A Home for the Wandering Jew by Ruchi Koval
During my second year as a City Leader for JWRP, in 2010, I decided that I was going to do it right: I was going to “deviate” (that’s travel-speak for stay extra) and spend two days BY MYSELF in Jerusalem, my former stomping grounds. After being on a schedule for 10 days, the first free day started off downright heady. I got up with no alarm clock and no plan. I moseyed around, got ready all leisurely-like, and felt incredibly pleased with my decision.
I decided, pre-GPS-on-my-phone days, that I would simply walk around Jerusalem and get around the old-fashioned way, drinking in the sights and sounds like a native. Which was great — until I got lost. I found myself wandering down a dusty road with lots of cars (was it a highway?) and no sidewalks, trying to figure out from a folded-up map where on earth I was. The cars were going by so fast, and I was terrified. I finally decided to half-hike-half-walk up the embankment and see if there was some residential area up there that would be less scary to walk around. I wanted to be anywhere but where I was.
So I hiked up that embankment. I won’t describe the fence I climbed over. But lo and behold, when I reached the other side, I found myself in a familiar neighborhood! That I remembered! From when I lived there! I saw little kids running around and mezuzahs on doors and just felt… home.
When we lived in Buffalo Grove, Illinois, there was an organization we loved in Chicago called “CTN” – Chicago Torah Network. The Rabbi and Rebbetzin were mentors and friends. But I’ll never forget their tagline: A Home for the Wondering Jew. The imagery that evokes — of the iconic wondering, wandering Jew, who finally stumbles upon a home — is just so powerful.
There are times in all of our lives when we wander. Whether literally or metaphorically. Religiously, spiritually, morally. Away from home, or right around the corner. The wandering Jew is familiar to us all. Life is a journey, and all travelers sometimes deviate. But it is precisely that feeling you get, that pit in your stomach, that you’ve wandered far from home and have strayed into unfamiliar or even hostile territory, that makes home suddenly seem oh-so-tempting. Even… if you’ve strayed on purpose. And when you suddenly find that oasis in the desert, that "Home for the Wondering Jew," that home away from home, there’s just nothing like it.
The ancient Jews wandered along dusty roads for 40 years. That’s, like, 95.2% of my life. And lo and behold, throughout their sojourns, they were enveloped by G-d’s protection in the form of “sukkot” — booths, huts of protection — either tangible ones, or in the form of the Clouds of Glory. The ultimate home away from home! Imagine that joy, that relief, that gratitude! I’m not alone. Someone cares about me. Some One has created a home for the wandering Jew.
It is this very sense of relieved gratitude turned joy, that we have all experienced at some point in our lives, that we relive each Sukkot. It is for this that we are tasked with building our own mini huts to actually live in for the week. To relive, to remember, to re-experience that exquisite homecoming.
Ruchi Koval is a JWRP Trip Leader and a City Leader with the Jewish Family Experience (JFX) in Cleveland, Ohio.