My first trip to Israel was in 1972. I was with 50 wild and crazy high school graduates all of whom were a part of Young Judaea Year Course. The adventures – and misadventures – of that group could easily form the basis of a great HBO series. There was little supervision. But, an occasional Lord of the Flies episode notwithstanding, we did ok.
We travelled all over Israel, including the Sinai peninsula which was still in Israeli hands. The second day of the Sinai trip we got to Dahab, our next destination, late at night. It was pitch black and all we knew for sure was that we were supposedly on a beach. The vague sound of distant gentle ocean waves beckoned, but it was dark and we were all exhausted. We unrolled our sleeping bags on the beach, climbed in and collapsed.
The next morning at dawn, I looked up from my sand-encrusted pillow, and there I saw the sun rising over the Red Sea. It was magnificent. No, more than that; it was life changing. Because in that moment, I became aware of time and timelessness. That as minute as I was compared to this ancient place, I was now a permanent part of it, that my essence was now absorbed in this remote place in the middle of nowhere. And, even more amazing for me: this moment of sunrise on a beach on the Sinai peninsula was now a part of me and my story. This sunrise would always exist inside of my consciousness.
All of which is to say that when I held my new granddaughter, Sylvie Rose, born on 12/30/15, 6’10”, I felt similarly changed. The first time I held her I experienced a connection over time, a realisation that this tiny baby existed in my consciousness long before she showed up. Or, as I say now at B’nai Mitzvah, as a rabbi AND as a grandfather, to the celebrant: “Your grandparents loved you before you were even conceived.”
Our sense of love and connection in the past and the future is so deeply mysterious. We generally don’t feel it. But every once in a while, the corner gets lifted back and we see things and hear things that give us pause. Even for the most sceptical and fiercely rational amongst us, there must be some allowance for the deeper truths of our lives.
The birth of a grandchild reveals just how deeply rooted in the past we are and just how magnificently we extend into the future. Claiming a grandson and a granddaughter is to declare the continuity of Jewish life, that we are still here. Declaring grandchildren is also a kind of spiritual casting of the line into the future. Yes, it is dark, relentlessly dark out there. And yet we can contemplate our progeny bringing the light. In that warm light, there is faith, as crazy as it may sound.
I am blessed with a new grandchild in whose eyes I can see something remarkable, something for which I give thanks, something I want to share with you all for the rest of my life. In Sylvie’s eyes, I see the reflection of my grandparents’ eyes – the ones I knew and the ones I did not know. I see my parents’ eyes. Of course, I see Sylvie’s sparkle and even the faint reflection of her children’s eyes. And in all of them, I see hope. It is a sight more beautiful even than sunrise at Dahab.