This week, I have been thinking about my connection to the Jewish community of Overland Park, KS, a community that is in great pain following shootings at two Jewish community facilities just blocks apart (and not terribly far from the synagogue I will visit again in June). My thoughts since Sunday have swung back and forth between worry for my friends in OPK and preparations for our seder here in PDX, careening between sadness and joy.
This week, organizers of the Boston Marathon are preparing to commemorate the events of a year ago, when last year's marathon was rocked by a terrorist bombing that killed several people and injured hundreds. When the bombing happened last year, my partner gasped in recognition and sadness at the mention of place names she had familiarity with -- the result of having attended graduate school in that historic city. She didn't especially love her grad school experience, but has some fond memories of living in a bustling city filled with history and beauty. (The 2014 marathon will be run on Sunday, April 20th.) The bombing shocked and saddened her deeply and in a slightly more personal way than it did me, because of her connection to the place.
So when we talked about the effect of travel on our ability to connect with places, and with people, it came as no surprise to my partner or to me that I would have conflicting feelings about Passover in light of what has happened in Overland Park, a clean and quiet suburb of Kansas City. My friends are all safe, thank goodness -- but their world has been totally rocked. I live two thousand miles away, and my mind and energies have bounced back and forth between sadness for my friends there and the hilarity of the seder we hosted here on Monday night. It's vaguely schizophrenic, this dual-mood energy.
And it has inspired me to think about Israel, and my relationship with the Jewish homeland.
"Next year in Jerusalem!" we shout at the end of our seders in the diaspora, as if we all actively plan to celebrate Pesach in Israel next year. The fact is that I know I will not be spending next Pesach, or the one after that, or the several after that, in Israel. But this week with its magnetic/emotional pull in opposite directions has got me thinking about something my more well-traveled friends tell me all the time: In order to have a relationship with Israel you really just need to go and visit the place. You need to go and meet the people and eat the food and hike the hills and see the holy sites, in order to get a better handle on why this place exists -- why it has to exist, and why Jews around the world had better hope it will always exist. Reading about it in books will tell you only so much, and hardly enough at that.
And so, while my friends in the Kansas City area struggle to come to terms with how their personal sense of safety and peace has been violated this week, and I pray for their safety and well-being from my home so far away, I find I am also pondering my relationship again with the place we call Eretz Yisrael, and with how my relationship with place informs the ways in which I live as a Jew. I have no hard answers -- hell, I can't even properly articulate good questions at this moment -- but I continue to ponder. I hope some answers will become clearer to me before too terribly long, and I hope they will help to inform my next steps.