Discover more from Rationalist Judaism
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!