During our trip to Kansas City/Topeka last weekend (where we took part in a Father/Daughter B’nei Mitzvah in Topeka), Rhonda and I had the chance to make one of our periodic drives through my hometown to briefly revisit my past. The path took us by my elementary school, the house I grew up (right by the school), my high school, and, finally, to visit the graves of my parents, Joseph and Ruth Karol. That cemetery was originally adjacent to Congregation B’nai Jehudah in Kansas City, which moved to a new location in Overland Park, Kansas in 2002. This is one way we have to “see my parents,” so to speak, other than through photographs and memories. We stood by their graves for a few moments, perhaps waiting to hear some sage advice, but mainly, we felt the cold breeze moving through Rose Hill Cemetery. We hold that place as sacred, and we hope to return their whenever we have the opportunity. It is meaningful to me that my parents are buried in the shadow of the former Temple site where they were so involved in building community within the congregation which offered me important beginnings in my lifelong path of developing my personal and Jewish identity.
In the Torah reading for this week, Joseph and his entire extended family, having settled in Egypt, at least temporarily, made a return visit to their family’s roots. Their father Jacob died, and they knew what they had to do to give him a proper burial. The entire family, plus a very large entourage of Egyptian officials, traveled to Hebron, to the Cave of the Machpelah, the burial plot that would become known, eventually, as the “Tomb of the Patriarchs.” We could imagine that this experience of revisiting their origins had a great impact on Jacob’s children and grandchildren, as well as on the Egyptian leadership who had joined them. It was not only the site that had significance for them, but also the stories and memories of past generations that formed the beginnings of their family history, as well as the relationships that drew the family together. It is likely that Jacob’s burial strengthened the ties of his entire family to the land to which Abraham had journey three (and four) generations before, a land to which they would return only after emerging with rediscovered freedom from a long and difficult experience as slaves in Egypt.
It is likely that all of us have places that are sacred and special in our lives which reflect our personal and family history, the story of the web of our relationships, and moments when we took significant steps towards who we are now. Whatever those places may be, may they offer us strength, hope and inspiration as we revisit them in person or in our mind’s eye.