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The cultural Jew

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02/22/2011

Marcy Nehorai photo

It breaks my heart that I cannot explain it, because it is unexplainable. Like God, just so beyond that it can't be contained in words.
 
What is it? How do you capture Israel in words? How do you describe freedom?
 
I imagine if I could, this whole Middle East conflict would dissolve, because everyone would
understand.

Can I show you how the Israeli Scouts jumped wildly around after performing a sing-along in the middle of Ben Yehuda; a hip, downtown section of Jerusalem?
 
Can I explain to you what it feels like to have an Israeli cab driver try to convince me to take his ride instead of the bus, smile, and then wish me a Shabbat shalom?
 
Can I capture the sense of belonging? Of having an inside joke with an entire country?
 
Can those who have never experienced the faint, subtle awkwardness of being a Jew in a non-Jewish land feel the difference?
 
In poems, in images, we try to get close to explaining Israel and the uniqueness of the Jewish people by appealing to that part of the heart that is above logic. Not illogical. Above logic.
 
In the years before the Balfour Declaration, a member of the upper Parliament in the United Kingdom asked Chaim Weizmann, the first President of Israel, "Why do you Jews insist on Palestine when there are so many undeveloped countries you could settle in more conveniently?"
 
Weizmann answered: "That is like my asking you why you drove twenty miles to visit your mother last Sunday when there are so many old ladies living on your street."
 
A Jewish child. Even if he didn't choose his parents, he is theirs and they are his. No matter what.
The Jewish child's love for God is natural; it cannot be forgotten. One may no longer hang out at his parents' home, or even talk to them. Even if he never eats his Jewish food, reads his
Jewish texts, or does what his father asks of him, he will always be his father's son.
 
It is only in the last 62 years that we have returned en masse to our childhood home and walked around smiling softly at the familiar places, breaking down when we arrive at the front door; the Kotel. And all of the sudden, we remember. That something else. That time that we stood at the base of Mt. Sinai and shook. The breaking of the tablets. The wandering. We ask our family: tell me about that time... And we hear about the times of triumph, of great insight, great leaders, and breathtaking courage. Of the hard times as well. The people. Our people.
 
In gratitude, we try to repair our world, through charity, through education, through song. We eat challah, we hang up our keys on Friday night, we light the candles.
 
And then we talk with God. Jewish talk, with lots of questions and deep, complex conversations. And laughing. We try to understand, analyze, develop our connection with God on an intellectual level.
 
Everyone has a different level of commitment, a different connection. We are loved. What we choose to do with that love, how we develop it and respect it, that is our choice.
 
As I walk around Israel I see it: the Ethiopian, the Australian, the Indian Jew all waiting for the bus. Somehow, silently, we sense each other and know that some time long ago, we came from the same home. We've traveled a long way, but we're coming back. We've experienced childhood, adolescence, difficulties, and tribulations. We've gotten caught up in bad relationships, painful times. We've grown so much, but we can still recognize each other.
 
Some may use the word “culture” for lack of a better word. This is because there is no other concept that exists in the world about a religion that is not just a religion but a home. So we try to capture in words the uncapturable, the ineffable, in hope that others will understand truly who we are and what we need. In hopes, that we can understand it ourselves.

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