When Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children was published in 1980, it struck a chord among those few people I knew who had been born in India. Many of them were around my age so therefore they were actually born when India was born. They were midnight’s children, if not literally born at midnight, but within a year of the creation of this country that had suffered from British occupation and religious friction. The partition of India and Pakistan, separating Hindus and Moslems, was seemingly a way out of a future of violence.
I was thirty-two years old and remember reading it without making the obvious connection. As I was reading it, Israel was celebrating her thirty-second birthday. The epiphany hit me when I was sitting thinking about the book that, although I was born and lived in the diaspora, my generation would be the first to live our whole lives with a Jewish homeland since the dispersion. And there have been many more Jews born since and will continue to be born in the future who will live their whole lives knowing that Jews are no longer homeless. What is done with this knowledge is still a question for diaspora Jews.
As I gather the paperwork required for aliyah, my parents’ ketubah and my Hebrew birthday certificate remind me that my parents lived in a way that straddled two worlds. Both were children of Russian immigrants during the great migration at the turn of the last century. The United States must have seemed to be a great haven for their parents. They were Jews, but my parents believed that they were all-American. They were both born in New England, were life-long Red Sox fans and sometimes, just sometimes, my father would shorten our name to “Roberts” when making restaurant reservations. But he went to synagogue and was the one to encourage me to go to Hebrew school and join B’nai B’rith Girls. They spoke Yiddish at home sometimes.
My father died when I was just shy of my fifteenth birthday, but once going home after Shabbat services when I was about eleven, he told me he thought about Israel and wished he could go although he knew the site of the holy Temple was blocked to Jews. He died in December of 1962 and the first time I went to the Kotel, I thought of him and how that place so close to where the holy Temples stood resonated through generations even when it might have seemed just a dream.
While sorting through sixty-six years of accumulated stuff, I sit with my mother’s parents’ yahrzeit papers. My grandfather is wearing a kippah in the photo and I am pretty sure he wore one all the time, although most Jews in mid-twentieth century America did not. My mother’s parents were both gone by the time I was six years old. My father’s parents died earlier. Now both of my parents are gone and the family connections slip further behind me. When my mother died in 2008, my older brother and I talked about being orphans which is strange for two people in their older years to think about. But with her death, it felt as if a chain had been broken, one that went from a home in Russia to a transatlantic journey to the shores of Massachusetts.
But the chain really goes back thousands of years. Do I know what bloodline my mother’s parents passed on to us? She once told me that her father was a Levite (I will need help translating a document that might let me know if that is true) but he had been dead for many years when I realized that I wanted to know more about our diaspora chain.
So now at sixty-six l am linking the chain of my mother’s family back to where it started. My heart tells me it cannot end in Massachusetts where my mother’s parents died and where she was born; and where I have lived for over twenty-seven years. And I know it did not start in Russia.
When Israel’s sixty-seventh birthday takes place, I will also be sixty-seven; a Jewish version of a midnight child, but I look at it as if I was a child of the dawn that was the birth of a homeland that had it’s real birth thousands of years ago. Happy birthday, Israel, and thank you for letting me come home.