There is something about traveling – but not necessarily traveling, but what the Bible means as a temporary stay in a place other than one's own – that can open our eyes and hearts to new perspectives, and thus helps us grow in wisdom and compassion. My family and I just returned from our vacation and spent last week in Hot Springs, Virginia, a small dot on the edge of the Virginia State Map – west of the Skyline Drive and just east of West Virginia. How did we choose this place? Last winter, my mother was dying of cancer and I thought we should spend part of our family vacation to visit her. I grew up in Hampton, Virginia, on the coast (where my mother was still living when I planned our summer), so I thought we would drive to visit her there and then go to the Blue Ridge Mountains for a family vacation. 19659002] Well, mother died in May, but it turns out that the Airbnb house that I had booked months earlier was only thirty-one kilometers from where she went to the summer camp in the 1940s. I heard her speak regularly about "Camp Nimrod, about the crystal clear Cowpasture River." As far as my personal relationship is concerned, Hot Springs was where I first learned to ski (at the small ski slopes of the Homestead Resort) and at 2 pm, I spent the summer working at a horse farm in Afton, Virginia, just east of the Skyline Drive, and I loved it. So the Blue Ridge takes a special place in my heart.
Earlier this summer, I was blessed to be able to study for almost two weeks in a program for rabbis and presidents in Jerusalem. (My first time back in Israel in 30 years.) There is much to tell about that trip, but for now I will only say that it is easy to forget how big our country is. Israel is about the size of New Jersey, and Israelis can not just get into their car and drive across borders because most of the nations around them are hostile and even those who are officially "at peace" with Israel are still dicey for Jews to travel to. We Americans take our freedom to travel around in this great nation for granted. We should not do that. It is really a miracle.
It is a miracle that there are still so many places in the United States where you can drive, hike, cycle or glide without seeing another person for long periods – where trees, wild flowers, black bears and butterflies abound (Here I am talking about the Appalachians, while of course other astonishing features prevail in other regions of the country). It is vital that someone really comes out in a physical way (walking or walking as my favorite) to taste his unique taste. You can not know much about a place simply by looking at it from a car window or from an air-conditioned resort. You have to sit on a lawn or veranda at night and listen to the song of the insects, watch the shooting stars, witness the miracle of the morning fog as it makes room for a sunny summer's day. After walking to Cascade Falls through one of the greenest forests I've ever seen in my life, it was a pleasure to dive into the icy waters at the foot of the falls, with a tingling sensation that you could not get anywhere . You have to stay in an area for at least a couple of days (not just from one overlooked) to actually encounter it. This is what I call a temporary stay.
And then there are the people. Of course, each region of the country is composed of individuals, and one can not make gross generalizations, but when you hang around in an area long enough, you begin to develop a sense of how that area – its culture, its economy, the prevailing views of the natives – is different from your home area. One afternoon after a sudden storm that dumped buckets of rain onto the region, accompanied by thunder and lightning, we experienced a power outage. In the absence of electricity to prepare dinner on an electric stove, we decided to drive to the nearest "village" for dinner. Because they did not want to spend money in the Homestead Resort (started in 1766 when the hot springs were discovered), we visited the subway exit of the small town. Talking to the young Hot Springs indigenous behind the counter, we learned that the Omni Corporation, which houses all the buildings and grounds that make up the resort in 2013 (they have also bought this in 55 other areas of the country) "owns" the city. She did not specify exactly what she meant by this statement, but you could hear a sense of resentment in her voice – it reminded me of stories about miners or migrant workers who could only buy groceries at the company's store and eventually so much owed to the company that they were "owned" by their bosses.
Another way in which we got a better feeling for this region was by listening as we went back and forth from the Blue Ridge to the novel by Barbara Kingsolver from 2000, Prodigal Summer, based in the fictional Zebulon County, Virginia. Kingsolver, who grew up in the mountains of Kentucky and now divides her time between Arizona and the mountains of Virginia, is both a gifted writer and a biologist. Her insights into the human heart and in the heart of nature can help to open your own heart – especially when you read her novel in the geographical area in which the story takes place. Of course this is a column of a "clergy", so you may wonder what all this has to do with God's Word & # 39; I believe that this is the highest religious principle in both Judaism and Christianity (and probably in all religions of the world) love is not only for our own species, but for all people, all areas of animal, vegetable and mineral existence. You get a better picture of these many layers of existence when you travel in areas with a different ecosystem, a different economic base, different accents or languages, a different landscape – if you step out into the landscape, between the people in the region, and really experienced, really watching and listening.
Our country is so bitterly divided at the moment, I wish I could give this gift of a stay in a different landscape to all its inhabitants, because we are all in need of such spirit and heart expansion nowadays. In short, take a trip to the public library and search for one of Kingsolver's novels – her profoundly human and spiritual stories will help to increase your horizons and increase your heart's wisdom.
Shoshana Brown is cantor and co-spiritual leader of Temple Beth El in Fall River.