Friday, August 26, 2011

There's No Place Like Home, Is There?

In this week's, parashat God continues to discuss how to enter the Promised Land according to the Torah. God reviews which animals are considered Kosher and which are traif. In addition, God tells how an Israelite would be punished if they turned to other gods. These punishments include stoning and death. God also discusses how to deal with wicked people who attempt to invade an Israelite city. God teaches the Twelve Tribes to treat the poor with an open heart. According to the Torah, Jews are intended to lend to other nations but never borrow. Regularly, debts in Israelite society would be settled after three years. God demands Jews to be generous to the poor and expect no return. Asking the poor to pay one back is considered a sin punishable by death. FInally, God discusses how to celebrate the harvest festivals; Passover, Shavout, and Sukkot. Through these civil laws, God prepares the Israelites to live in a courteous society.

A common, Jewish nickname for Israel is the "Promised Land". Throughout this week's parashat, God describes locations in Israel as the "land which the Lord, Your God gives you". Why did God give us this particular place for our sanctum? It all started with Abraham. Abraham and Sarah dwelt in Israel, which was then known as Canaan. As patriarch of the Jewish people, God puts Abraham to the test. God asks Abraham to sacrifice his son, Isaac. Abraham take Isaac up to the mountain, but an angel swiftly stops the murder. In that very instant, God forms a covenant that the land of Israel belongs to Abraham and his people. Two generations later, famine strikes Canaan. Jacob was notified that Egypt avoided was experiencing feast. this famine. He brought the Jewish people to live in the land of Goshem. Hence, we were enslaved by Pharaoh and liberated by God. The rest is history.

What makes a place sacred? For some, it is our household, alma matter, or place of worship that we think of as our cherished domain. I consider my camp to be hallowed ground in Liberty, New York. Sometimes I ponder if the people and memories from Mosh make it sanctified or the fact that it was founded in the 1930's. The Great Depression, the Holocaust, and the Red Scare are amongst some of the critical moments in the twentieth century that camp survived through. Some of the buildings are still intact from the opening. Sometimes I look on the walls and see signatures from the 1940's. As the six weeks of the summer go on, a microcosmic society begins to develop. It is almost as if we were our own kibbutz. I wonder if the camp would be the same if we bought the equivalent 117 acres somewhere else, say the Berkshires. We would sing the same songs, dance the same dances, and write the same activities. Natural gas companies are beginning to approach summer camps in the Catskills, and that may include a move for us in Liberty. We discussed the prospect of selling our lands to drill for natural gas. Although the opinion was not unanimous, a majority of campers did not want to take responsibility for destroying such a special, historical place. In the end, we decided to turn down any companies that approached us, no matter how much money they offered. This overwhelming decline to drill showed me that buildings and fields really matter. New York is essentially comprised of tall buildings and narrow streetways. It would not be right to see a Yankees home game outside the Bronx. It would be nearly impossible to move 8 million New Yorkers to different location, let alone convince them to still call it New York. Imagine San Francisco without the Golden Gate Bridge. A place is brought to life by the people who inhabit it, but the location is the foundation to making it special.

Israel is so similar yet so different. Different people claim ownership over this country. If this is new truth about location is universal, Israel needs to be between the Red, Mediterranean, and Dead Sea. Does it need to be sacred to only Jews? I am sure those Mediterranean sunsets are just as spectacular if one prays to a different deity. I am conflicted. I believe that Muslims and Christians should be able to call Israel their holy land too, but I also believe Israel is the Jewish state. The solution of this situation is extremely difficult. All I can say is to move forward in Israeli-Palestinian diplomacy, we must keep in mind what if feels like to call Israel our home.