In 1990, I remember sitting down in my kitchen to tell my aging grandmother, an immigrant from Riga, Latvia who lived most of her adult life in Michigan, that her youngest grandson was going to spend a year living in Israel and studying.
Her eyes welled up with tears and a familiar look of awe was in her gaze. I had seen those tear-filled eyes and that stare before. On Yom Kippur, on Passover and a few other choice moments when we said the words,
, that look would wash over her face.
My Bubbie was raised in a religious home where liturgy and customs were native. But that line – L’Shana Haba’ah Beyerushalyaim – Next year in Jerusalem, which her grandparents whispered at Passover Seders while hiding from Cossacks or when the town cantor – who also doubled as the local butcher – chanted that verse at the conclusion of Yom Kippur Neilah services, the words were the epitome of Messianic. They were words filled with hope but that seemed unachievable in any lifetime. They were a religious dream. A distant hope that was like grasping for stars and as far away as humans landing on the moon. Little did my grandmother know that in her lifetime, she would witness humans sinking their feet into the sand of the moon and she would watch the State of Israel be established, survive and thrive. So, for her grandson to go and study in Israel was more than a journey or pilgrimage for her. It was a reminder of a miracle she was blessed to witness in her lifetime and that her an escorts prayed for but she watched happen and tasted the fruits thereof.
This Sunday, I found my eyes welling up just like my grandmother, of blessed memory. My ancestral gaze was washed upon my face representing a renewed generation and a new moment of watching a miracle come to fruition.
Temple Emanu-El of Closter, our New Jersey congregation travelled to the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. 25 people strong came eager to learn, explore, share experiences, dream together and most importantly, tastes the fruits of the Abraham Accords.
Fortuitously, our journey coincided with the opening of the Moses Ben Maimon synagogue in Abu Dhabi. This unique congregation is the realization of a decades long dream of the Emirati people to create a shared prayer place for Muslims, Jews and Christians. The physical campus is called the Abrahamic Center. Its location shares a rooftop garden while each of the three places of prayer have separate entrances, are equal in size with modest adaptations to accommodate the rituals of each religion. This synagogue is the first new Jewish congregation to open in the Arab world in almost 100 years. Think about that figure! 100 years, and the timing of our program allowed us to have a front row seat for history.
More than 300 people coming from as near as Dubai and as far as New York, Jerusalem and Washington DC came to celebrate the dedication of the space, to bless the affixing of the Mezzuzoth and participate in the gathering of the first prayer service in this sacred place.
What caused my eyes to well up and feel my grandmother’s presence and memory was when a Yemenite boy whose father was imprisoned by the Houthis just a few months ago, and was saved by the Emirati leadership, sang a song of celebration before the open ark. His melodic voice and Yemenite tunes sang directly to our hearts. Then, a Muslim man dressed in full jalebi and kfiyah led a prayer in Arabic for the welfare of the country of the UAE and its leader, Sheikh Mohammad bin Zayed. A prayer for the government by a devout Muslim in a Jewish congregation. Who could have imagined?!In my lifetime, the government of an Arab neighbor of Israel, which was once a sworn enemy was now funding and celebrating the opening of a synagogue and is supporting the burgeoning Jewish community in its country. In Bahrain, a one hour flight away, the Jewish community has been brought back to life. Jews are encouraged to visit with open arms. The same is happening in Morocco and perhaps soon in Oman, Saudi Arabia and who knows where else next?!
One does not need to look far or search hard to see the broken in our world and feel the brittleness of the ground beneath us. Political division, cruel rhetoric and class strife are rampant in our Diasporic and Zionist world. We have much to work on and improve in the days and years ahead.
But let us not lose sight of the miracles of peace with our neighbors and collaboration with our cousins that once seemed as far away as electric cars and flying vehicles, that now is a reality as close as the next sunrise.
I hope you can have your eyes well up with tears of joy in witnessing this gift in our lifetime and let it stoke us to never stop dreaming and hoping for the world we want our kids to live within. May their eyes tear as they inherit the work of our hands and the dreams of our parents and pass it on to generations to come.