Home is Where the Heart Began

Oasis Songs: Musings from Rav D
Friday, November 13, 2020 / 26 Cheshvan 5781

Summary: This week I reflect on the meanings of “home,” and four upcoming programs that reflect these different understandings of what home is: a writer, a diplomat and a series featuring African American clergy.




I have been reading a memoir about home by author David Biespiel. If you are unfamiliar with him, David is an acclaimed author, poet and memoirist who lives in SE Portland and is the Poet in Residence at OSU.

The name of his memoir is “A Place of Exodus: Home, Memory, and Texas,” and it recounts his experience growing up Jewish in Houston as well as reflections on the Old World stock from which he came. His grandparents were shtetl Jews, his grandfather, as he put it, was “a haftorah man-” put any prophetic reading in front of him and he could instantly chant it.

Throughout his touching story, he reflects on the meaning of home. Towards the end, he offers us the following meditation about home: “If home isn’t where we are, is it who we are? A home reveals the inexpressible sources of life in its particulars.”

Once I left my childhood home, my years were marked by wandering. Such a Jewish thing. Rabbinical school itself was marked by 6 homes. Laura and I began in the Pico Robertson neighborhood, then lived in Rehavia in Jerusalem. We spent the following summer at Camp Ramah in the Berkshires, then returned to Jerusalem, this time in the neighborhood of Machane Yehudah, where the outdoor market is located. And so it went. Apart from our childhood homes, Laura and I have lived in our home in Portland longer than anywhere else, a simple fact for which I have tremendous gratitude.

These autobiographical facts make me receptive to Biespiel’s notion of home being who we are rather than where we are. The ways that we are all shaped by the places we have called home resonates for me. Living during this present era of refugees, in which more than 70 million people have had to flee from their countries of origin, there is comfort in knowing that we are changed by, and always carry with us, the imprint of the places we have been. In a certain sense, it provides us a sense of kinship with turtles, who carry their homes on their backs.

Simultaneously, most of us seek more permanent grounding, and the security that such rootedness provides us. This week’s Torah reading, Chayei Sarah, is itself a meditation on the meaning of home, and it provides us two very different images of what makes a house a home. In the beginning of the parasha, our matriarch Sarah dies. Abraham, whose nomadic roots would be repeated by Jews throughout the ages, wants better for the future. He enters protracted negotiations to buy a permanent holding from Ephron the Hittite in the cave at Machpelah, located in modern day Hebron. It addition to Sarah, this would become the final home and resting place for Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, as well as Rebecca and Leah.

This is geographical home. Yet when we speak about home, most of us mean more than just a place. We might think of Shabbat meals or Passover seders. We possibly recall playing on the floor with our friends when we were little. Those of us who did not grow up in an intact family may have slightly different memories, but for all of us, home is marked by the people who were there with us. That is the second image of home our Torah reading provides, for it is here that Rivkah (Rebeccah) meets Yitzchak (Isaac) and where they marry. This definition of home speaks to our deep social need for connection with one another, and for most people, a special and singular other. It is the story of what home is meant to be, the place that flourishes in the presence of love.

We also hope that home should be a place of security, for it is far more difficult to flourish and live abundantly without that basic need. It isn’t even easy to love in an unsafe environment. Individuals and nations both share this same need.


MONDAY 11/16 AT 7 PM

This Monday, Israel 360 is holding a conversation with Matan Zamir, along with our co-sponsoring partner, the Jewish Federation of Greater Portland. Mr. Zamir is the Deputy Counsel General at the Consulate General of Israel to the Pacific Northwest and a 9th generation Jerusalemite. He will be speaking about the recent Abraham Accords Peace Agreement between Israel and the United Arab Emirates as well as Bahrain and Sudan. In this time of pandemic, let us hope that peace continues to spread at an infectious rate.



The final sense of home that pulls at me is an aspirational one to which the prophet Isaiah speaks. “I shall bring them to my holy mountain…for my house will be called a house of prayer for all people.” It is the home we all carry within a quiet part of our hearts; the image of home we imagined as children, where love, security and identity were all assured. I view Isaiah’s statement as eschatological, meaning that it exists outside of normal time. I suppose all of our ideals do, and still they serve as compasses, guiding us on our journeys.

Beginning on Friday December 11th, the second night of Hanukkah, we will begin a once a month series of Unity Shabbats, featuring faith leaders around the city. On that Shabbat (some visits will occur on Fridays, others on Saturday, based on our guests’ schedules), our speaker will share remarks during the sermon slot and be available to meet by Zoom with us at the conclusion of the services.

Most are Black pastors; there are also slated a couple of clergy folk who represent very diverse communities. All will share their perspectives on race and community. This initiative flows out of our nation’s call for greater racial awareness that surfaced with renewed urgency after the murder of George Floyd. It is but one way that our congregation is working to inform ourselves and take action to move closer to Isaiah’s vision.

PROGRAM FOUR: 2020 Collins Summit: Shalom in Divided Times

Wednesday 11/18 at 7 pm

Lisa Sharon Harper is a speaker, writer and activist. She will be the keynote speaker for this Ecumenical Ministries of Portland Series and will be sharing her insights about what a meaningful sense of shalom means in our turbulent and divided times. She is a skillful speaker and should be quite engaging as she approaches this aspirational notion from another lens. As part of the evening, there will be a panel discussion about unity in divided times with
The Common Table, in which I take part with some remarkable colleagues of mine who represent the Sikh, Buddhist, Evangelical, and LGBTQ+ communities, among others.

Let me conclude by noting our governor’s new orders for another lockdown. Of all the meanings of home that I have entertained above, it’s equally true that most of us are spending more time at home than we ever have, under adverse and restrictive conditions. I suspect that this has raised up for many of us our own unique ideas about what home is and what it means.

May your Shabbat be blessed with Shalom Bayit, peace in the home,

Rav D

Shabbat Table Talk

  1. What does home mean to you?
  2. How many houses/apartments/etc have you lived in? Where where they, how long did you reside there, and which of them turned into homes?
  3. What is your ideal home? What values does it contain? Who is there in it with you?

If you’d like to continue this discussion, follow this link to CNS’s Facebook page to share your own perspectives on the topics raised in this week’s Oasis Songs. Comments will be moderated as necessary.

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