Tuesday, May 27, 2014


My parents just put my childhood home up for sale.  There was a lot of fanfare leading up to this event.  Besides the purchase of a smaller condo and all its renovations, there was a garage sale, and emails out to family members outlining which furnishings were up for grabs.  While I'm thrilled to receive a part of my old bedroom set, including a gorgeous standing mirror, I can't help but be sad about it.  Today, I was running around doing errands and while I was in the car a song called 'Home' came on the radio that hit home, no pun intended.  It was like one of those weird moments, when I was precisely thinking about my house in Toronto, trying to untangle the complicated feelings involved - was I sad, or was this a non-event that I was being melodramatic about? - and then suddenly this song just filled the car.  The lyrics, like most songs about "home" were pretty consistent.  The song is beautifully sung by Gabrielle Aplin, the lyrics profound, if not a little haunting and the chorus was as follows:

'Cause they say home is where your heart is set in stone
Is where you go when you're alone
Is where you go to rest your bones
It's not just where you lay your head
It's not just where you make your bed
As long as we're together, does it matter where we go?
Home home home home

And then there's the fun, sing-a-long song by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, also called 'Home', and it's chorus runs on a similar theme:

Ahh, Home
Let me come Home
Home is wherever I'm with you
Ahh, Home
Let me come Home
Home is when I'm alone with you

Basically, I'm aware that a house is really just a huge pile of organized bricks, divided into rooms, slapped with a little paint and a roof overtop that keeps the rain out and the heat in.  And without the people in it, it's not much of anything at all.  But I can't help but feel nostalgic about my house.  I was about four years old when we moved into the house and the memories attached to it are both meaningful and plenty.  I remember being woken up the morning my mother went to the hospital to give birth and being told that she was bringing home not one, but two babies, one for each of her girls.  Indeed, my sister and I both stood before these brand new bundles of joy and decided between us which one we wanted.  'My baby' was my responsibility - brilliant move on my mother's part - and every time there was a wail coming from their room, my sister and I bolted up the stairs to determine which of 'our babies' was in distress and why.  It was the house where I learned to play the piano and fell in love with classical music, and where my mother taught me how to cook and bake.  

I remember crouching at the top of the stairs way past my bedtime when my mother threw my father a surprise 30th birthday party (I was 7 and I remember it well...) and watching him walk in carrying a bag of milk while everyone yelled, "Surprise!"  It's the house where I babysat my brothers when my parents went out for dinner and I had to kick their master bedroom door down when one of my brothers (who shall remain nameless...) locked himself in there and started playing with matches.  It's the heavily sloped driveway attached to the house that I had to learn to back out of right after getting my license, and that same driveway that my siblings and I sledded down after a heavy snowfall, screaming with glee until we thudded unto the garage door.  It's the house where we had bunnies, one of which escaped and chewed through all the phone and electrical wires.  It's where I shared room with my sister - sometimes happily and sometimes under war-like conditions (for a couple of months there was a thick strip of duct tape stuck to the floor of our room dividing it in two no-so-equal halves.  She had control of the closet, I had control of the windows and blinds.).  It's the house where we dug a pool in the backyard the summer I turned sixteen and spent all summers until I moved out wrinkled like a prune.  It's the front porch where I spent most spring and summer Shabbat afternoons sitting on the swing, reading my book and watching the planes that flew over the house at three-minute intervals, while my father snored on the chair next to me.  It's the house that I brought my boyfriend to, to meet my parents for the first time.  And it's the backyard where we had our engagement party.

I'm sure that my siblings have their own fair share of memories that differ from mine about our house.  I don't know if it's because I've lived so far away from my childhood home for over twenty years, but when I visit, which is rather infrequently, so many of those memories flood through me the minute I hoist my suitcases up the steps and walk through the front door.  I know the memories will always be with me, in my mind, but it wonder if they'll fade over time since I no longer have a place to associate them with.

So while I still understand that a true home is where my heart is - with my family and loved ones - my childhood home is not just a pile of bricks and mortar either.  It's like a sponge, soaking in the laughter, the tears and all the major and not-so-major events that were experienced within its walls in the over-two decades that we inhabited it.

My parents, who are moving to a condo nearby, will be making this new organized pile of bricks into their home, with new and different memories to fill it with.  Hopefully, on my next visit, I'll have some new memories to store along with the older ones....

Mom and Dad, this (from Phillip Phillips) is for you:

Hold on, to me as we go
As we roll down this unfamiliar road
And although this wave is stringing us along
Just know you're not alone
Cause I'm gonna make this place your home

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

The Perfect Story for a Perfect Day....

I love a good story.  Which perhaps explains my lifelong addiction to reading, but once in a while you hear a really good story, something that knocks your socks off and the fact that it's true is like the icing on the cake.  And when the timing is just right - and the story is told to you on one of the most meaningful days of the years, on Israel's Independence Day - then you truly understand that there is no such thing as coincidences....serendipity, maybe, but definitely not a mere happenstance.  

Just for a little background, we celebrate every year on Independence Day by going on a short hike with friends and then returning to our house where we BBQ the rest of the day away.  Good friends, good food, (good beer my husband would say...) and good conversation - what else can possibly be better?  Well, this year, my friend Karen found out that a fellow yoga-enthusiast and friend of hers was visiting our small neck of the woods, and told her to come on over and say hi.  What none of us expected was to be completely mesmerized by her story.

