Last Saturday night, after my palms stopped sweating over the Torah reading, a friend and I went to see Ushpizin, a small, sweet movie about a family of religious Jews in Israel and the very unorthodox pair of guests ("ushpizin," a Sukkot tradition) who come to visit. We agreed, afterwards, that the film was unusual because it didn't fall into the trap of presenting their lifestyle as a novel oddity, but rather a fact requiring no justification. Stories of people who live far from the mainstream too often concentrate on how different they are from the rest of us rather than on the basic struggles we all share.
That said, the most important character in the movie was their crowded, poverty-stricken community, where all aspects of life, all hours of the day, centered upon religion. It was clear from the first scene that our protagonists would cease to exist outside of it; it was their breath and sustenance. The husband was a ba'al teshuvah, newly and fervently observant. I can imagine how this path one day presented itself to him and demanded to be followed, and how he longed to be in that land, on those streets, and didn't feel whole until he arrived. I can imagine it, but can't feel it. My life has not been without holes, sometimes even big ones, but they've been filled, more or less, by the particular object of desire or a messy but workable substitute. Floating often in the soup has been a generous dollop of guilt: why not walk a little closer to the edge of the cliff like a real artist, like a person with a social conscience? Sometimes I do, but more often I choose comfort and lack of drama.
I'm going to Israel with my synagogue in a few weeks, my first trip ever. I never really wanted to go before. For many years I just didn't care, and for others I felt unworthy of planting my feet on its soil. And, as I've become aware during a class I'm taking on the forces that have tied its people to their land, I've always believed, deep down, that everybody, all of them on each side of the conflict, were nuts to remain. Why do they, like Abram in Lekh Lekha, persist in going out, going far, going to themselves, within such a beautiful but broken place? I've never experienced this kind of life threatening, death-defying yearning, and it doesn't make sense to me. I wonder, sometimes--idle wonder, speculation without desire, because I feel no need to create holes where they don't exist--what different dimensions my life might have if ever I felt this level of need. I can't wait for the trip, am truly thrilled to be going--but I think my friends are more excited for me than I am. I don't understand Israel and so am wary, even though her language and stories have become a major part of my life. It's confusing.