Our daughter is studying in Israel this year. What a year! She had a dilemma this week.
She’s up in Israel’s north. Her seminary’s housing arrangement is apartments in a large housing project complex. So they live alongside regular families. When the war broke out, as a precaution, the seminary moved them into a now-vacant high school dorm because it has a larger and more quickly accessible Miklat-shelter. Now the seminary offered students the choice to move back into their apartments or to stay for added safety in the still-vacant high school dorm.
This is a question Americans don’t have to think about. When we go visit friends or travel or choose a place to live – knowing how close and adequate the nearest shelter or safe room is – doesn’t come into question. It’s not a factor. But it is a factor for Israelis who have endured ongoing Hamas bombardment in certain regions of the country, even with the Iron Dome protection, and now it certainly is an issue, with rockets coming from Gaza, and now to some degree from Lebanon, too. It’s not a theoretical question. Where the shelter is and how fast I can get there is a very practical life and death question for Israelis of all ages!
But Bassie does miss her apartment. She liked the privacy, the added space, and having a kitchen is a big plus for her. Baking is a form of therapy and calm for her. She liked the space near seminary that was away from it (i.e. her apartment). And she liked her apartment-mates. There are reinforced safe rooms on each floor and there’s a Miklat-shelter down in the basement, but it doesn’t have the ease and proximity that the high-school shelter offers. What to choose?
This week’s Torah portion of Noach features Noah’s Ark which was a shelter and safe space during a tumultuous and dangerous time. The Baal Shem Tov teaches us that on a spiritual level the Ark represents being enveloped and surrounded by the words of Torah and prayer, as Hebrew word for Ark “Teiva” is the same as one of the Hebrew for word. And as the Talmud teaches, “words of Torah are a refuge.”
In a figurative sense, our daughter’s dilemma reminds us to be mindful and aware of our own personal, spiritual and emotional shelter. We don’t live in the shelter, we’re not living in the synagogue (well, we technically do!) but out on a college campus. It’s important for us to know that it is accessible and available, and how easy and quick it is for us to get ourselves there and be surrounded and supported by it.
Don’t wait for emergency times to go looking for shelter. Don’t wait for antisemitism or anti-Israel stuff to look for community. Don’t wait to feel alone before seeking solace, support and inner meaning. Know where it is now, familiarize yourself with it and know our way!