On Leaving “Greater Jerusalem”: Our Final Chanukah in the Merkaz

Many olim (immigrants) consider proximity to Jerusalem when they are deciding on which community is right for them. “Jerusalem or Bust” is an understandable attitude for those who choose to leave their homes abroad and settle here; after all, Jerusalem is so broad as to encompass our collective national vision and aspirations, and yet so intimate as to rouse each individual Jew to a passionate, intensely personal relationship with the city. Thousands of years and as many voices have tried to articulate both aspects, the national and the personal; the most acclaimed and accomplished spend lifetimes trying to get it just right, and not everyone succeeds, though seemingly everyone tries. I’m not even going to try — there’s a still, small voice that has streamed forth from Jerusalem since the days of our forefathers, so very quiet and pure, inimitable and indescribable, and all I can do is listen.

“Old Jerusalem Behind the Olive Tree” by Alex Levin.

We are moving far away from Jerusalem, our capital city, currently a mere fifteen minute drive from our house in Maale Adumim. Our three older children attend schools in Jerusalem; I work there, and Ira frequents there. Our commute in via the Naomi Shemer tunnel crosses the Mount of Olives, and the height differential has us looking down at the Temple Mount if we catch a red light (and we’re not otherwise occupied by checking our phones — yes, even Har HaBayit can become pedestrian if it’s part of your morning drive). We live within the hallowed 15-mile radius of Jerusalem, a sacred space defined by the Talmud:

What determines a distant road (how far away from the Temple must you be so as to enjoy the deferment of Pesach Sheni, which allows one who is too far from the Temple the option of offering his Pesach sacrifice a month late)? From the town of Modiin and beyond, or a like distance in any direction — such is the opinion of R’ Akiva…R’ Ula said: From Modiin to Jerusalem is 15 miles. (Pesahim 93b)

From Modiin and inwards (towards Jerusalem), (all potters) are trustworthy regarding (the purity of) their pottery. From Modiin and outwards (away from Jerusalem), they are not trusted. (Hagiga 25b)

There is a marvelous conceptual link between Jerusalem, city chosen by the Divine as His own nahala, where the word of God issues forth, and Modiin, city of Hasmonean zeal and concern for the Temple, city of the first chag derabbanan, city of the first stirrings of the Oral Law symbolizing the spread outwards, and it is this: it is ok to move away from Jerusalem…but don’t stray too far. It is a blessed pursuit to engage our own critical faculties in studying Torah and applying the law, but any application or novel idea must always be rooted in our ancient sources. You can stretch Jerusalem’s holiness all the way to Modiin — you can develop and create and extend kedusha outwards. But there are outer limits beyond which the holiness of Jerusalem is unrecognizable. The essential message of Chanukah, where we confront the challenge of a beautiful and alien culture of the West that rivals Judaism in its quest for wisdom, is that our wisdom, our Torah, must always be based in the Torah from Zion, and the word of God which comes forth from Jerusalem.

We’ve carved out a niche at the entrance to our home here in Maale Adumim — a house that we didn’t build ourselves, but that has served our family’s intense need for a constant flow of life in and out of our door, which is never locked and rarely even closed. This niche is our homage to Jerusalem. It is inspired by hundreds like it dotting the Holy City, designed to display the chanukiyot of Yerushalmim to all passers-by. This niche serves as a symbol for us of solid rootedness in our mesorah as we are pulled towards initiative and development outwards.

Our new home is far from “Greater Jerusalem,” located instead in the region of the Tannaim and Amora’ei Eretz Yisrael, the landscape where Chazal (our sages) drew inspiration from the Written Law as they developed the Oral Law. We shall be as they once were: discovering newness and beauty in landscapes far away from Jerusalem, all the while determined to keep the Holy City as the centerpiece of our hearts’ yearning and focus.  Maybe we’ll build a new niche in our new home for our chanukiyah as a tangible memory of the City of Golden Light. Jerusalem is the city where we started out as a married couple almost two decades ago, and the city that will always beckon us back — and perhaps even welcome back future generations of our family so they may deepen their own relationships to our Eternal City.

This Chanukah forces the Weissmans to reflect on the gifts that the last eight years of living in close proximity to Jerusalem has afforded us. Here’s what the oldest five of us (the ones with intense and sustained regular exposure to Jerusalem) are prepared to share about what we will remember most strongly, and what we will miss the most:

Ira: Jerusalem is basically the source of all meaning in my life. It is there that I was moved to reconnect to my roots, overlooking Har Habayit in 11th grade singing Yerushalayim Shel Zahav. It is there that I found a sustainable, mature, intelligent derech in Torah with my dear Rebbe, Rav Matis, שליט״א. It is where Tamar and I began our life together in Eretz Yisrael (in mercaz klitah Beit Canada).

Tamar: I’ll remember the scent of Bayit ve’Gan, where I began my journey in Torat E”Y, and the scent of the Old City, where I began my journey as a wife and mother. Places that will never leave me, even as I move onwards: the 4th-floor stacks in the HU library on Mt. Scopus, some extremely memorable meals at the excellent restaurants there, the shuk, our very first apartment, R’ Matis’ shiur room in B”K Menachem Tzion.

Ruvi (age 17, 12th grade): You’re asking the impossible. Jerusalem is always in my heart, I’m there all the time, and though I’m leaving next year for at least four years, this city can never truly leave me.

Kayla (age 16, 10th grade): I’m staying on for the next two years in Jerusalem, so I’m not going to be missing it! But if you’re asking me what I love most about Jerusalem, it’s that every religion can feel spiritually connected to it, meaning that it is truly the holiest place in the world.

Bat-Chen (age 14, 8th grade): I will remember Jerusalem for its history that I’ve been studying for the past two years, and how everyone belongs to Jerusalem. You can find all different types of people there, and they all belong. Jerusalem is really important to me because we fought so hard and long for it, and finally it’s ours, and we only fight for something that’s very dear to us.

If I forget You, Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her skill. Let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth if I ever fail to remember you, if I don’t raise Jerusalem over my highest joy. (Psalms 137:5-6)

We shall never forget you, city of Golden Light, city of the still, small voice! Chanukah Sameach.

2 Replies to “On Leaving “Greater Jerusalem”: Our Final Chanukah in the Merkaz”

  1. How did you mention Bayit Vegan and not your shutafa?!! Tamar and Ira, I’m super duper proud of you guys for following your dreams, big time. Love you!!

    1. Shani, there’s no Bayit VeGan without my shutafah. It wouldn’t have made my “top J-lem places” if you weren’t in the picture

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