Are you 'at home' in Northwest Arkansas

Friday, 9 June, 2023 - 2:24 pm

My family and I have called NWA home since 2005. One thing you notice when living in NWA is that for many a Northwest-Arkansan, ‘home’ isn’t Northwest Arkansas.

We live in a world where hiring, firing, promotion and remote-work opportunities occur at dizzying speeds. Many home-buyers' first question isn't if this house the right fit for their family, but rather ‘how fast can I sell this if I have to move next year?’

I know people that have lived here for longer than I did, for whom ‘home’ is still somewhere on the East or West Coast (ok, also the Midwest.)

I get it. If someone’s family was in Brooklyn for six generations it may feel sacrilegious to suddenly call a town in the Ozarks ‘home.’ Words are powerful and shape our feelings, so just referring to our hometown as ‘back home’ feels like we haven’t lost that connection. We haven’t really left.

But this cozy feeling comes with a price tag and in my opinion, one that is too steep. We don’t really start creating a new home, until we have left the old one and only once we realized that this is our new home can we begin building it. We lose out on new connections and opportunities when we don’t emotionally connect with our new home.

This is even more critical and vital when it comes to Jewish life. Jews are creatures of community and we thrive on each other’s strength and support. A single sheet of paper is easily torn, but good luck tearing a ream of paper…. And as long as this place isn’t one’s home, he or she may not feel the need, or may even feel reluctant, to establish Jewish roots for themselves in their new home. It’s a nice thing to keep a shul membership ‘back home’ to support that community, but we should not allow it to prevent us from creating an involved Jewish life at the ‘current home.’ We cannot allow that old connection to become an obstacle in the path of connecting to a local Jewish hub of life.

There is something fascinating taught in this week’s Torah reading. As they journeyed from Egypt to Israel through the desert, the Jews encamped in different places along the way. Interestingly, they were never told how long they’re going to stay at each place. The Torah tells us that in some places they encamped for a few years while in others they encamped only overnight, or just for a day or two.

And in each place they had to unpack everything. And build the entire Tabernacle. And set up the formation of the twelve tribes around the central camp where the Tabernacle stood.

Wouldn’t it be easier for G-d to tell them: Hey, we’re only staying overnight in this place, no need to unpack every suitcase, no need to build the entire Tabernacle just for a few hours…. Just take out the essentials and leave the rest packed up?

They had to unpack everything and build the tabernacle to its last detail, even if they were staying only for a few hours. G-d was teaching us a lesson, telling us: Wherever you are right now, be there fully. Get involved, build Me a home, pitch your tents and live life like this is your only ‘home.’

For all of us here, Northwest Arkansas is currently our home. Some of us are here to stay, others are planning to retire in Florida and still others think they’re moving tomorrow. Regardless, as long as you are here, G-d wants you to build your Jewish life here.

Israel is home for every Jew, but throughout history we built beautiful Shuls, communities and centers wherever we were. We knew we couldn’t let the time we are ‘here’ go to waste, even when we were convinced we were going back tomorrow.

Summer is a time of renewal and rejuvenation. Let us resolve to get involved in Jewish life, build strong communities and create a vibrant Jewish life for ourselves and for every Jew in Northwest Arkansas.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Mendel Greisman

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