By Debbi K. Levy
I once asked my grandfather, Stanley Pearle, of blessed memory, why he chose not to explore places he had not yet seen, or why he didn’t simply travel more often and lend himself to an array of experiences. After all, I suggested, he had the means and the gift of good health to partake in all kinds of activities. He responded unapologetically that he loved waking up in his own bed, reading two newspapers delivered to his door daily, connecting with family members on a “long distance” phone call and exercising on his stationary bike as his routine dictated. I shook my head in total judgement in my 40-something young body and mind. “Tsk, tsk,” I thought. He was missing incredible opportunities.
I am writing this on my return flight bound for Dallas from Washington, D.C., in my now almost 60-year-old body and mind. My grandfather’s perspective from decades ago lingers in my heart as I think of him today. Just last night in our hotel room, my husband Barry and I went through our mantras about all we miss when we are away. Two newspapers delivered to our sidewalk, fresh-squeezed orange juice in our refrigerator, Doggy Nala sleeping on top of our bed and the predictable and fulfilling walk around our neighborhood that has become a daily ritual. I am obviously more in alignment with my grandfather than I could have ever imagined.
Within 48 hours of the urgent invitation from the Jewish Federation of North America to march on the mall in D.C., Barry had efficiently booked a walking-distance hotel to be near the march, reserved our airline tickets and booked Nala at Camp Bow Wow for her stay during our trip. We stopped the delivery of our newspapers. We asked a house sitter to take care of our pet bird and tropical fish. This fast and furious planning was so far off our daily life pace that a layer of anxiety began to settle in our bodies. But off we went like a couple of 40-somethings, turning on a dime to be a part of something bigger than ourselves.
“Don’t forget to pack your blood pressure meds,” I called to Barry on our way out the door.
“Don’t forget your extra pair of reading glasses,” he chimed back.
We stood at the mall for hours during the rally with our signs held high and our peanut butter crackers in our pockets. Our beloved Federation board chair, Dot Haymann, reminded me not to drink much water. You know why, Reader.
We chanted, “Bring them home! Bring them home!” in a sea of human beings that numbered close to 300,000. To say that the combined energy was palpable would be a colossal understatement. The prayer for the hostages set to sacred music rocked me to the very core of my being. Everyone crunched tightly around us was, in those hours, a newly realized brother or sister. A transformation was taking place. Was the geography of Washington, D.C., becoming a mishkan? It was the most comforted I have felt since Oct. 7. “Dallas Stands with Israel” sweatshirts were our sacred garments. An Israeli flag was tied at my shoulders and draped down my back. All of the things that sometimes divide us Jewish people seemed to have vanished. The man in the long black coat with the long beard cautioned me about a slippery space in front of my feet. Our college kids sang and loaned us their youth for those long hours of standing. Signs raised high from where we came filled everyone with pride for our great country. I texted our daughter, Caroline, a photo I took for her with the Miami community nearby waving, “Miami Hearts Israel” sign. She is a student at the University of Miami.
The speeches, the music, the urgency of the historical moments all crashing together to create an alchemy of unity were surely inspired by the Divine. And then it was over.
“Your ankles okay?” I asked Barry. “A little swollen,” he admitted.
“How bad do your feet hurt?” he asked. “Like never before,” I responded.
As you probably recall, Dear Reader, we are getting closer to Big D as our flight nears its completion. We will stop at Camp Bow Wow to pick up Nala (who also isn’t a youngster anymore) so she can make herself more comfortable on top of our king-sized bed.
I am so relieved to be on the way home and so proud that we dropped everything and hopefully made a sliver of a difference with our presence insisting on the support of our homeland, Eretz Yisrael.
I am slowly realizing that my grandfather taught me about the beauty and gift of the things we may refer to as mundane. They are rays of light for us in so many ways. And, too, I am remembering the old photographs of my grandparents taking us to Israel, how they modeled important journeying. Perhaps, when we return to the mundane after sacred travel or even from the restfulness of Shabbat, those routine, mundane pieces of our lives are here to comfort us and offer us everyday nourishment. I am deeply grateful for my grandfather’s lessons and I am experiencing, like never before, deep gratitude for our safe return. May God grant these same wings of safety and comfort to those held in captivity and bring them safely home. Amen.
Kohenet Debbi K. Levy welcomes your Jewish Lens conversation at Debbiklevy@gmail.com or in the halls of the JCC, or even on our next Community Mission to Israel.