Monday, March 27, 2017

You Can't Go Home Again

They say that you can never go home again. Memories are never as we left them. You can never go back to your childhood and find it exactly as you left it. Well, yesterday I gave it a darn good try.

Yesterday I traveled back to my hometown of Manchester, England for the first time since leaving there twenty-four years ago. It was emotionally overwhelming. I'd forgotten just how beautifully green it was. Though on the other hand, I certainly didn't remember it being so black. Neighborhoods that were barely Jewish when I left are now full of kollel avreichim.

I went to visit an old neighbor of mine, Rabbi Hillel Gittelson, who had recently miraculously recovered from a life-threatening illness about which the doctors had declared that recovery was impossible. He was my barmitzvah teacher, and an outstandingly wonderful person. About thirty years ago, he told me that when I grow up, I should write a book about animals in the Torah. At the time, that seemed like the most ridiculous idea. Me, write a book? About Torah? Besides, Yehuda Feliks had already published that slim volume about the animal world of the Bible, and what else was there to say?

Lo and behold, thirty years later, I have indeed published a book about the animals of the Torah, so I decided to present him with a copy (which mentions him in the acknowledgements.) I knocked at his door, and when he opened it, he didn't recognize me at first. When the penny dropped, he hugged me and kissed me and we were both overwhelmed with emotion. He had changed a lot in his appearance, but his personality was exactly as I remember it; bursting with warmth and Torah and good humor.

With childhood memories flooding back, I decided to go and visit the house where I grew up. When I approached it, I first stood outside, taking the sight in. I remembered everything, even the individual bushes in the garden. I knocked at the door, and introduced myself as the previous resident. The owners, a lovely frum family, welcomed me in. By a coincidence that is so strange as to almost make me renounce rationalism, they also had a son called Natan, and they also kept reptiles and locusts and other exotic creatures!

I looked around the house, and while it was much, much smaller than I remembered it, I recognized almost all the elements in a dizzying rush of memories and emotions. Finally I went to the living room, where they still had the very same bookcases that we had installed. I was mamash back home! And lo and behold, there, in the very middle of the bookshelves, there was a book that I certainly recognized...

....Torah, Chazal and Science, by Rabbi Moshe Meiselman.

No, you can never go home again!

23 comments:

  1. Did you present them with a copy of your book? Or maybe secretly steal Meiselman's and replace it with yours? :)

    ReplyDelete
  2. I totally relate to your feelings. I can't believe you've not been back for so long. It's actually quite a lovely area to live in, right? I am reminded of something Reverend Brodie said once in a sermon when he came back from a summer holiday: "Manchester's not changed, only more so!"

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. ha, he was totally right... Manchester never changes..

      Delete
  3. wow... goosebumps...and tears in my eyes
    good to see Hillel looking so well.

    I was in Stenecourt last week and saw that you are due to speak there... was that last night or during the week?

    Enjoy your trip down memory lane... to Fifty Shades of Black as I call it.

    ReplyDelete
  4. The late Yehuda Avner once told me that President Chaim Weizmann said to him 'I'll tell you two things about Manchester. First, if you are from Manchester you'll always be known as the guy from Manchester. Second, Manchester is a place to come from. Not to go to.'

    ReplyDelete
  5. It's like an episode of the Rationalist Twilight Zone

    ReplyDelete
  6. I don't get the denouement. Don't you have a copy on the bookshelf in your house too? ;)

    ReplyDelete
  7. actually you can go home again, as you proved by making aliyah. anywhere else, even manchester, is not truly home (as in ger v'toshav anochi imachem)
    KT

    ReplyDelete
  8. Good to see Hillel looking good - he must have been so pleased to see you. Pity about the last line....And I like 'Gubby's' quote. But what sums it up for me is that, coming from Manchester, your Mum is so much at home in Bayit Vegan. Now you'll be even more glad to get back to Eretz Yisrael - aren't you glad you eventually listened to me??!!

    ReplyDelete
  9. What a great post. Nice to read.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Do you think H' might be trying to tell you something? No, of course you don't.

    ReplyDelete
  11. R' Natan, at least you found an 'old' mentor and your childhood home. My old Williamsburg neighborhood has been radically altered by the BQE, city projects, and - more recently, gentrification since I left many years ago. I suspect that the only Jews living there are Yuppies. My apartment house is now a garage and much of the block has been transformed. Even the firehouse is gone, as are all the shuls in the neighborhood. The gentrification has brought some advantages for a visitor, however - even if it despoiled some childhood memories. It may be safer to visit.

    In any event, I'm glad that you were able to relive some memories - changes notwithstanding.

    Y. Aharon

    ReplyDelete
  12. Touching post. Thank you.

    ReplyDelete
  13. I've been told Manchester makes Boro Park look like Las Vegas.

    ReplyDelete
  14. "By a coincidence that is so strange as to almost make me renounce rationalism". Glad you didn't fall into the pit, & remembered Morei Nvuchim 2:42 "What Scripture says about Og...This is undoubtedly an exceptional height among men, but not quite impossible."

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. to really mix it up, maybe one day this new Natan will write a commentary on your Encyclopedia postulating you were a closet Mystic all along!

      Delete
  15. I was moved by your description of your emotions. I wish I could meet Rabbi Gittelson.

    There is clearly a segulah to live in a house where you once lived for becoming enamored with exotic animals. When you go on vacation I may want to borrow your house for a week or two so that I can increase my interest in exotic animals even more. :)

    ReplyDelete
  16. No offense, but "Torah, Chazal, and Science" is a very good book. But why do you two have to argue?

    ReplyDelete
  17. A very good book?
    Looks like someone hasn't read any of the book reviews on it.

    ReplyDelete
  18. Great Post.
    Random Question. In the last chapter of Sacred Monsters you cite the Chasam Sofer who takes issue with the suggestion that the Sages of the Talmud had a unique divine providence ensuring no mistake will come about through their halachik conclusions. Where can I find this Chasam Sofer? (You do not reference the source in the book)
    Thanks a lot

    ReplyDelete
  19. Rabbi Greenblatt of Memphis told me that he has visited countless cities in the world, he grew up in Meah Shearim, yet Manchester is the frummest town he has visited, more than Lakewood more than Monsey.

    ReplyDelete
  20. Dear Rabbi Slifkin!
    I recall how much did you invest to prove Rabbi Meiselman's book is wrong and its arguments are speculations... I bet you are the one and the only person to read it seriously! The rest of people simply use it as an ornament.

    ReplyDelete

Comments for this blog are moderated. Please see this post about the comments policy for details. ANONYMOUS COMMENTS WILL NOT BE POSTED - please use either your real name or a pseudonym.

My Miracle Story

There was the time that I was reading this book about leopards in the Torah, and a leopard suddenly appeared! In the last post, Rav Cha...