Places, in space and time, are incredibly important to humanity. They are touchstones in our lives - I still automatically drive to my childhood home when I am in town, even if I don’t always mean to. Other places from later stages in my life reignite the emotions and sensations of the past I inhabited there. As Jews who have been refugees, migrants, and every kind of immigrant, we often feel this tug between what places can and should mean to us.
So of all these places - where we might feel relief, or joy, ecstasy, or despair - how and where do we create sanctuary? What anchors us there differently from the so many other places and moments that define us?
Sanctuary is a topic on many lips - especially in these devastating and uncertain times where a careless government cruelly taunts those whose safety and lives are wrapped up in the whims of Federal Immigration law. We can not possibly think of sanctuary without recognizing the recent acts of our government to declare this country, as close as is possible, an un-sanctuary - home, but one which is unpredictable and likely unsafe. It is hard to even consider seeking or experiencing sanctuary when we do not plan to create it for those who are most in need.
And, we are quickly approaching the High Holidays, where we are literally within a sanctuary, so named for the holiness and protection it offers.
When I think about the high holidays, I don’t think about ease or comfort sometimes implied in sanctuary. In our most holy moments, at the most holy time of the year, instead we commit to challenge ourselves. We celebrate, we contemplate, we confront, and we wrestle with who we have been and who we want to be. We have long conversations - with ourselves, with God, with our friends and family. We teach our children about responsibility and forgiveness. We revisit text that has been visited thousands upon thousands of times - and that in our lifetimes, god willing, we’ll revisit dozens of times personally. What does this mean for our imagining of sanctuary?
I am grateful for this version of sanctuary. Not a place to hide, but a place to exist as you truly are. Sanctuary can provide that safety to question and challenge. It is the safety to be yourself even when you don’t know who that is, in your moment. Sanctuary is acceptance, and trust that those who have come into community with you are bringing their full selves to the table as well. As we contemplate in coming weeks our personal sanctuary and that which we can offer to others, I hope we recognize how crucial it is to work to create a world in which sanctuary can expand past the bounds of buildings or moments, and can underpin the very heart of our society.
Sarah Tuttle is a board member and Treasurer for Kadima. She is currently an Assistant Professor of Astronomy at the University of Washington.