I just returned from another trip via United Airlines, this time to Florida, to visit more family. My two brothers and their wives live in Florida, my older brother Scott in Sarasota and my middle brother Barry in Venice. My boyfriend Bill’s singing group, The Western Wind, was singing in Key West on Sunday and from there, Bill and I headed northeast to Delray Beach to visit his 92-year-old Aunt Goldie. Despite the mediocre Florida weather, I return to my New York home warmed by the love of family, comforted by memories of days gone by and nourished by many a good meal, some awesome key lime pie and a sweet honey-belle orange.
Like me, my brother Scott and sister-in-law Cheryl are attorneys. Both of them have active, successful practices in Sarasota and both of them have been honored as leaders in their respective communities. Being a leader is just a part of what we learned in our family. On Shabbat morning, Scott and I went to his synagogue. I have many fond memories of that sacred space; my nieces Bat Mitzvah celebrations, Purim with my children on vacation from the Ohio snow, singing Hallel during the Pesach we flew down to Sarasota carrying on a styrofoam cooler filled with the gefilte fish Gram and Mom had made. Most profoundly, learning with Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson, who was in Sarasota as their Scholar-in-Residence, the weekend before my father Merle died. As is the way of the world, Scott’s synagogue is different than it once was. I could sense that Scott has lost his public spiritual home. I feel bad for my brother Scott, as our family highly values having a Spiritual Home.
My brother Barry is an emergency room doctor and has recently relocated to Venice to pursue a new career path in tele-health and physician assisted laser removal. His wife Patty is his enthusiastic partner in this new venture and I was delighted to visit the brand new office. Barry proudly showed me the laser equipment he had purchased for his new practice and very proudly showed me that the equipment had been manufactured and shipped from Israel. I detected a spark of Zionist pride in my brother’s voice and knew that our Pop, who was born in Jerusalem, was smiling from Above.
When I visited their home, Patty took me on a tour of her remarkable fruit tree collection — four kinds of mangoes, papayas, bananas, lychee nuts, loquats, two kinds of avocados, peach, pomelo, surinam cherry, honey-belle orange and most remarkably, fig. Patty’s pride in showing me her orchard reminded me of the pride of the Israeli kibbutznik who through commitment, cultivation and belief in the goodness of the land, made good on the promise of a Land flowing with Milk and Honey. We made sure that I took a Honey-belle orange for later.
The tour concluded with the fig tree, with Patty declaring, “they say, that where a fig tree grows, that is holy land.” In the midst of a simple neighborhood in Venice, Florida, Barry and Patty have literally put down roots, establishing their private spiritual home. Out in the working world, they are proudly using laser technology developed in Israel, our Start Up Nation, our collective Spiritual Home.
From Sarasota, I drove across the Sunshine Parkway which traverses Tampa Bay to the airport where I boarded a small puddle jumper of a prop plane operated by Silver Airways to Key West. To balance the plane, the flight attendants asked all of the passengers to move to the back of the plane. No one had any issue with any part of that request which was rooted in our collective safety. In this case, “moving to the back” had not a hint of discrimination.
After an intensely beautiful stay in Key West, Bill and I boarded yet another puddle jumper for the quick ride to Ft. Lauderdale. The last stop on this trip was to visit Bill’s mother’s sister, his beloved Aunt Goldie in Delray Beach. Connecting with Aunt Goldie and cousin Arthur was like being with my own family. Sharing stories and memories and emotions, experiencing moments of silence where we all felt wrapped in a blanket of love, enjoying classic deli food from “Poppie’s” around Aunt Goldie’s table, chuckling at the overstuffed corned beef sandwich before her.
Like me, Aunt Goldie has deep roots in Israel. Four of Goldie’s five siblings, including Bill’s mother Celia, were born in Jerusalem, like my Pop. For both of us, Zionism, is a key component of our personal narrative. For both of us, Orthodox Judaism has been a major influence in our lives; in Goldie’s case as a child, in my case, as a parent. For both of us, Israel is literally our Family’s Home.
As I posted my MLK piece upon departure, my trip was peppered with the numerous comments made by TOI readers, some rather biting and critical. Thankfully, I was surrounded by good support as I developed the thick skin needed to be a blogger. As readers get to know me, I hope they will come to understand that the mission of The Sacred Rights, Sacred Song Project is to create new ways of discussing the domestic situation in Israel.
My pragmatic advocacy is grounded in my passion for legal systems, community organizing, vibrant Judaism and modern Zionism. For those who think I “need to get over myself,” that I am a perennial victim, or that I aim to impose a liberal viewpoint wherever I go, understand that social change requires social action which quite often disrupts the status quo, one way or the other. I seek to draw the crucial distinction between Public Jewish Law, Jewish law that is a part of Israeli civil law, and Private Jewish Law, Jewish law as observed by communities and individuals.
I want to draw attention to the numerous non-governmental organizations in Israel that are working to advance the “Spiritual Civil Rights” of all Jews, regardless of gender or adjective. I want to encourage Zionists to work to make good on the aspirations of Israel’s Declaration of Independence which states, (The State of Israel)”…will uphold the full social and political equality of all its citizens, without distinction of race, creed or sex; will guarantee full freedom of conscience, worship, education and culture….”.
I came home to find an empty refrigerator, but I then remembered I still had Patty’s Honey-belle orange. Knowing the love and pride that went into this piece of fruit made it even more delicious. As I enjoyed this treat from sunny Florida, I reflected on how once upon a time, we relished with pride and joy the Jaffa oranges from our beloved Homeland. In these difficult days, it is sometimes hard for Jews outside of Israel to find that one simple symbol of Zionist pride. Through Concerts of Concern, I hope to cultivate that sense of pride in what We as a People have done and what We as a People must continue to do as we build a healthy modern Jewish Democracy. For the sake of my granddaughters as well as Aunt Goldie, there is no other way.