“Doesn’t anybody stay in one place any more?” sings Carole King lamenting a distant lover. Mobility is a defining characteristic of our modern world. An ever-evolving Judaism is one that to be sustainable must be portable.
Once again, ancient Torah text offers modernity a message. In Parshat Pekudei closing the Book of Exodus (Shemot), our wandering ancestors completed their traveling tabernacle. Previously we learned that among its construction features were carrying poles placed in rings and never removed from them, so the Miskhan could move on a moment’s notice (Ex. 25:15; B.T. Menachot 98a). The Mishkan would move with the people following their image of God, cloud by day and fire by night.
In this century, Jews again have been on the move – whether fleeing danger or re-settling promised lands. The geopolitical story of Jewish mobility also has psycho-spiritual aspects. Planes, trains and automobiles stretch families across continents, and Internet connectivity is helping reconnects some of what became overstretched. All of these, in turn, relocate and redefine Jewish community.
The impacts on Jewish life have been dramatic. A people that began spiritual life with a mobile Mishkan, that later learned to fix holiness in the fixed place of a synagogue, now is learning how to become mobile again. Mobility emboldens our yearnings for experiences and entertainment. Accessibility diverts our attention from the qualities of being domestic to the “waze” of being itinerant. For many progressive Jews, synagogues are less the center point of Jewish life than they once were. The holy place is wherever one lets God in, taught Menachem Mendl of Kotzk (1787–1859). Absent a Mishkan or Holy Temple as God’s abode, slowly we come to realize, in the words of the Sfat Emet (Yehudah Lieb Alter, 1847-1905), that holiness can be found everywhere – but we have to seek it. And seeking often requires moving. We can’t just stay put.
The qualities of a movable sanctuary, traveling amidst a people, remain valuable. We still need the richness of a sanctuary: the home and communal gathering places are still vibrant Jewish centers. But we also need our Judaism to have legs, designed for portability, not fixed – ossified, even enslaved – to the bounds of place.
The Mishkan of The Jewish Studio evolves for precisely this reason. A Shabbat hike brings Judaism to how and where we are, rather than only prescribing where we should be. A mobile event venue constructs Jewish experiences in places we want to go. We don’t stop being Jewish anywhere, so we need a Mishkan everywhere.
We are on the move: our Judaism comes with us. Let’s go.
Rabbi Evan Krame
Rabbi David Evan Markus