Where I Come From, A Poem

WHERE I COME FROM by Rivka Liron Bat Cohen

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I come

from a people

with a warrior gene

a history of victory

a tendency toward miracle

perpetual David

against perpetual Goliath

a nation of soldiers

an enemy of empire

I come

from a people

where peace is imperative,

a beginning and an ending

an idea we work for

shaped by diversity

embracing difference

loving unity

I come

from a people

with a language

concentrated in one country

spread throughout the world

in houses of worship and houses of man

studied in it’s original form

spoken in partnership

with foreign dialects

breathing familiarity in to tradition

decoding, recoding, and recording existence

I come

from a people

of pioneers

inheritors of our own destination, our own destiny

reality builders

risk takers

tilling territory, toiling in history

working old soil with new hands

I come

from a people

with a code

a guide to improvement

a lesson in connection

a written relic

a living document

shaping ethical landscapes

speaking to individuals

addressing nations

I come

from a people

a spiritual nation

an indescribable inheritance

a disputed definition

a tribe of millions

thriving on questioning

seeking out truth

a symbol of singularity

an echo of eternity..

My Jewish Family

My sisters from Itamar

 

 

As I was on my way to Yeshuv Itamar in the hills of Samaria, my bus stopped to let on a family.  Since leaving from the central  station in Jerusalem, the bus had already been full with mothers, children, and fathers excited to come home for Shabbat.  The woman coming on to the bus had 7 children. The bus had only 1 seat left.

 I had sat in the front so I could feel the force of the hills as I entered the Shomron, but had not expected the surprise I would receive from my position.  Onto my lap came a 2 year old girl, hair in pigtails, smiling at her other siblings who were similarly occupying the laps of 6 other strangers that had accepted the responsibility of “seating” for the remainder of the trip.  

As an au pair in Israel, babysitting became a team effort.  Mothers I came across in the park would instruct me on keeping the baby warm, feeding her enough. I was never at a loss for advice.  At first, I took it as an insult. Eventually, I took their advice with appreciation and knew they only had my charge’s best interests at heart.

Here in Boston, I spend many of my Shabbats with an Israeli family at their house. I am welcomed in as a family member, invited over during the week, and I have an open invitation for a bed if I ever get sick in Boston and don’t want to be alone.  I call them my “adopted family” and I don’t think they realize how much of a blessing it is to have found them here in a city far from my home. 

Whether it be in Yesha or  it be in a different city in the United States, I never feel uncomfortable going to a fellow Jewish families house for Shabbat. Always, I know I feel at home. How is it that I can feel so comfortable in a complete stranger’s house? That I know I will be taken in with open arms and treated like a family member?

The Jewish people is more than a nation. The Jewish people is a family, and if Israel is the physical embodiment of the Jewish soul, then it makes sense that I feel comfortable with a stranger’s baby on my lap, or walking in to a stranger’s home, because, in reality, these people are no strangers. They are my family.

A Walk to Remember

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Jerusalem is hilly. It’s sidewalks are uneven and there is nothing intuitive about navigating it’s streets.

Jerusalem is the perfect walking city.

I have spent hours walking alone along it’s ancient roads, wandering the city and without fail finding something exciting going on along the way.

We, the Jewish nation, have been in Exile for thousands of years, and while on this earth it is our mission to continue working toward redemption.  In order to understand exile, The Baal Shem Tov used to create his own Galut. He would spend a  period of time traveling from place to place with nothing on him, encountering people who had no idea who he was, himself and G-d his only companions.  This practice used to be common among the Jewish Sages, but today it is barely used.  

The self-induced exile was used to bring the traveler closer to his essential self and closer to G-d.  When there is no family support system around you, you put your faith in G-d for support.  When you are traveling without possessions and without a reputation, you learn to trust your essential self and you see more clearly the desires of your soul.  

Rav Kook said “Your deep soul hides itself from consciousness. So you need to increase aloneness, elevation of thinking, penetration of thought, liberation of mind .”  Spending time alone is an essential step in realizing your true self.

A relationship takes work.  It takes time to connect with another.  Connecting with yourself is no different.  In order to understand who you really are, you must devote the time to listening to the desires that are so often ignored and drowned out by the sounds that seem to pervade every aspect of life.  Especially this month, Elul, the time for Teshuvah, getting to know your self, your soul, and it’s true desires is important if you want to actualize your potential.  So take a walk,  light a candle and sit in your room without disturbance, or take a long trip where no one knows your name. In order to really hear, you must turn off the other voices in your head and listen closely to the singular most important one: your own.