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Avraham, Abraham, and Me
By Sandra Sarah Nathan
From the city of Haran, in the northwest region of ancient Mesopotamia, Avraham left his secure world. As told in the Torah, he received an abrupt call from God, commanding him to begin a formidable journey. Avraham became a wanderer.
A stranger in a strange land, he wandered along an arc of fertile land bound by mountains and desert. Some scholars have made Avraham out to be a donkey caravaner, a Dusty One. Upon this Dusty One, the Jewish people stake their claim to distinction as the Chosen.
Stranger, Wanderer, Dusty one. I borrow these terms to describe another, more recent, Avraham, the Abraham of my personal Jewish heritage, and upon whom I stake my fragile claim to Judaism.
This nineteenth century Abraham, to whom I affectionately refer as “my” Abraham, departed not from the ancient regions of Mesopotamia, but came from the Kingdom of Prussia, not in a caravan, but on a sailing ship - across the great expanse of the Atlantic Ocean. To my knowledge, he received no call from God, abrupt or otherwise.
My Abraham became a wanderer too. My Abraham was yet another stranger in a strange land, as well as a dusty one. He traveled over the lush fertile landscape of America. He peddled his wares from a wagon, drawn by his only companion, an aged, once- magnificent white stallion. His journey was not remarkable, or biblical. To the contrary, among his descendents, I am, albeit unlikely, the lone persona of Judaism. Judaism did not descend with his descendents. That is, until I descended into Judaism.
Neither have I received a call from God, or from anyone, for that matter. So, why my resolute conviction toward my Jewish identity? It has been suggested that my ancestral attachment to my Abraham played a part.
“Lech lecha,” the beginning words in God’s commandment given to Avraham, can be translated as, “Go to yourself.” Commonly interpreted, one’s true self is one’s soul, neshama. In this sense, I became a wanderer, as well.
Clearly, my predisposition towards Judaism appeared to be a puzzling phenomenon in the face of a childhood spent in the absence of Jewish influence. My wanderings were of a spiritual nature, but I, like Avraham, was compelled to leave my father’s beliefs. Fortunately, my mother’s Jewish ancestral history guided my steps with familiar markers that pricked our souls with mystifying genetic remembrances; - much like the Dusty Ones’ sandaled feet must have stung from the grains of desert sand.
Arguably, I became a Dusty One, of sorts. The dust I encountered on my sojourn fell from between the pages of aging letters, or clinging to brittle, deteriorating papers and documents, which I uncovered along the way back - back to my Abraham, and his exodus from all with which he was familiar. I discovered other names of wanderers, strangers and dusty ones, whose blood flows with mine today. Some, I never found, and suspect they will lay forever forgotten in secret places, covered by timeless dust.
For the Jew who has always been in possession of the unbroken threads to his or her Jewish heritage, it must be difficult to imagine the dilemma of having to gather the strewn threads. Equally perplexing, no doubt, is the fact that no one, other than myself, assigned to me this task.
I arrived at the gates of Judaism late, a little threadbare and a bit weary, but with no lack of passion. With me, come my offspring and future descendents from our scattered remnant of Israel. We are capable of weaving our unraveled threads of Judaism into strong cloth. Intact, once again, we will pass it on to unbroken generations: generations from the seed of Avraham, and my Abraham.
“Lech lecha, - Go to yourself,” the wispy voice of a dusty one whispers near my ear as I tend to my mending. My dusty sandals rest by the door tonight.
from the August 2007 Edition of the Jewish Magazine
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