Looking out from the balcony adjacent to my living room, across the gully I see the neighborhood of Maalot Moriah. It was here that Abraham was shown where he was to sacrifice Isaac. Today, this is the neighborhood where my synagogue is and where I have many friends.
From the balcony, I can see some of my friends homes, including the house of Rena Magun. Rena and I have come along way together. We grew up at Temple Beth Shalom. Her mother taught Hebrew school and I remember her father singing in the choir. Rena is a few years older than I am and was one of the “big kids” I saw regularly growing up. I attended Camp Ramah with Rena and followed in her footsteps at Akiba Hebrew Academy. Rena worked at JTS when I attended the Joint Program between the Jewish Theological Seminary and Columbia in New York. We both made aliyah and today our families sit next to each other in synagogue every Shabbat. Today, her children are the kids my children look up to at school and synagogue just as I used to look up to her.
Across the street in the other direction is the home of Lisa Kainan nee Epstein who grew up in Moorestown attending Temple Sinai in Cinnaminson. Lisa and I met at Hebrew high school and grew closer as both of us became very involved in USY. We reconnected in NY and then again in Israel as we both made aliyah. We joke that we moved halfway across the world only to end up living across the street from each other.
With the new school year, Lisa and I take turns walking our children to elementary school in the morning. It is difficult for me not to be mindful of my surroundings in Jerusalem, and when I slow down and walk this is especially true. We start our morning walk half a block from the house of the Nobel prize winning author S.Y. Agnon. On our street, our feet tread on the pavement which covers an ancient Roman highway leading from Jerusalem’s Old City to the summer palace of one of biblical Israel’s ancient kings which later became a Roman barracks, a crusader fortress and today is a kibbutz just down the road from our home. As we walk through our neighborhood we pass the home of Eliezer Ben Yehudah, the father of Modern Hebrew, through a park made possible through the funds raised by the Jerusalem Foundation, and a monument marking a fallen soldier in the Six Day War.
What makes our walk especially enjoyable for me are the people we meet along the way. Walking the ten blocks to school the people stream together like tributaries forming a river. It often starts with our next-door neighbors Naomi and Tal who are originally Australian and returned from New York a couple of years ago where Tal served in Israel’s delegation to the UN. Their three children are the same ages as ours and they have gone to camp and school together. Our other next-door neighbors join us for the walk, Naomi and Elie went to college with my wife and I. Their children go to school with ours. We attend the same synagogue and have been involved with various organizations together. We often also see Aliza walking, an older single woman who has cared for our children and those of our friends over the last few years. She lives two doors away and always greets us with a cheerful smile.
As we continue our walk, we are joined by Moshe who is in my son Shemer’s third grade class. Moshe and his family made aliyah from Canada last year and he has acclimated well. Turning the corner, we are joined by Catherine, Aliza and Devorah who moved to Israel this summer from Toledo, Ohio. Almost at the school, we meet Josh who volunteered with me on Kibbutz before my junior year of college. We shared an apartment together the following year twenty years ago. He joins us as he walks with his first-grader. Close to school, we are joined by kids who we have known since nursery school and others whose parents went to college with me in the States.
As we enter the school courtyard, I see people I know from almost the entire length and breadth of my life – from growing up in New Jersey, from Camp Ramah, Akiba Hebrew Academy, USY, college in New York and my early years in Israel. I see people with whom I work, people from my synagogue and people with whom I have been involved in a variety of organizations.
In the hallways of the school, Matan, Rena Magun’s sixth grader, greets me with a high-five.
This year he and his siblings gathered to listen to his mother read the Torah portion on the second day of Rosh HaShanah. I had the first aliyah as Rena read. As the two of us stood there, I listened to Rena read the words “Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love; go to the land of Moriah….” and appreciated the fact that we had arrived.