Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Some Thoughts on My Birthday

Times does go by when 'you're having fun.' It's now been over a month since the party we held to celebrate my reaching the big 7-Oh; and people are still coming over to wish me a 'happy birthday.' A lot has happened since then: a trip to The States and then the preparations for Pesach. It goes without saying that I delivered a few (?) choice words to the assembled throng at my big bash. Before time inexorably passes by and I have forgotten the gist of what I said, let me do a passable re-creation of my words of wisdom – in the oft chance that you weren't available to hear it in the original.

It is customary at gatherings of this sort to include a reference to a Jewish source when you're going to say something. So let me quote you something from page 44 of a new translation of “Finding Time Again,” the last volume of Marcel Proust's À La Recherche du Temps Perdu. In an entirely different context, he wrote, “It is all a matter of chronology.” Now, I might have put it differently, something like “Timing is everything.” But, way to go, Marcel! You were reading my mind some twenty years before I had one.

One thing I want to make very clear: I am hoping to be around for a while, both for selfish reasons and because Barbara still believes that I am worth more to her alive than dead. Nonetheless, when you reach a certain age, you tend to spend some time remembering your past. That can be dangerous. If you are ever engaged in climbing the face of a cliff, the one thing you definitely do not want to do is to look down to where you started. When I look back at my own childhood, two things stands out. The obvious one is how long ago that was and how different the world seemed to be, and that's scary. But there's something else: how divorced my childhood was from what was facing the Jewish People at that time. There I was on E. 208 St. in The Bronx innocently learning how to walk. At the same time, hundreds of thousands of Jewish children and their parents in Europe were being marched to the Camps and their death. While the children in my class were learning to recite “I pledge allegiance to the flag....” and to sing “O say can you see...,” half way around the world a life-and-death struggle was going on to create a Jewish state. It's as if there were a document with two columns and you need to merge them into one coherent text. Maybe that's one reason why we came to Israel.

Now a skeptic might interject: “Well you took your sweet time about it, and you waited until all the hard work in building the State had been done.” And I would have to respond that we did indeed take our sweet time in getting here. But I question whether all the hard work has been done. Just as I can look out our living room windows and see the storm clouds rolling in over the Jerusalem hills, we can all see the signs of danger looming ahead. And the thing is that we have virtually no leadership, either political or religious, to guide us through the dark days ahead. That's truly scary and, yes, there's plenty more to be done.

The skeptic might continue: “All well and good. But what have you actually accomplished since you've been here?” I can answer that! Let me start with the articles I've been writing. Collected together, they would make up a volume of almost 500 pages. I've been working on a novel the last few years, and I promised a friend that by the time her eight year old son is a bar mitzvah, it will be finished. Also, I just started my sixth assignment editing the English language commentary of a Jewish text. Speaking of English, most Mondays, I'm at Hebrew U., tutoring students in – what else? – English. Thanks to my friend Ron, we've been able to slog through two hundred plus pages of Rambam's Mishne Torah, which we will finish learning in another twenty years or so. While I'm at it, let me thank Nachum for the amazing shiurim which he has been giving for I-don't-know-how-many years. What else? I started singing again, and I'm in the chorus of a second musical production. They also have me painting sets, not what you'd expect me to be doing! Of course, I keep doing my photography when I have time. It's amazing how much you can get done when you don't have to waste time making a living.

There are some more subtle things to mention. We've had the pleasure of participating in the wedding of our older daughter Tina to David right here in The Land. And Natania served in the first Jewish army since the Bar Kochba rebellion. One other thing, though. Looking around this room, there are only a handful of people here that we knew before we first came to Ma'ale Adumim a little less than four years ago. We have 'acquired' the rest of you since then. I should mention that Barbara and I will be leaving for a trip next week back to The States, one I'm dreading, basically to see her mother, who is in failing health as she approaches her 90th birthday, and to hook up with my brother, who is also not doing well. (Perhaps I should express my gratitude that I seem to be in reasonable shape for my age.) Everywhere we lived, we also made wonderful friends, some of whom I am looking forward to seeing when we go back. And everywhere we lived, I was involved with the shul. You know, the tikun olam (healing the world) bit. But while I was always glad to pitch in and make things better, I never had the sense that I was building the Future of the Jewish People.

It's different here. Everyone of you, whether you've been here for twenty weeks or twenty years, is here for a reason. We are all in our own way contributing something to the building of this country and The Future of the Jewish People. I respect and admire all of you for that, and I value your friendship more than I can say. On that note, let me resume my bar-tending responsibilities.

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