Magazine article Tikkun

Exile

Magazine article Tikkun

Exile

Article excerpt

In 1983, in his living room on Van Buren street, where wandering Jew plants dropped their leaves against his western window, the poet Gerald Stem put this question to the students gathered around him: is there any place where, if you could never return to it, you would want to die? As one of Stern's young, romantic graduate students, I blurted out "Jerusalem." Others said Paris, the Greek islands; I think someone muttered something about home. When I said Jerusalem then, I think I also meant love, that I would want to die if I could never return to the man I loved, who, at the time, lived in Jerusalem.

Over the decade and more that followed that conversation, my travels would take me into the lives of Ethiopian Jews, who after decades of longing for Jerusalem had finally reached their dream. Watching Ethiopian children become Israelis, teaching the teenagers English, sharing enjara as part of their family, and studying their lives brought me to Jerusalem numerous times between the years of 1984 and 1998. I thought a lot, during these visits, about exile and about what it meant for my Ethiopian friends to return to a homeland that didn't always feel like home. Before each departure, as I watched the golden light fade against Jerusalem stone, I knew these journeys were a luxury. Yet, even in these moments, I changed Gerald Stern's words from "die" to "suffer greatly." I would have suffered but would not have wanted to die if I could not return to Jerusalem.

In the middle of the Intifada, in 1989, 1 reunited with a Palestinian friend from Jerusalem who was living in Chicago, and who for political reasons could not return to Jerusalem, his home. I felt his pain as I prepared for my return and packed his unsealed letters and gifts for our mutual American poet friend in Jerusalem. I understood in a more profound way than ever before what a privilege it was to return, year after year, to my spiritual home. And I understood, too, a different kind of suffering.

This past summer, my husband Steve and I pushed our daughter Sarina in her stroller over the harsh stone of Jerusalem streets, carried her through the narrow passages of the Old City, and gave her name at the Wall. As I watched Sarina dance in her father's arms in the men's section of the kotel, from where I stood with so many generations of Jewish women, I knew I would be sad if I could not return to this place. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.