Sunday, March 27, 2016

yes, but do you believe in the easter bunny?

There are two synagogues in the U.P., and Tuesday I drove to the one in Hancock. I had visited some websites that describe Temple Jacob, but the only hint as to its exact location was that it was just north of the lift bridge. I have crossed the lift bridge over Portage Canal many times. Without skiff or snowmobile, it is the only way into Hancock, to the airport, to Calumet, and beyond. But the only thing I could picture just north of the bridge was the concrete wall where one turns right or left or, I suppose, crashes into the wall. Most turn left, staying on US 41, but some turn right, following M-26. So on the bridge I kept my eyes peeled, then there it was, Temple Jacob, just to the right, just north of the bridge.

There was no parking lot, no drive, and no street parking, so I pulled into the lot at the stove and coal shop. The woman inside said the temple was open only in the summer. I had not been able to tell from the websites if there was an active congregation or not, but I assumed there was. In 2012 (5772 on the Jewish calendar), the temple celebrated its centennial with various events and fund-raising, news of which, at the time, I missed.


The temple is a beauty built of local sandstone and brick with several stained glass windows, a solid cube of a shul on the first rise of a hill. The planes of the temple’s roof continue the upward motion, coming together beneath a copper dome atop of which stands the Star of David. Walking around outside, I realized the mound of snow between the temple and the coal shop must be hiding the temple’s driveway. Come summer, there will be plenty of room for parking.


Back home, online, I found a site for the congregation with a listing of current events and contacts and a map that shows exactly where the temple is.

But I am not looking for religion. Curiosity took me to Temple Jacob, and curiosity has me reading, in small bites, “The Jews of the United States, 1654-2000,” by Hasia R. Diner. In the chapter “Becoming American, 1776-1820,” I found this interesting reminder:
Article 5, Section 3 [of the Constitution] stipulated that all office holders in the national government “shall be bound by oath or affirmation to support this Constitution; but no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.”
Interesting because sometimes I feel there is a litmus test for what one might call patriotism, a test that requires each of us to affirm a religion, to declare a set of religious beliefs, and in order to pass the test, to be anointed a patriot or even just a good citizen, you must declare the correct set of beliefs.

Like Crash Davis in the movie Bull Durham, I can ramble off a list of things I believe in, like a morning frost of snow followed by an afternoon of steady rain; like pitchers taking their at-bats; like the interior of my mind; like the blossoms on a serviceberry branch cut from its tree in March with just the tiniest of buds, brought inside, put in a vase with water. I believe in a whole bunch of things that are real for the moment but most likely not forever. I also believe in things such as peace and love that are just as temporary, perhaps, but that flirt with this idea of eternity. And then there are things like the slow creep of seasons, the slow creep of knowledge, and I believe in those things, too, but what are they? Are they real? Imaginary? Temporary? Solid? Ephemeral? Eternal? Just nature?

I believe, I suppose, in questions.


I have been told I am part of “the tribe,” that according to Jewish law or somesuch, because my maternal great-grandmother was Jewish, I am Jewish. I carry the heritage, I have the gene. But so do I carry the heritage and genes of those that traveled from England, from Cornwall and London, from mists and moors, and there are genes from Scotland and France and other places, places unknown, but Christian places with Protestant people or maybe, perhaps, they were pagans. I do not want to become them, but neither do I want to lose them. What does it mean? All these genes, all this heritage. Anything? As for my religion, I was raised with a bit of Sunday School at the Presbyterian Church on the east side of town, that is all. I did not much care for it.

The Jewish heritage I harbor dwells in the back of my mind, at the base of my skull, at times heavy, at times nothing. But because of it, and perhaps because of my rather late discovery of it, in middle age, I have thought about and discovered things I might otherwise have never thought about, might otherwise have neglected, might otherwise have passed over and still, I miss so much. But this week I found a beautiful temple, a shul, closed in winter but open in summer, 104 years old, made of local sandstone and brick, just north of the lift bridge in Hancock.