As Simcha Layah, little David, and I make our way for Israel, I'd like to thank you, Fairbanks-the place and the people-for being so good to me these past nearly 14 years. If you'll allow me, I'd like to leave you with a thought.
The question keeps coming up: "Why be Jewish?" How about "Because our creator created us that way?" and because "He created us that way for a purpose?" It has to do with having a Jewish soul or N'shamah.
Sure, we can point to how long the Jewish people have existed, survived through fantastic odds, and how beautiful our customs are, and how we must somehow owe G-d and the past and future generations, but for what? Why? There has to be more.
In my family, raised in a home with a certain level of Jewish commitment and observance, my siblings intermarried and seem to have nothing to do with anything outwardly Jewish. My sister's grandchildren to come may never know they are Jewish. My family's best family friends have been a Reform rabbi and his wife. Their daughter married a Jew, and then converted to Mormonism. If being Jewish matters, then something had to be wrong in both families' approaches. But, does it really matter?
A science fiction short story called "Target Generation" stuck in my head ever since my brother read it to us on a car trip as a teenager. I knew neither the author nor the title of the book in which it appeared. Just last month, through the help of a reference librarian at UAF and a substantial search of used book stores in Seattle, I obtained a copy of this now out-of-print book: "Strangers in the Universe" by Clifford D. Simak. (The Anchorage Municipal Library should also have a copy.)
In the story, a self-sufficient space ship is sent from earth to settle in another solar system in another part of the universe. It takes 1000 years, or 40 generations. Although navigation has been automatic all that time, human intervention is necessary at the end to make slight course corrections and to choose a planet habitable by man. The people on the ship have developed a sort of religion and lost (as was planned many generations earlier) the ability to read and the knowledge of how the ship worked. All except one man, who was secretly taught by his father, who, in turn, was taught by his father, all the way back. The people had lost the knowledge of the purpose, and had to be awakened from their "slumber" at the end. It was very possible that all the efforts of the makers of the ship and the previous generations would all be thrown away as they either missed the predetermined sun or fell into it.
In "Target Generation", the miniature earth (the space ship) had makers who had planned for almost every eventuality. Yet it still required human beings to make the right choices. Aren't we, also part of a plan? If we don't know the purpose, wouldn't we still like to find out?
We've tried so hard to fit in and be like everyone else. German Jews prior to Hitler were, perhaps, the most successful at that. Did it ever occur to us, that being like everyone else may not be part of our Creator's plan? We were created with a Jewish soul (or if we converted, it was placed into us at that time). That Jewish soul tugs at us and gnaws at us to fulfill our purpose. And it has to be more than just being a good and moral person, because you don't need to be Jewish to do that. G-d created Jews and non-Jews, both with overlapping and unique purposes. He also created every Jew with both common and unique purposes.
The point is summed up well by the "Yom Yom" for 3 Elul:
"Whoever has faith in individual divine providence knows that 'Men's steps are established by G-d,' that this particular soul must purify and improve something specific in a particular place. For centuries, or even since the world's creation, that which needs purification or improvement waits for this soul to come and purify or improve it. The soul, too, has been waiting-ever since it came into being-for its time to descend, so that it can discharge the tasks of purification and improvement assigned to it."
Although we don't know what our exact address will be now, we plan to settle, G-d-willing, in Tzfat (Safed) in the upper Galilee, and we hope you'll look us up when you visit Israel in the future. Be aware, though, that people will probably know me as Chayim, and our family name will probably be Zaklad in Hebrew.
Be well, Fairbanks. I'm going to miss you.
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