I always tell my children that a Jew should always have a valid Passport. As the son of a Holocaust survivor – and given Jewish history – I am always aware that our safety and security in the Diaspora can change at any minute. I know this sounds grim and cynical – but I think its realism. Just last summer a group of neo-Nazis marched in Charlottesville, VA chanting “Jews will not replace us!” Having been expelled from country after country over the past 2000 years, we wandering Jews have always been prepared for a run in with border control. My grandfather used to have two completely different signatures, just in case he would need to suddenly change his identity. And he did once already. After the war he changed his last name to no longer sound Jewish, while the family waited to obtain visas out of Czechoslovakia. I make sure my children know that America is not our home. It’s just an extended stopover on our journey back to Israel.
For the past decade my wife and I kept all of our vital documents in an expandable folder and our passports and social security cards were stored in a little blue pouch. During that decade we moved six times, including across the Atlantic Ocean from Israel to the U.S. Fortunately we never lost anything of consequence all those years.
A few months ago, however, I needed our kids’ social security numbers for something when I noticed that our little pouch seemed to have vanished into thin air. We turned the whole house upside down looking for it – including the basement which was no easy task – but it was nowhere to be found. I couldn’t believe that after all that moving, we lost our passports after we finally decided to settle down in one place. Maybe it was G-d’s way of telling us we were done moving for a while.
My wife has been dying to settle down ever since we got married 12 years ago. I, on the other hand, had a burning desire to see the world. My dream was to be a rabbi on a college campus so that I could bring unaffiliated Jews to the land of Israel for the first time to discover the beauty and depth of their heritage. The day we bought our house in Israel, my wife was ecstatic to finally settle down. I told her it would have to wait. Now that we had planted our seeds in Israel, we could finally return to America to become Jewish outreach professionals. She was a great sport and went along for the ride – but two years ago, she finally won and convinced me to settle down for good. We decided to stay in America, due largely in part to the incredible work we were doing helping young, searching Jews explore their Jewish heritage. My current organization, Jewish Connection Maryland, provides Jewish college students in Baltimore’s UMBC (University of Maryland Baltimore County) with educational trips, internships, and study programs in Israel.
I kept pushing off ordering new passports just in case they might turn up – I mean they had to be somewhere in our house. The annoying part is that we had a trip planned to go to Niagara Falls for a family reunion at the end of July to see my sister and her family, who are flying in from Israel, and it would have been really nice to be able to go to the Canadian side for the better view.
This Friday afternoon, just before Tisha B’Av, we got a disturbing call from a neighbor who shares a cleaning lady with us. They notified us that they caught her stealing money from them. Not only was it disappointing to hear that we would have to say goodbye to our favorite cleaning lady, but there was a more serious issue that came to mind. What if she stole our passports and is planning on using them to steal our identity?! Given the immigration scare in this country, it seemed like a reasonable thing for our immigrant cleaning lady to do – given that she now had a track record of stealing. Wouldn’t a whole pouch of social security cards and passports be very valuable to her or someone she might know? We couldn’t think about it further because it was time for Shabbos but I was pretty sure I would have to involve the police this week to make sure our identities were safe. I was not looking forward to the imagined bureaucracy and paper work that would probably be required of me in the upcoming week and I also felt a tinge of remorse that if our cleaning lady was here illegally – which was very likely – she would likely end up getting deported. After all, as Jews we have been in her shoes.
Last night, right after Shabbos – I went to the basement to get my camping chair to sit on for the holiday of Tisha B’Av – the Jewish day of mourning for the destruction of the Temple that took place on this day nearly 2000 years ago. As I was leaving the basement I just felt like I should look in my office one more time for the passports. I had a strong feeling that I would find them this time in some obvious place that I had already looked dozens of times. Lo and behold, I looked under my desk and peaking out from beneath it, was our beloved blue passport pouch – where it must have been all these months! I was relieved that I wouldn’t have to involve the authorities after all.
Although it was Tisha B’Av and one is supposed to feel sad – I couldn’t help but feel overjoyed at my discovery. In a matter of seconds I went from dreading the upcoming week to sheer excitement for our trip to the Canadian border to see my sister and her family. On this day of Tisha B’Av – the Jewish day of national mourning – we have to be reminded that things can turn around in a split second. This day has been a day of death and destruction for our people for thousands of years – it’s the day of the destruction of both Temples, the day the First Crusade began, the day the Jews were expelled from England, France, and Spain, the day Germany entered World War I, the day the Nazi’s Final Solution was officially approved, and the day the Warsaw Ghetto was liquidated.
But this year could be the last year we mourn on Tisha B’Av. The Jewish Messianic vision is of a time when all the Jewish people will return to the land of Israel once again to usher in an era of world peace. We have seen the beginning of these prophesies unfolding in our own time, with millions of Jews returning to the Biblical land of Israel from the four corners of the Earth. In Israel, you can literally find Jews from across the globe from Ethiopia, Yemen, China, India, South America, South Africa and from across Europe and the Middle East.
In the blink of an eye everything can change and we could find ourselves packing our bags once again for yet another transcontinental move. As they say, man plans and G-d laughs. So as I always tell my kids, a Jew always has to have a valid passport. It’s just a matter of time before we move back to Israel along with the rest of the Jewish people. This year could be our last year in exile and then this day of Tisha B’Av will be transformed into the greatest celebration of all time! All in the blink of an eye. May we see the Temple rebuilt speedily and in our days so that we can enjoy the greatest family reunion of all time in the Holy city of Jerusalem.