On Monday evening, as we traveled from the Philadelphia airport to my parents’ home in Elkins Park, PA, the boathouses on the Schuylkill River were illuminated in red, white, and blue. My son turned around and shouted, “Abba, they celebrate America in Philadelphia too!!”
After explaining that we live in America, from Philadelphia to Los Angeles, from sea to shining sea, his comment reminded me that it is my responsibility to teach him about the different journeys of our family history; from Poland to Philadelphia, from Syracuse, NY, to Los Angeles, CA.
It brought back memories of my childhood, growing up in upstate New York, but vacationing with our family at “the shore,” Margate, NJ to be exact. On the 5 hour drive down the turnpike, as we passed through Philadelphia on the Schuylkill Expressway, my mother and father would look at each other and say out loud at the same time, “We are home.” I never understood these words until just four years ago, when they retired and moved back to Philadelphia, just miles from where they spent their childhoods. Now, with Rabbi Guzik and our three children, I have the opportunity to show them the history of our country, but also the story of our family. Girls High-that’s where Grandma went to school. Akiba-that’s where Grandpa learned Hebrew. See that church over there? That used to be a synagogue where Grandpa had his Bar Mitzvah!
The Baal Shem Tov interprets the forty-two journeys that Israel travels through the wilderness as analogous to the human being’s life span. Birth is like the Exodus, beginning the nation’s travels. The ensuing journeys lead onward to the ultimate destination, the land of Israel. Each place presents us with challenges, and in every situation, we ask for God’s blessing to continue with strength. Each stop along our life’s path, we derive inspiration from our encounters. As we conclude Shabbat, we recite the words of Isaiah, “You can draw water in joy from the springs of salvation.” When you dig a hole in the desert and discover a wellspring, you quench your immediate thirst. Each stop we make along our life’s journey is an opportunity to dig for that well. Yet, it is also an opportunity to remember the wellsprings that gave us strength to reach the place where we are today.
And so this afternoon, before Shabbat, I will take my children to a wellspring that they now know well in Philadelphia, the Liberty Bell. I will point to Independence Hall just feet from the bell, look at my son, and say, “Did you know that in Los Angeles, they celebrate America too?”