Thursday, January 16, 2014

The Family Home

Some thirty-five years ago my husband and I purchased our home in Phoenix. Shortly after moving in I met our next-door-neighbor. A devout Catholic, middle-aged with two teenage daughters, we had little in common and our paths rarely crossed. However, there is one conversation we had that made an impression on me. She told me that her grandparents were still living in their home that had been in the family for five generations, since before the Civil War. I was suitably impressed and somewhat envious. What family history and memories must have been stored in its walls! I don’t think there was one American Jew who could have made such a statement about their grandparents at that point in time.

My mother’s family is a case in point. Her father, born in Romania, made his way westward, first to France, then to England, afterwards to America stopping in New York, Wichita, and finally buying the family home in Leavenworth, Kansas sometime in the early 1920s.

My grandmother died in 1932 and yet the children of that house have happy memories of its large rooms that welcomed many playmates, wide banisters for sliding down, and its large, orchard-filled grounds. That all ended when their father died in 1941. The house was sold after being a family home for only twenty years and the younger children sent to live with their oldest brother. Occasionally, when I was a child, we would make pilgrimages to Leavenworth, visiting the cemetery and then slowly driving past the old house. In my imagination I could almost see my mother, my aunt, and my uncle romping in the yard as children, but I never saw the inside of the house.

With my father’s family it was different. His parents fled Germany after Krystallnacht and bought a small farmhouse in Stillwater, Oklahoma.

Modest as this house was it represented unconditional love for me. When my grandparents died the house was passed on to my uncle and that love continued until his death. Now the house is rented out to strangers. It has been in our family for seventy-seven years, not yet five generations but getting close.  Still, neither I nor any of my cousins want to live in it. Most of us live far away, Tennessee, Maryland, Massachusetts, even Israel.  Not for nothing are we called Wandering Jews.

When we originally bought our house in Phoenix I think I had visions of it becoming our family home to pass down through the generations. That dream faded quickly and eight years later we sold it, moved to Israel, and built our family home. When we first moved in my father told me to enjoy it while we could. Even then they were talking about land for peace instead of peace for peace and there was the idea of starting yet another Arab country in the place we called home.

That was twenty-three years ago and I am thankful for every day we have had in our home. The walls are full of memories of family milestones, laughter, tears, good times, and bad. It is not just my selfish desires that make me want to stay here for generations. I saw what happened when Israel gave away Gush Katif and thousands of Jewish homes and scores of synagogues were destroyed: war and Arab missiles that can now reach Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. I don’t want my home to become a launching pad to destroy Israel.

Sometimes, though, I wonder if it is realistic to think I can have a family home for generations. Perhaps I should be thinking as King David did when he said See now, I sit in a house of cedar and G-d’s ark sits within curtains. (Samuel Two, Chapter 7, Verse 2) Instead of worrying about my home, I should be thinking about how the Third Holy Temple can finally be rebuilt. I should be learning Torah more carefully so I can follow HaShem’s commandments better. I should be practicing more kindness to His children. And I should be praying with all my heart for the coming of the Messiah.

Then, maybe I can tip the scales and HaShem will finally have His house. Once His house will be rebuilt I am sure mine will not be destroyed.   


Esther Jacobs said...

I can still see your Wichita home and ours as places of love and joy. I remember visiting Mama and Papa Katz in Stillwater. I think home is in the heart and memories. We Jews may not have homes we can trace back generations, but I have memories of both the Leavenworth and Wichita homes our families grew up in. I can see the dining room table and Grandma Esther making streudel, because I heard the story of her making the dough so often. I do love your writing.
Love Esther

Ester said...

Thank you, Esther. Although I feel like I almost knew our grandfather I have no stories about Grandma Esther because my mother was too young when she died to have any memories. Any stories you can tell me will be appreciated. Love, Ester

Batya Medad said...

G-d willing, your house will be the center of your family for many generations. The key will be if one of the children or grandchildren make it their home.