Friday, September 24, 2010

Place In Judaism

We have these smaller reflection groups that meet once a month on Mondays. My group met for the first time this past Monday and our first topic of conversation was about the role that place should play in Judaism. What changes for a lot of us is exactly this role.

This year, being in Israel, we are in a new place. This is something completely new to me. I have never been outside my communities in Minneapolis, especially for some of the important Holy Days. I think a large part of this has to do with the unfamiliarity here. What we talked about in our group was that sometimes community can create a place for you. One of my colleagues brought up the example of the Israelites building a the place for God to reside in the community while they were wandering in the wilderness.

I started to think about this a little more. Without looking back at the text, I remember that the people needed to make a holy home for God to reside among the people. Another part of this command was that the people needed to make themselves a holy community as well. In this case, then you don't need a specific location to be special for you, but you need the community to also create this holiness.

Arguing the other side of the argument, there are specific locations that I feel like I can connect to God. Although I am very frustrated with some of the things that have been happening at the Kotel lately, it is still a special place to me. The Kotel represents the closest place that we are allowed to pray to the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. Although the worship offered historically at the Temple was animal sacrifice, something I do not agree with in today's culture, there is something special about this place. When we wandered over there during Yom Kippur, I couldn't help but offer more prayers and another recitation of Vidui (Confession) at the one of the most important sites to Judaism.

There are other places that are special to me too. Thinking about them helps me focus my thoughts. I remember sitting at Camp TEKO in the little chapel that overlooks Lake Minnetonka. Listening to the wind blow through the trees and hearing the boats motoring around the lake is a place that I have found a connection.

At times, I have thought about what Judaism would look like without Israel - the country. Yet I keep coming back to the fact that Israel is incredibly important. Not only are there holy sites, but this is the only place in the world that Jewish traditions affect the entire country.

For example, during Yom Kippur, the country shuts down. I was able to walk down the middle of the wrong side of the road because there were almost now cars. The streets were so quiet! Kids were riding on their bikes and people were out in force. I didn't even wear a watch because time didn't really matter.

It isn't even near Pesach yet, but I have been told that you can go get food at almost any restaurant because they are almost all Kosher for Pesach. Israeli summer is effected by the Holy Day cycle and even the time change is effected -we moved our clocks back the Sunday after Rosh HaShanah to make Yom Kippur easier.

What role does place play in Judaism? I still don't know actually know a full answer. Part of it is memory, part of it creates community. A place can inspire thoughts and prayers, and a place can make you so incredibly frustrated that you just want to shout. Places can connect us to our history. Yet it is that history that also causes problems. I think this is going to be a lifelong process of figuring out how Israel, the country, should play into my life as a Jew. But I'm glad this course is making me start to think about it.



  1. Interesting post. Places and community, what goes with you and what stays behind when you leave.

    The Kotel, however, is not the closest you can get to the previous location of the holy of holies, however. see my post:

  2. I didn't know about that place. I will have to check it out.