Saturday, October 1, 2016

My Father Was a Wandering Hungarian

10/1 (written post-Shabbat my time)

On more than one occasion in college, my professor handed back a paper and told me that it drifted from its intended purpose of being a research paper and had turned instead into a sermon. I find that divorcing information from broader tropes and moral imperatives falls short of utilizing the information we receive to its fullest extent. I preface this post with that short tidbit, because in case this post drifts close to unwarranted sermon territory, you'll at least know that you were warned.

In last weeks Torah portion (ugh, it's already in sermon territory), we read the text of "My father was a wandering Aramean..." which is a quotation that the Israelites are instructed to recite, and for future generations. The passage recalls their parents journey from slavery to freedom, and later rabbis borrow it in compiling the Passover haggadah. I always thought about this quote in a more big picture sense, thinking about what the arc of the story from servitude to prosperity tells about the Jewish story, why that generation may have been instructed to consider and identify with the ideas of those passages, or what it means for future generations to recite those same lines. Lately, however, I have focused much more narrowly on the notion of wandering.

[Some background: As a JDC employee this year, I am not allowed to take a political stance or even really engage with politics. The apolitical nature of JDC has allowed it to be so successful and cooperate with all sorts of regimes and administrations all over the world, in order to function and serve local Jewish communities. I want to address the topic of refugees and be very clear that I am officially not taking any stance on the topic, but I want to report to my friends and family abroad about my observations on this pertinent issue whose urgency and complexity is felt around the world.

Tomorrow, there will be vote in Hungary on the topic of migrants. I will only say that the vote is a topic of much controversy. The government has publicized throughout the entire city posters urging people to vote no, and a satirical political party has created its own campaign urging people to vote, but to mark both Yes and No, thereby submitting an invalid ballot.]

In less than three weeks here, I have tried to expose myself to as much of the Budapest Jewish world as possible. I have davened at the Frankel Synagogue (Linda and Rabbi Tomi's shul), which is neolog, and it is definitely my home base while I am here. It's very nice to have that community and slowly begin to start meeting people. I visited the Lauder Javne Jewish Community School. I have prayed at two stiebels, which are Orthodox shuls that are tucked into apartment spaces, with older and old-schooler feels to them. I joined Moishe House-Budapest for Kaballat Shabbat and dinner. And today I joined Marom's Dor Hadash Masorti kehillah for morning services and kiddush, where they were joined by friends from the Reform community here. I believe I met both Reform rabbis who reside in Budapest. So I've pretty much dipped my toes into the entire spectrum of Hungarian Jewry, and hope to build upon those experiences and settle into a routine that works for me.

At today's service, there was a major emphasis on the topic of migrants and movement. The rabbi invoked the "Wandering Aramean" text from last week, and a Hungarian Muslim man and an Eritrean immigrant both attended and had prepared words to share. The Muslim man spoke in Hungarian, but the Eritrean spoke in English, which he admitted he only began learning recently. His final message was, "Be angry with the people who forced us into these situations; do not be angry with us." The rabbi affirmed and praised the message, and declared that we are in fact all migrants.

The instruction to tell the story came at a point of great unity: at the culmination of a communal journey to freedom, during which every together witnessed Revelation and accepted the yoke of the commandments. The instruction also came at a point of great anxiety, as the nation neared its entry into the Land of Israel, and its dispersal throughout the land and divisions into the Tribes.

When we retell the story today, we often think about that first frame of unity, and how we can bring ourselves into a mindset that feels like we consider ourselves part of the larger Jewish people and its history. However, I am finding myself right now thinking about how the instruction has always been intended to be said during an era of Jewish dispersal. I feel the weight of Jewish community, tradition, and history as I explore my Jewish identity and Jewish community here in Budapest, because our people is a wandering people. I think that's why the JDC has adapted the notion that all of Israel is responsible for one another as one of its most central tenets. When the Jewish story is one of striving for unity in the wake of dispersion and separation, we must think of what unites us, and what common stories we tell. I am humbled that I have that opportunity this year, and my kavannah for Rosh Hashanah is that everyone takes the time to think about the message I heard today: that we are all migrants, both as people, and as Jews.

And as a final note, I'd look to put to rest the premise of a very very classic camp discussion group topic: Are we American-Jews or Jewish-Americans? You may feel or identify however strongly you want with either of those identities, but as I am learning here, my Jewishness is the essential part of my identity. I am still American here, but Americans aren't really meant to wander... The American in me wants to be home, where everything is familiar. When the time and place makes sense, I am an American. However, my Jewishness follows me and leads me wherever and whenever I go. It manifests in different ways, but the struggle to engage my Jewishness unfolds with similar intention and attention wherever I go. So, I am Jewish. And because I am Jewish, I wander. And I wonder too.

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