A year ago:
Shavuos has passed, and the time has come, again.
The reasons are still good, and the pain is still real.
But this time, I leave them.
I was never ‘supposed’ to stay in Israel for longer than four months, but I have been here a year. Why did I stay? Perhaps it was inertia. I love being comfortable. I love familiarity. And a year is long enough to get very comfortable and very familiar.
It hasn’t been like my first two years in Jerusalem when each day I breathed in the city with open eyes and a ready mind. I don’t visit many places anymore. In a sense, I let them come to me. I have traded dusty boots for upholstery from which I watch the world go by. And so, to use a cliche, I will have to remember the little things this time, rather than a sweeping countryside or an ecstatic exultation.
And the little things leave big holes. Hole: The dimness where the blinding, relentless summer light of Jerusalem used to be. Hole: A gaping space the shape of a crouched green dumpster, reeking, a cat poised on its lip watching me with slitted eyes. Hole: The space where the street lamps used to cast their yellow light, the perfect location for a private conversation. Hole: My little room will continue to crumble without me, its walls shedding their milky plaster, ready for a new tennant’s tending.
And the people, the faces, who wished they were closer but could not scale the walls. The annoying shouted conversations in the computer room will slowly fade; the game surrounding who gets the shower next will recede. This time, these fine people may miss me more than I’ll miss them. I can’t figure out why they love me so. Do they so easily accept masks? Or do they see deeper, see some of the truth, and accept it? It’s a mystery, but one thing I know — It saddens me to think they’ll miss me. I have been on that end. I have been left. I know how it tastes.
And so, again. Again into the endless beyond, again down the long road, again, again, again. Farewell my Yeshiva, first and most beloved, stately and youthful, shifting and constant. I leave not just you, but probably all Yeshivas behind, and it ends where it began, on this same small sidewalk on David Yellin Street in the heart of Jerusalem, where almost seven years ago I stood exhausted and dirty before a white gate, holding so much baggage, ready for my life to change. I had no idea, then. I knew nothing
Jon Snow. But I was brave and optimistic, and that bravery served me well.
I have walked a thousand paths since then and seen much joy and sorrow. I was open to a new world and at some point it entered me and I entered it and we became one, inseparable, despite everything. Because of everything. In some ways, I’m still the boy that pushed open that white gate. But I’m also wiser.
I haven’t seen the light; that is for greater men. I have, however, become a collector of vessels. Humble clay pots and wooden bowls, glasses and jugs, decanters, flasks, and bottles. Little structures fill my life and heart, each one possessing some empty space. I work in the dark, twining wires, waiting, waiting for the day I can flip the switch. And it is a good life.
Two or three dozen times since I pushed open that gate, I was certain I was dead forever, gone, that elusive object of my youth’s pursuit gone forever. It. Was. Over.
And again (and again) like the memory of the smile of a Rabbi who has become your doting father or uncle or brother, hope blooms, and I am proven wrong. There is power in our Jewish blood, and there is the immutable in what they taught us in this holy place. That power is far greater than any I have ever apprehended and those eternal teachings are beyond anything I have ever known.
As far as I am concerned, the English translation of “Mayanot” is “hope.” And I am not leaving.
I wrote last year that G-d is the pack we put on our shoulders. But is He not our shoulders? What is ours is His; that which lives may never die. Yeshiva isn’t something that you attend; Yeshiva is something you are. I have my G-d, and I have the gifts he has given me, and they shall prevail and not fade away.
As the airport looms, I feel a ray of a ray of a ray of that bittersweet moment when the Creator decides it is time for the body to return to dust, and the precious soul he loves too much he snatches away. The soul of Yeshiva, its people and its books, comes with me today. Not in the way I expected for so many years; I am so much less perfect than I expected. But I am also more perfect than I ever dared dream, because I was taught what my imperfection is, where it stands, what it means, and how it looks from above. And I am no longer afraid.
And so, again. But this time with a grin and a card up my sleeve, a time-turner, a miniature mechanism that reverses death and lets me keep what I’d otherwise lose, that lets me leave home to go home.
And I am going home.
For the first time in my adult life, I return to the house I grew up in with no intention of leaving. It is time. Time to live in a home, and, eventually, to make one. To leave the bosom of the monastery and place the pieces of everything I’ve learned on the board.
Again, I approach the beyond. But this time, I am not alone, and not afraid. A Jew is never alone, and that is why he does not fear.
And so, not again.
G-d is the altar you build when you finally decide some place deserves Him, and stop walking.
Originally posted on Hevria.