61. Sacramento, Chicago, Milwaukee, Madison, Jerusalem, Brooklyn. "I will live in Your tent, forever. I will take refuge in the cover of Your wings. Selah." In exile one learns to take place along, as if place were not permanent and immobile but transportable, convenient, malleable. In a neatly ordered closet in my soul is many compartmented suitcase, perfectly ordered with places I've lived, but not proportional according to days, weeks months and years. In Sacramento, where I was born, I came into the world among parents who came from Milwaukee, with grandparents who could name Germany and Russia as home while a great-grandparent left behind writings and yearnings for Zion. In Chicago where we lived, briefly, there were family trips north to Milwaukee, home and my parents' parental refuge, from the distances already growing between them. Madison was mythic past, heroic teams, hearty provisions, patriotism, learning, and glory. And Jerusalem, city of blessing and radical re-orientation. I'll never forget my first night, lying awake in bed unable to sleep, feeling my heart race at the thought of being not only in the center of the universe but beneath the wings of All Time. All exiles melted away and became one, and the scales shifted to two sides: here and there.
Perhaps this psalms lesson is one of understanding our soulful geographic ambiguities. What does it mean to live neither here nor there? Where David pleads to be understood: I really want to live there but I'm not there! Know that I love you and long for you! "For Thou, O God, hast heard my vows (though I cannot fulfill them!) and Thou hast granted the heritage of those that fear Thy name (though I may never settle there!)
The only solution I have, he seems to be saying, is this poem: "So will I sing praise unto Thy name for ever that I may daily perform my vows." To you, back there, in the city of blessing.
62. And so it is there, in that unalterably perfect stillness of Jerusalem that my soul quietly waits. Only her rock. Only her salvation. Her high tower. In whose presence I stand, silent. I shall not be moved. "God hath spoken once, twice have I heard this." Which part of "once" don't you understand? Clearly the first part. So let's try again. Where every time the plane lands I promise myself I'll never get back on it. But I do.
63. "My soul thirsts for you. My flesh longs for you. In this dry and tired land with no water." The question here is not what sustains you physically but how do you survive existentially? To what degree do we build Jewish communal structures based on longing? To what degree do we build Jewish communal structures based on the performance of mitzvot? To what degree do we build Jewish communal structures based on neither longing nor mitzvot and what do those look like? Moderately ethnic Jewish American Protestantism? It's Pickle Day on the Lower East Side today and the old Forward Building is a bunch of luxury condos and there's not even a goddamn plaque outside to tell you what fights the pages of that paper fought for so American Jews could become so happily bourgeois. And Israel with it's racist loyalty oaths keeps missing the boat on understanding that as American Jewry hurtles toward ethnic dissolution (who's gonna save us, Heeb and a kid with a Jewfro on Glee?) Israel's embrace of right-wing nuttiness will prevent the millions of American Jews from engaging with a far more meaningful and historically rooted identity project than building Glamor Judaica for display in public parks and museums.
"But those that seek my soul to destroy it shall go into the nethermost parts of the earth; they shall be hurled to the power of the sword, they shall be a portion for foxes." This line, it's withering ambiguity: is both a comfort and an accusation. A sarcastic and dismissive wave of the hand and a last line of defense. Depending upon which side of the bed you get up on, in search of water for a thirsty soul.