According to the US Census Bureau, the average American will move or change residences 11.7 times in a lifetime. Seems like a lot but I thought about my own life and it makes sense. I’m up to move number eight and I’m pretty sure that if I live long enough I still have another two or three to come. This move is different because this time I am downsizing. Trading open space for efficient convenience forces one to shed a lifetime of things collected, letters, cards, pictures, gifts, furniture, housewares and more. You never realize how much you’ve accumulated over the years until the time comes to get rid of most of it.
I admit to being sentimental and I get attached to things. Sometimes I just want to know that I posses a certain item. For example, there are books that I read years ago that I must always have on my shelf alas; I will have to pare that assortment down some. Yet, I will never give up my copy of “Our Man in Damascus” the story of Israeli spy Elie Cohen who after reaching into the highest echelons of the Syrian government was caught, tried, convicted and hanged. I read that book when I was twelve, the pages are yellowing, the binding cracked but I don’t care. Though I own no turntable it will be difficult for me to part with a remarkably well kept LP of Elton John’s Goodbye Yellow Brick Road and a very scratched overplayed Who’s Next. I’ve digitalized most of the photographs I have but I can’t bear to throw out any originals, picture albums besides taking up premium shelf space are so 1990’s. On the flip side, I’ve had my mother’s dairy and meat Passover flatware for over thirty years and never once used them. I ran my fingers over the velvet lining of the cherry wood boxes they were stored in, closed the lid in a somber solitary ceremony reminiscent of the end of a viewing and placed them in a carton marked “Thrift Store.” In no way will I get rid of those Father’s day and birthday cards my kids made for me over the years but I had to let go of some of their mediocre school projects and less than stellar spelling tests.
I had to shred file cabinets full of papers that I have no idea why I still possessed but had vital personal information on them. The results were eight contractor bags full of shavings that I used to stuff moving boxes with fragile items packed inside. My garage at one point looked like Oliver North’s West Wing office in the summer of 1986.
I’m pretty sure you all have one or two of those drawers that are filled with miscellaneous junk that made sense when you once found that chord or clip you needed but made none when you cleaned it out. I noted one drawer had loose paper clips, an IDF key chain, a card with the travelers prayer, matches, an incomplete deck of cards, a piece from an appliance I no longer own and much more useless stuff I couldn’t be bothered to throw out at the time.
While I shed my life of things I stand a bit sad that even though I am moving just a few miles away, I am leaving the community that I brought my kids up in. I am leaving a place of worship I love and a rabbi made of stuff that frankly Orthodox seminaries rarely produce these days – moderation and a voice of reason. I sold a dining room table that sat twelve comfortably and now my Shabbat meals will be a bit more intimate, but the friendships made at that table over close to twenty-five years can never be replaced.
Sometimes a move is necessary; sometimes it’s a choice but whatever the reason it puts you in a situation to reflect, review and take stock of a chunk of your life. I have used this space to criticize the community I am leaving – a Modern Orthodox one that has lurched rightward both politically and religiously over the years as I moved left. To some extent that was a factor in the move but let me be clear, I have no regrets. Orthodoxy for all its flaws is most of the time warm, charitable, communal, forthcoming and yes inclusive. While I like to say that I have not left Orthodoxy, it left me – the fundamental tenets of its communal life remain dear to me – especially Kiddush Club. So it is good to be able to look back on happy times and to tell my friends that I’m not leaving, I’m just moving a short distance away.