There is a little farmhouse in a little town in Oklahoma that symbolized unconditional love for me when I was a child. It is in that farmhouse that my grandparents and bachelor uncle lived and as the first grandchild I was treated like a princess. Every month or so, I would look forward to making the two hour car drive with my parents to visit. We had a certain ritual to those visits. First, were the warm greetings as we met on the front porch. Then, we would be escorted to the front room for a short visit while my grandmother placed the delicious meal she had prepared on the dining room table in the middle room. After the meal, my father’s cousins and their families would visit bringing their children. That was my favorite part of the day. I loved the company of my cousins. In the summer we had a wonderful farmyard to run around in and in the winter we would sit in my uncle’s feather bed and share giggles and confidences.
This farmhouse also represented the beginning seeds of my commitment to Torah Judaism.
It was there that I saw many remnants of an observant Jewish life. Milk and meat were not mixed at the table. The Passover Seder was the unabridged version and said mostly in Hebrew, with a little German thrown in. For, they were from Germany. My father fled first, then my uncle, and then my grandparents, with my youngest uncle, after the Krystallnacht.
They had come to America, to the little town where they had relatives, with a small sum of cash and a number of belongings. Among those were a Torah scroll*, a number of prayer books, and pictures. There was one picture in particular that fascinated me. Once I finished eating and was impatiently waiting for my cousins to arrive, I would study it spellbound.
It was a very busy picture full of verses in Hebrew and in German. The main focus held four Hebrew letters printed in gold that spelled Mizrach. Someone must have explained to me that the word meant east, the direction of Jerusalem, the direction Jews faced when they prayed. Below the Mizrach was a golden form. At that time I had no understanding that it was a representation of the Holy Ark that was carried by the Jewish People on their way through the desert for forty years. Superimposed on the ark was a form I did recognize from my Reform Temple, the two Tablets with the Ten Commandments.
On both sides of the picture were two men. One was dressed very fancy and stood next to a menorah. The other had rays of light coming from his forehead and pointed to another drawing of the Ten Commandments. I think I understood that he was supposed to be Moses. However, I do not believe that I grasped the former man was meant to be Aaron, Moses’ brother and the first Cohen.
In the center, at the bottom of the picture, was a very high wall with a shorter wall parallel to it. Between these two walls stood four men dressed in robes. A fifth man sat on the ground. They appeared to be praying and at some point of my childhood I understood that this was The Wailing Wall. Later, there would be The Six Day War and it would be called The Western Wall or the Kotel.
As I write these words I am not sipping water or munching a snack. Today is the tenth of Tevet. It is a fast day in memory of the siege of Jerusalem that we learn about in the Book of Kings. That siege, led by Nebuchadnezzar, was the first in the series of events that led to the destruction of The First Holy Temple.
That destruction occurred thousands of years ago. And yet, we have not forgotten. Every day, three times a day, we pray that The Holy Temple will be rebuilt. Four times a year we fast in memory of its destruction. At every Jewish wedding a glass is broken, reminding us that no joy, even the joy of a bride and groom, is complete without our Holy Temple.
There were centuries when Jews could do little more than dream of praying at the Wailing Wall. For the few who could it meant being at the mercy of alien rulers. Even in the times of the British Mandate benches and a mehitza, the divider separating praying between men and women, were outlawed.
For years, before it came to Oklahoma, the Mizrach graced the walls of my great-grandparents’ home and then my grandparents’ home in Jesberg, Germany. I can only imagine what they thought when they looked at it. Did they ever imagine that the holiest site for our people would one day return to Jewish sovereignty? Did they ever dream that their Mizrach would one day hang on the wall of a home in the Land of Israel?
For yes, the Mizrach has come home. Shortly before his death two years ago my uncle gave me the picture from my childhood. Now I understand all the drawings on it. I can read the Hebrew. And most important, I do not just look at a picture of the Kotel. Rather, I am able to pray there almost every week.
I pray that just as the Mizrach has made it home so may all Jews. I pray that just I as I have come to understand all the drawings on my family’s Mizrach, all Jews will understand the meaning of the Torah. I pray that we will all live our lives that will please HaShem and we will finally have the Moshiach, our Redeemer. And I pray that then we will all build The Third Holy Temple together. Then there will be no more fast days.
*see The Tenth of Tevet posted December 2011