YOU CAN’T GO HOME AGAIN—OR CAN YOU IN SAN DIEGO?
Tom Wolff has immortalized the phrase, “You can’t go home again.” The title of his novel touches what we all know to be true: when we come back home it is not what we left. Coming home is returning to a strange place where we might with some effort reclaim moments of familiarity, but never complete comfort. This is the way things are, and why should they be any different? After all, we don’t return home as the same people when we left—at least hopefully so.
Back to San Diego with my Silvia after nineteen years—a long time! I recognize many familiar faces and even shed tears when I embrace dear people who I haven’t seen for these many years. I officiated at their celebrations and their moments of grief— the Bar/Bat Mitzvah of their children, their weddings, and funerals of parents. Some of those children who I Bar/Bat Mitzvahd (is there such a word—oye vey!) a long time ago approached me and I saw familiar faces, but found it somewhat difficult to comprehend them as adults. The memories of them a life-time ago reside within me with much affection for them and wonderment at how time has formed adults out of kids who used to hug me.
Both Silvia and I have many deeply woven memories of the Jewish community here. This was the place where we met, married and had our twins, Alexandra Yael and Gabriela Lorraine. This was the place where I, without any financial backing and only three friends, dove head first into creating the one and only Reconstructionist congregation in the area, Congregation Dor Hadash. This, in 1983! The congregation is still here and remains a warm, progressive community. It is familiar, but it has in these past nineteen years taken a new path under new leadership. It feels familiar and yet very different from when I left. Things change, thank God, and that’s for the good.
In nineteen years my family and I have made a trek across the United States—from California to New York, from New York to Georgia, from Georgia to Saint Thomas in the Virgin Islands. Although I have to clarify that I was in Saint Thomas for a year as the Interim Rabbi of the Hebrew Congregation, the second oldest Jewish congregation in the Caribbean, while my girls were in college in South Carolina and Silvia was living outside of Atlanta. While living in those different cities, we punctuated our separation with visits back and forth. The island, I now understand, was an experience in learning about a community of Jews who love their synagogue and are finding ways to make their community strong in the face of a limited number of potential members. Saint Thomas is, after all, an island with a small Jewish population. The people are sweet, loving and care for each other deeply. I was immersed in that sweetness for a year, which softened those many moments of loneliness. I performed weddings and officiated at twenty or so Bar/Bat Mitzvah services; and I had the privilege of helping families whose loved ones left on that solemn last journey we call death. With all this, I made lifetime friends on Saint Thomas, people who are now part of my life—what a beautiful thing to take back home!
Now back home here in San Diego with all the possibilities of this magnificent place. To walk along in Mission Bay with the sun reflecting on the water, breathing in the smell of salt—this is an old memory come alive. To get out and lose myself in the gardens of the Self Realization Center—a precious gift. And perhaps most compelling of all is to come back to San Diego with Silvia to make our home in our Jewish community and the place where we had our beginning. Here I will turn my attention to the part of the Jewish community that we call the unaffiliated. I will offer them my skills as a rabbi who longs to touch the lives of people who desire to celebrate the important passages in their lives—the moments that punctuate the cycle of our lives.
The Jewish community is a wonderful potpourri of Jews and those who live and visit with us. There are Jews who identify themselves as LGBTQ; interracial couples; single parent families; families of various configurations, and I am sure I have left someone out. There are Jews of all kinds and they deserve to know that there is a rabbi in the community who honors and blesses who they are. What can be more magnificent for me than participating in the celebration where a child is bestowed with a Hebrew name? How enriching is it for me to bring families together around a child who is becoming a young Jewish adult—a Bar or Bat Mitzvah. It is a sight of loveliness for me to behold bride and groom who make their commitment of togetherness public through the marriage ceremony with my guidance. This and more is what I hope to do as I reach out to unaffiliated Jews.
Coming home to San Diego doesn’t have to mean that it has to be the same home that Silvia and I once left, but rather that our home is warm, filled with love and a place of possibilities.