Monday, September 23, 2013

Git Moyed and Digital Heritage

It's khol ha'moyed sukkes, the intermediate days of the 8 day festival of sukkes/sukkot. You know, you sit in a hut (sukke) and eat; shake a festive blend of biblical plants; go apple picking if you're Brooklyn Hasidish. To be perfectly honest, I haven't done any of those things yet, especially the apple picking.

Which is all to say that I'm not really having the best sukkes ever.  Though it is kinda cinematic. Picture this: my brother and I on a road trip in a rattling cargo van tricked out with hand cranked windows and functioning FM radio. Our destination: a small city 5 hours away where our mom (OBM) was living when she passed away in 2007. Our mission: to clear out a storage locker stuffed with her pesakh dishes, my first grade notebooks and my brother's comic book collection. The drama: tears are shed, teddy bears tossed, parental approval hoped for. 

As we walked away from the storage space, I thought of the stories you hear sometimes about people living in storage lockers. Even if you could get enough oxygen inside, the storage space seems too close to being buried alive. Wouldn't it be better to take your chances on the street or a park bench? I don't know. Thank god, I've never been in the position to have to make that kind of decision.

My own take-away from this trip is that home is what you make it, from moment to moment. And no one is entitled to an attic or basement  or even just a small holding space for a teddy bear and a journal or 15. You've probably realized this if your parents have moved from what you consider to be your childhood home. Home isn't storage space for your stuff, no matter how long you've had it. As wonderful (or horrible) as it is, or how much love is there, home is contingent. It's got a life span, just like those imperfect folks hanging the drapes. Be in the moment because the moment will soon enough be over. 

There's no more perfect symbol of this than the sukke. It's handmade (slow home movement, anyone?) so you are present at its birth. With its incomplete roof, the sukke epitomizes built-in obsolescence. And maybe best of all, it has no encumbrances above or below. Don't even think about storing your comic books in a sukke, son.

I was taken by the contrast between the concrete cells of the storage units and the brittle fragility of the sukke. You can't really settle into either of them. Both are peculiar abstractions of domesticity. Stage instructions. Teddy bears and photos and good china- these are props. Home is something more- a lived experience animated for a time by the people inside.

Homes come and go. But they never really go away. As with history, our homes have made us who we are, sheltered and shaped us. Which brings me to a cool new website I want to share with you. The World Monuments Fund has created a new interactive map which takes you on an interactive journey through Hasidic Poland. It's called "The Chassidic Route: An Exploration of Jewish Heritage In Southeast Poland."  It gives you pictures of Jewish landmarks in cities along the route, the landmarks' current use, and statistics on Jewish population of that city. The starting point for the route is Zamość   If you want to learn more about any of the cities along the way, I recommend starting with a resource like the YIVO Encyclopedia of Jews in Eastern Europe. Consider it a khol ha'moyed adventure.


  1. good story.

    i never heard of living in a storage locker.

    did you make that up?

  2. Let me google that for you:

  3. Very interesting website from the WMF. Thank you for sharing.

    Sometimes I think about about touring Jewish sites in Poland and the Ukraine, but I don't know if I could handle it emotionally. Sometimes I think of visiting Uman, but it's more likely that the closest I come to that kind of spiritual journey will be to visit the Lubavitcher rebbe's ohel. (I am just a Conservative Jew who respects the Rebbe, I am not Chassidic myself)