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JCF Blog

Suitcase Ready

Posted by: Jewish Community Foundation of Greater Hartford on 9/25/2015
Last year I had a chance to watch Simon Schama’s “The Story of the Jews”on Connecticut Public Television (yes, it takes me that long to turn an idea into a blog).  It was a fascinating look not just at our history, but at the pieces of who we are as a people.  We can (and undoubtedly we will) quibble with much that Schama says in the series (and there is a related book series as well), but by and large it is a fascinating journey to understanding who we are as a people –history, ritual, culture, etc. 

However, above all else, I was fascinated by one thing that he said.  In describing the Talmud and its significance for the Jewish people, he described it as “suitcase ready”.  What did he mean?  Probably more than I can describe successfully in this blog, but to me one thing in particular.  After the destruction of the Temple, we were a people without a home.  It could have destroyed us, but instead, we learned to take our home with us - the history, the laws, the culture, in fact the entirety of the faith.  We had to in order to survive as a people.  As Schama and his friend Leon Wieseltier say, the glorious edifice that was the Temple in Jerusalem was replaced by an “edifice of words.”  The Talmud became the foundation stone for maintaining Judaism.

Without a homeland, we were also people prepared to move on when hostility rose against us – as it did over and over again.   There is much tragedy in that need to be mobile, but there is also something elementally beautiful about the idea that everything we needed as a people could be packed and brought along.  I think it’s one reason why we are known as the people of the book. 

It has also become embedded in our attributes as a people.  The importance of words and books taught us about the value of education.  Our inability to lay permanent roots taught us that strong communities can hold each other up in times of difficulty.  The impermanence of our religious buildings – which could be taken from us –taught us that our beliefs and values had to be held in our hearts and not just our structures.

While we are blessed to live in a free and democratic society built on the concept of religious freedom, our “suitcase ready” culture persists today in our longing to assure the long term future of the State of Israel and our own local Jewish community.  I am also struck by how accurately the symbolism of Sukkot matches this perspective on mobility.  During the holiday we eat our meals in impermanent structures commemorating,at least in part, our 40 years of wandering in desert – perhaps the ultimate symbol of our people’s suitcase readiness.

The suitcase metaphor works well for the mission of the Jewish Community Foundation as well.  In a pluralistic democracy we may not worry as much anymore about having our institutions taken from us, but we still face significant uncertainties about our future as a unique community in the modern world.  Today, our suitcases need to be ready not because we fear having to flee, but rather because we need to be ready to travel to where our community really is (both physically and metaphorically).  

We do not know what the future of the Jewish community in Greater Hartford will look like 20, 50 or 100 years from now, but the Foundation exists to make sure that the suitcase is packed with everything our community needs to sustain itself in perpetuity (even if we look very different in the future).

When you think about your own future – about what legacy you want to leave behind – think about how you can have an impact in assuring that we as a community are ready for whatever challenges face us in the future.   The Jewish Community Foundation can help you build this kind of legacy – one that will benefit all the generations that will follow. 

Chag sameach from the Jewish Community Foundation – best wishes for a joyous festival of Sukkot.

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