In Alaska, the trees are budding and the snow is all but gone. We are in that brief breath between winter and spring and any moment, everything will turn green. The world holds its breath, waiting and the air is sweetened with the scent of things growing and the sound of all the small birds returning.
Life is returning to the arctic.
It’s fitting that the idea of place is on my mind a lot after my travel all the way down to the tropical climate of south Florida along with the feeling of being surrounded by Jewish community there and then returning up here to sparse greenery and even sparser Jewish community. On the long flights down to Florida, I listened a lot to my Menuchas Hanefesh class and the first shiur was on “holiness of place.” That one caused me to be very thoughtful because it began by talking about the difference between a nomad and someone who is settled.
A nomad will settle down, but is always ready to move on if the place he is becomes less favorable or something looks better elsewhere. It’s the nature of the nomad to always be searching. A person who is settled becomes attached to his place. He bonds with where he is and will stay there even when things get hard. A farmer won’t leave his farm during a drought, but a nomad will absolutely move his herds to greener fields. Spiritually, this also is a useful metaphor. Some people move from shul to shul or even from spiritual path to spiritual path, always searching and rarely settling down for long. You talk to them and one month, they’re all about one thing, energized and excited. The next? It’s something else. They won’t stick with a community if things become challenging, but just drift around.
I can admit, I’ve been a nomad most of my life.
I’ve been searching and I’ve moved many, many times. There were several years where I moved houses or apartments every year! I’ve lived in many different places and communities and even now, I’m planning a move.
And yet, I yearn to settle down. I long to have a place that I bond with. I had thought and hoped that maybe Alaska would be that place. I don’t want to be that nomad any longer.
Spiritually, I’ve been a bit more settled than physically. I was absolutely a spiritual nomad before I encountered Judaism. I searched and found bits and pieces of different traditions that helped me keep going, but never anything that really “fit.” I was restless. When I began to study Judaism, that changed. I found something much deeper and richer there. It was like I’d been watering my herds with small puddles that would keep drying up everywhere else, but here I had found a deep well that would never run dry. Even when we took a break from conversion and I wandered, I still came back to that well to drink. Now, I’m camped there again and I hope to move there and build a permanent dwelling with no more wandering.
I worry that when things get hard, there will be that temptation to wander again or that people won’t believe me when I say I am finally settled. I like to think a nomad CAN choose to give up their wandering ways and commit to a place. I like to think that’s possible.
In the meantime, I commit to living here, in Alaska, this year and to be fully involved in the Jewish community here and observance here. One of the lessons in my shiur is that we need to seek Torah and holiness wherever we are, not putting it off until we’re in the exact place. If G-d is everywhere, then so is Torah and holiness. I also believe there’s a reason we were brought here and things we can do here.
Until it’s time to wander again…