, but it wasn’t at all a matter of really getting to the Holy Land; rather it sufficed to pronounce the formula together and to know that one was united in the magic domain of the tribal God Yahweh.” Amery could still think of home, but he could no longer taste it. In losing home, he had lost himself. And in 1978, he finally took his own life.
Now consider the thinking of a man who left his home in Warsaw voluntarily at the age of 17 to study and teach in Vilna and Berlin before eventually finding himself a refugee in the United States in 1940. In his short classic, “The Sabbath” (1951), Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel writes of finding spiritual home not in space, but in time: “The Bible is more concerned with time than with space. It sees the world in the dimension of time. It pays more attention to generations, to events, than to countries, to things; it is more concerned with history than with geography.”
Yet just weeks after the Six-Day War of 1967 and the Israeli army’s lightning conquest of Jerusalem, the West Bank, the Sinai peninsula and the Golan Heights, Heschel visited Israel. Smitten by what he experienced there, he wrote a book, “Israel: An Echo of Eternity,” which seemed to many readers a repudiation of his earlier thinking. He writes: “There are moments in history which are unique, moments which have tied the heart of our people to Jerusalem forever. These moments and the city of Jerusalem radiate the light of the spirit throughout the world. The light of the spirit is not a thing of space, imprisoned in a particular place. Yet for the spirit of Jerusalem to be everywhere, Jerusalem must first be somewhere.”
Was Heschel overcome by a moment that felt like homecoming? Or shall we say he lived and thought like a pilgrim who understood that while life is always about the quest, there are nevertheless times when a pilgrim needs, sometimes desperately, glimpses of home both in space and in time?
Amery could not abide homelessness. Heschel was able to take up the task of working for and with African Americans in their own struggle for home. When you feel at home you feel commanded to extend that feeling to others. Sukkot teaches that home is the place and the moment to offer shelter to strangers.
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5 major Jewish groups team up to advocate for Israel and push for ‘accurate’ coverage of Israel-Hamas war
WASHINGTON (JTA) — Five major Jewish organizations have teamed up to maintain American support for Israel and fill what they say is a gap in coverage of the Israel-Hamas war.
“The 10/7 Project,” named for the day Hamas launched the war with a deadly invasion from the Gaza Strip, has as backers the American Jewish Committee, which initiated the project; the American Israel Public Affairs Committee; the Jewish Federations of North America; the Anti-Defamation League; and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.
“The 10/7 Project is designed to promote continued U.S. bipartisan support for Israel by working to ensure more complete and accurate information about the Israel-Hamas war in real time for policymakers and the American public,” the statement released Tuesday said.
The announcement was spurred, organizers said, by the mass turnout last month at a pro-Israel rally in Washington. Pro-Israel groups have been grappling with how to keep the atrocities Hamas terrorists committed on Oct. 7 in the spotlight while media attention turns to the devastation Israeli counterstrikes have since caused in Gaza, and as a growing number of Democrats are calling for a ceasefire.
“Since October 7, there has been a concerted and consistent effort from Israel’s enemies to draw a false and dangerous equivalence between Hamas’ deadly rampage to destroy the Jewish state and Israel’s right to defend itself against terrorists,” said Ted Deutch, the American Jewish Committee CEO and former Democratic congressman, in a release.
William Daroff, the Conference of Presidents CEO, said in a text message that it was worth keeping the atrocities front and center in part to confront a crop of people who have denied the magnitude or depravity of the attack.
“We must ensure that America and the entire world are told and retold the stories of the butchery of the October 7 massacre,” he said in a text. “We must discredit and make outcasts of 10/7 deniers, who are Hamas sympathizers seeking to perpetuate false and misleading narratives by minimizing and rationalizing the most deadly day for the Jewish people since the Holocaust.”
Daroff, whose group helped organize the mass rally along with JFNA, also said sustaining Jewish solidarity was key. All of the other groups partnering on the 10/7 Project are members of the Conference of Presidents, an umbrella body that supports Israel and advocates for other policies.
“We must work together, as one Jewish community, to successfully communicate to the American people the critical need to stand with Israel, as well as the importance of the US-Israel relationship to America and to Israel,” he said.
First Jewish university in South America to open in Buenos Aires next year
BUENOS AIRES (JTA) — South America is getting its first Jewish university next year.
The Latin American Rabbinical Seminary in Buenos Aires — which is affiliated with the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York, the Conservative movement’s flagship — obtained legal approval last month to establish the Isaac Abarbanel Jewish University Institute. The school will confer diploma, bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in subjects ranging from Jewish and religious studies to ethics to ancient manuscripts.
“This makes Argentina better by allowing it to enrich its diversity and, at the same time, expand the scope of its academic proposal to other regions of the world,” said Jaime Perczyk, Argentina’s education minister, in a statement on Nov. 16. Rabbi Ariel Stofenmacher, the rector of the rabbinical seminary, said the university will be “a lighthouse beacon for Latin America.”
One other Jewish university exists in the rest of Latin America: the Hebrew University of Mexico, which is located in Mexico City and run by an Argentine rabbi, Daniel Fainstein. The Latin American Rabbinical Seminary has had a continuing education institute under the Abarbanel name since 1978, but it has not conferred degrees titles.
The new university will include a center for the study of Hebrew manuscripts, including some from between the 9th and 15th centuries that are located at the Vatican Library. The digitized collection includes Torah scrolls, rabbinic literature, Jewish philosophy, liturgical books, poetry and kabbalistic texts.
The seminary is named after American rabbi Marshall Meyer, a New York native who worked to revitalize the Conservative movement in Buenos Aires from 1958 to 1984. In 1962, he created the Latin American Rabbinical Seminary, which ordains rabbis in Argentina and throughout Latin America. It has ordained approximately 110 Conservative rabbis since 1972.
Meyer, who was mentored by the activist rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, returned to the United States in 1984 and became the spiritual leader at Congregation B’nai Jeshurun in New York. He also served for a year as vice president of the University of Judaism in Los Angeles. He died in December 1993.
Isaac Abarbanel was a prominent 15th-century Jewish sage who worked in Portugal and, after the Spanish Inquisition, in Italy.
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