This young woman, Nava, had just returned from a yoga retreat in Kenya a day earlier.  But she was supposed to have returned to Israel three days prior to that, and her story is what she experienced in those three days.  Before she left to Kenya, someone had told her to call Dr. Ari Greenspan, who was part of a group that had converted a Kenyan woman who still resides in Nairobi.  Ari, excited that someone from Israel would be in Kenya, asked if she would take a box of matza and a bottle of wine for this woman.  She agreed, took the necessary information and then flew to Kenya.  After her yoga retreat was over, the participants had just one day to themselves before they had to board a plane home, and Nava decided to visit this woman.  She described to us the conditions in which this woman lived - in a tiny, tiny apartment, smaller than one of my kid's bedrooms.  And while she had no running water, she did have a bookcase filled with Sfarim in it: prayer books, the bible, books on Jewish law, etc.  The Kenyan woman was so moved by Nava's visit that she begged her to stay longer and help her with a situation.  The situation?  That she knew of a group of Kenyans who lived hours away from Nairobi who had been living their lives for the last few decades (decades!) as religious Jews - and yet they were not Jewish.  But they fervently wanted to convert and until that moment, hardly anyone was aware of their existence.  Nava was torn - all she really wanted to do was go home.  She hadn't eaten anything but fruit, vegetables and grains during her entire visit as a result of her being the only one in her group to keep kosher, and she had been alone for Shabbat, an experience she said had been quite difficult.  But the Kenyan woman pressed upon her the importance of going to see them, so she called her travel agent and had her flight pushed off a few days.  And along with a driver and another escort, she drove hours into the middle of nowhere to see this tribe of people.

Living in Kenya in primitive conditions, this small tribe had no running water and no electricity, but they did have some sort of generator/battery and a phone.  And so they were aware that Nava was coming to visit.  This was the first time that a foreigner had come to visit their little part of the world, let alone a white woman from Israel.  When she arrived, they were overwhelmed and treated her like royalty, removing her shoes and washing her feet, mimicking the way Abraham welcomed the angels that visited him in his tent thousands of years ago.  They reverently called her 'The Israelite' every time they addressed her.  And what did she discover?  That this small group of people were living their lives and governing themselves as Jews.  The boys are circumcised at eight days old and they pray along with the men everyday.  They knew everything about Judaism including the fact that the day Nava arrived, it was the new month, and they asked if she would pray 'hallel' with them.  They have set aside a small synagogue for themselves using a bible instead of a scroll to read from every Shabbat, and hanging on the walk of the synagogue is a Jewish calendar so they can keep track of what day it is.  Remember, they have no iPhones or laptops so this calendar is their only way to know when Shabbat of Jewish holidays fall out.  Despite the lack of running water, they have a pond where the women practice family purity laws.  Since they don't know how to slaughter meat according to Jewish law, they simply don't eat meat and instead, subsist on rice, beans and spinach from the crops they grow.  

When Nava pulled out her extra box of matzah, they gazed at it as if it were manna from heaven.  And she was the Israelite that had brought this miracle to them.  It was the first time they had ever had matza in their lives.  I can swear that I have never held a piece of matzah in my hand in my entire life with the kind of reverence and awe that they did just last week.  So excited about their one box of matzah, they immediately made plans to celebrate 'Pesach Sheni'.  

suppose the most ironic - which we'll call fateful - fact about this whole unbelievable story is that Nava, a Toronto native who made Aliyah about three years ago on her own had decided upon moving to Israel to do army service.  And where did she serve?  In the conversion program of the IDF.  Coincidence?  I think not.  So after spending the night in this remote village in the middle of the middle of nowhere, she began to test them, asking them questions she knew would be on the conversion test.  She said they knew everything.  From 'taking challah', to laws pertaining to Shabbat and kashrut, fast days, prayers and everything in between.

Nava has returned to Israel with a mission.  She is attempting to document what she saw, along with some adorable footage of a small group of young kids singing 'Ayn k'Elokaynu' while standing against a wall painted with a large menorah and other symbols of Israel.  She will be working as a Madricha in a girls' mechina and is planning in getting the girls to crochet kippot to send back to this African tribe.  What will happen to them?  Your guess is as good as mine, but at least we know they exist.  

Having heard this story on Yom Ha'atzma'ut struck a chord inside me.  It was the right story on the most perfect day.  It made me realize how truly lucky we - who live here - are.  That we had both the means and the opportunity to make those plans and arrangements so that we could live here and raise our families here.  And that we recognized the importance of living here so that we can continue to claim and protect our borders.  But not everyone has those choices available to them.  Somewhere deep in the middle of Africa is a group of people that are living in abject poverty, far, far away from civilization, dreaming about living in our country.  The only Israel that this tribe knows is the Israel of the bible.  Not our modern, technologically and medically advanced democratic country, but the dusty desert of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  And yet despite never having visited our fair country, they have spent their entire lives dreaming about coming 'home'.

For those of us already 'home', Yom Ha'atzma'ut Sameach!