Sunday, August 24, 2008

Home At Last!!!

The Steps to the Palace of James I in Barcelona

For those who were wondering (and the stats show that there were such people), I haven't fallen off the face of the earth. I just returned from seven grueling weeks leading three separate tour groups to Central Europe (July 6-17); Spain (July 20-30) and Russia (August 11-21). The demands of teaching and tour managing left me neither time nor strength to post, though I had a lot to say.

In general, though, what bound all three trips together (aside from serious logistical challenges) was the fact that from a Jewish perspective they were all pursuits of ghosts. In Vienna, Prague, Bratislava, Budapest, Toledo, Cordoba, Granada, Barcelona, Girona, Moscow and St. Petersburg I was searching for (and invoking) ghosts: R. Isaac Or Zarua, Maharal, R. Yom Tov Lippman Heller, R. Ephraim Lunschutz, R. David Ganz, R. Ezekiel Landau, Franz Kafka, The Hasam Sofer, R. Meir HaLevi Abulafia, the Rosh, The Tur, Abu Yusuf Hasdfai Ibn Shaprut, Rambam, R. Samuel ha-Nagid, Ramban, R. Yonah, RaN, R. Hayyim Berlin, R. Itzele Volozhin and so on and so....

On the one hand, the search was both successful and moving. For example, I've been studying the Ramban's disputation (1263), for 33 years. Yet here I was, standing on the steps leading up to the palace where it occurred. (The palace was closed. Monday). On the other hand, there's nothing there. Only ghosts.

In fact, I had very mixed reactions to the various sundry attempts to revive Jewish life in these places, in many of which the Angel of Death cut a wide swath with his scythe only 65 years ago. Why try to build in what amounts to a museum/cemetary. Why not just invest in our future, which can only be built here in Eretz Yisrael, as God intended? Yet, at least as far as Russia is concerned, there certainly is merit to undoing the damage wreaked by 70 years of Communist oppression (a task now undertaken by Litvaks, Lubavitch and MO). Then again, why not do the initial uptake there and just bring them here?

The bottom line is...this is home. The past enriches us, moves us and strengthens us. It is, however, nowhere to live, unless it inspires us to keep on living.