During the years I worked in experiential Jewish education at the Brandeis-Bardin Institute (BBI), we gave a lot of thought to how participants could take their experience at BBI home with them. The experiences at BBI could be truly transformative, but in order for a participant to be transformed, we not only needed to give them the program, we also needed to help them absorb and integrate what they learned and lived and find ways to touch the new wisdom or reality after they justify.
I do similar kinds of thinking while planning the High Holy Days. How will you be able to take home what I have shared and incorporate it into your life after the Days of Repentance to hopefully aid you in your attachment to the community, your love of Judaism, and the decision you make every day.
So here we were, poised to complete our first summer together in Jerusalem, and deciding what to do with our remaining days.
The question began as: What do we need to do in order to be ready to go home? The logistical questions are often the ones that demand our immediate attention.
But Jennifer and I realized that we have a more important concern during these remaining days: What can we do to help the kids and us frame this reality altering, family experience and to bring it home with us?
A very different question and one that has been part of our conversation for days.
There are at least significant components: one is how we will be different when we leave; and the other is what are we taking with us on the way home?
The latter question is quite literal. A few years ago I wrote a piece in the D’var about how Chanukah gift giving can be very Jewish rather than simply influenced by the non- Jewish culture in which we live. I also have what to say about birthday and anniversary gift giving, but that will have to wait for another day.
So what can we take home from Israel? We have lots of gifts, many for other people and a goodly number for us.
Souvenirs are a way to touch the memories and experiences that we share. We have taken LOTS of photographs, and Jennifer and I have each kept extensive journals! And we have shopped!
The souvenirs are all wonderful: The children love their Dora and Spongebob t-shirts in Hebrew. But some of the souvenirs are ritual objects that will allow us to recall our first summer together in Israel while living Jewish (performing Mitzvot) at home.
We have new head coverings (kippot, hats, headscarves), new talitot, lots of new books. We also have bought Jewish art that will hang in our home and remind us of where we were and where we will be again (please God).
Our spending every Shabbat together over these past weeks has also caused us to reflect about our Shabbat observance at home, and this has affected our shopping. We have bought new candlesticks so that each child will be able to light a Shabbat candle every week to help connect them to Shabbat and Israel.
There are gifts that we buy that we will use for many years, and gifts that are truly forever. Jennifer and I decided that just as the kids got new candlesticks to remember this summer and to bring it home with us, we would buy new candlesticks, too.
Today we found a lovely, artistic pair, made out of crystal. But as we shopped (and shopped) throughout the day, we came to the realization that we did not want to buy lovely candlesticks that we would use for a long time, we wanted to buy “forever” candlesticks.
“Forever” candlesticks, for us, meant silver, and figuring out conceptually what we wanted, meant that we could focus clearly each time we walked into a new store. We found one pair that we loved, and continued shopping. “Forever” candlesticks are not necessarily the first pair one falls in love with, they are the exactly right pair, and these may not be the same thing.
As we shopped, we also bought lots of other things as well.
The highlight of the day for the kids (and almost the highlight for me as well) was lunch at Burger King. It was delicious!
I am afraid we have done real damage to Shayna and Nadiv’s understanding of Kashrut – they are going to wonder why we can’t go into the Burger Kings we see in San Diego and why we can’t always have ice cream after a hamburger!
Can you believe it, whoppers, double whoppers, triple whoppers, chicken nuggets shaped like stars, french fries, onion rings, pareve ice cream and brownie sundaes. Ahhhhhhh. Burger King (you will not be surprised to find out it is what we had for lunch on Friday and the kids are hoping for it on Sunday for our last lunch [me too!]).
In the course of a day spent shopping, we also discovered this amazing papercut artist. His name is Michel and his studio is called “Judaicut.” You can view his work by visiting us after we hang our little “Mishpachat Meltzer” sign when we get home, or be viewing his website.
Long, hot, tiring, expensive, productive, super fun day (with burgers). On the way back home, stopped in Heimeshe Essen to carry in Matzo Ball soup for the kids. (Burgers and Matzo Balls in the same day – the secret to keeping kids happy!)
Fed them, put Maital to bed, justify the big ones with Robin and Jen and I headed back to town.
We were tired, and Jen still wasn’t back up to full speed. We couldn’t figure out what to have for dinner – Chinese or Shwarma? I love serious problems like that!
In the process of trying to figure out dinner, we stopped by another store which we had visited earlier in the week while doing general shopping, and we fell in love with the perfect, “forever” candlesticks. The price was right (after a little polite haggling) and the salesman was a lovely fellow.
On the verge of buying them, we decided to go back and look at the silver pair we had liked so much earlier in the day. Returning to this beautiful pair that we had liked so much earlier in the day, made it very clear that this new pair we found were the “forever” pair.
We went back and bought them. These are the candlesticks that, please God, we will light every Shabbat. These are the candlesticks that will connect us to Israel and our first family trip together. These are the candlesticks that our children will grow up associating with their parents and Shabbat. And please God, in many years, these will be the heirloom “forever” candlesticks that our children will each one to have for Shabbat with their own new families. (It is mind-boggling to me to think m’dor l’dor [from generation to generation] moving forward, tfu-tfu-tfu.)
Jen also bought me a new Mezuzah charm and chain to wear. Twenty-five years ago, for my Bar Mitzvah, my mother bought me a Mezuzah charm and chain that I have been wearing ever since. Actually, I have had to replace the chain about 6 times and the Mezuzah itself 4 or 5 in those twenty-five years but I like to tell people that this is my Bar Mitzvah Mezuzah.
In its most recent iteration, the chain was a gift from Randy (who many of you know) during a trip to St. Thomas about fifteen years ago, and the Mezuzah I bought when I was in Israel for Sunny and David Levy’s wedding 4 years ago. (That’s a funny story, after being married almost 4 years, I realized the Mezuzah I was wearing was a gift from an ex-girlfriend about 5 years before I met Jennifer. I realized that and laughed. I shared it with Jennifer and she convinced me that while I was in Israel for Sunny and David’s wedding was the right time to replace it!
And now, being in Israel as a family, was the right time to replace that one. Jennifer picked out a beautiful new Mezuzah and chain – silver to match our new wedding rings. The old one and chain will be put away (bli ayin hara) as a Bar Mitzvah gift for Nadiv!
Candlesticks and Mezuzah, then it was clearly time for Shwarma and home to sleep.
Amazing to have a day touching a sense of timelessness and forever!