WFYI Essay: “Indiana and Israel: Home and Homeland.”

Indiana and Israel: Home and Homeland
Lindsey Mintz
Executive Director of the Jewish Community Relations Council

Did you know that when a plane touches down in Israel, people on board clap and cheer? And yes, some actually kiss the tarmac. Each time I land in Israel, tears of gratitude well in my eyes as I exhale and feel, home.

During the summer before my third grade year, my family lived and worked on a kibbutz in northern Israel, just minutes from the Sea of Galilee. We were paired with a family similar to our own, with feisty daughters, loving moms, and fathers who oozed both wit and wisdom. My dad worked as the kibbutz dentist, my older sisters picked oranges in the grove, my mom priced items in the grocery store, and I got to play in the summer camp. At the age of nine, I picked up quite a bit of Hebrew and quickly made friends. Everyone on the kibbutz had a bike, so we were given one too. Each day, members of my family would come back together to share meals in the communal dining room. And on Friday night the entire kibbutz gathered to sing the ancient prayers and songs of Shabbat – words and melodies that I knew, but was hearing for the first time sung by Israelis, whose Hebrew was like silk.

When we weren’t on the kibbutz, we travelled throughout Israel alongside our host family. Scenes from that summer are etched in my mind: clinging to the toe-path walking cautiously down Masada; feeling a cut on my skin sting in the salty waters of the Dead Sea; shivering in our car looking up at the snow-capped Mount Hermon; playing endless paddle-ball on the beach in Tel Aviv, and holding tight to my father’s hand through the bustling corridors of Jerusalem’s Old City; somehow appreciating the magnitude of touching the same stones placed by the earliest Jews nearly 3,000 years ago.

That summer was over 30 years ago, and since then I have been to Israel more than a dozen times, including a year living in Jerusalem to study at the Hebrew University. After graduate school, I spent another summer living once again on that kibbutz from my childhood – this time as an adult on my own. I was issued a bike, and remembered exactly how to navigate to the small apartment home of my host family, where they were waiting to welcome me with open arms! I was home.

And yet, I love to boast that I’m a third generation Jewish Hoosier, whose great-grandparents fled the pogroms of Eastern Europe to find safety in, of all places, South Bend, Indiana. I’m proud to share that my grandfather is one of only a handful of umpires inducted into the Indiana Baseball Hall of Fame, and that for over 40 years my father provided dental care to Hoosier children most in need. I’m grateful to have graduated from IU and IUPUI with degrees in Jewish Studies and Public History, having focused my research on Indiana Jewish history. And I cherish the 10 summers I spent at a Jewish camp in Zionsville, the place where I would meet my future husband and where we send our children today.

When I look back now, I can see clearly how all of these experiences, and all of these people – both in Israel and in Indiana – imprinted me, shaped my identity as a Jew and as a Hoosier, and influenced the direction my life would take, both personally and professionally.

As the director of the Jewish Community Relations Council, I have the privilege of conveying the interests and concerns of the Indiana Jewish community to Hoosiers throughout the state. If I do my job well, I help people understand how – and why – the Jewish community is so committed to improving and protecting the lives of people living in two places that many call home: Indiana and Israel.

= = = = = =

Each year Spirit & Place partners with WFYI on a series of essays on the annual theme. Listen to them here.

WFYI Essay: “Coming Back from War.”

Coming Back From War
Ken Barger
Emeritus Professor of Anthropology, IUPUI

I came back from war, but didn’t really come home. While serving in Vietnam, a bullet once clipped my ear, and I thought, “Why are they trying to kill me? Don’t they know that I’m here to help them get freedom and democracy?” Another time in a helicopter, I looked out and saw death and destruction everywhere, and I thought, “You know, if I was a Vietnamese peasant I’d be out with the Viet Cong fighting the Americans.” I was shocked … what the hell had I just thought? Eventually I realized that they were not evil “communists,” but people fighting us foreign invaders who were destroying their lives and homes … just like we would do. I realized that this war had nothing to do with freedom and democracy. After that, it was tough to get through each day.

When I came back, I was a very different person, alone, isolated … a stranger to what had once been “home.” I had discovered that the worst of human nature could exist in me. I was angry at myself for what I had done, and at my government who had misled me. My homeland seemed strange, and for the first time I really saw racism, corporate greed, and political manipulation. Life didn’t make sense any more, and I didn’t know how to resolve the core ideals of my upbringing with the new realities I now saw.

It takes a lifetime to resolve this conflict. I cannot change the past, but I can try to change the future. I got involved with many social causes. When we were preparing to invade Iraq, I started sharing my Vietnam story. After one rally, I talked with a small group of high school students who had just enlisted, and asked them to not let what happened to me happen to them. Afterwards I was depressed, because I knew that there was nothing that could be done … it would happen anyway.

A few years ago, I went back to Vietnam. Former Viet Cong and NVA soldiers came up to me, shook my hand, said that we were friends now, and bought me a drink. Vietnam is now a thriving society, and I kept thinking that if we had just left them alone they would have reached this point many years sooner. I also thought that we are doing the same damn thing all over again in Iraq.

Today, when I hear voices of fear and hate and military force, I ask what kind of Americans will we be? Will we seek to be the best we can be as a people, and search for mutually constructive options to resolve the underlying causes of conflicts? Will we question who really benefits from our policies, and who really pays the costs? It is my hope that Americans will live up to the core values which we hold for ourselves and all human beings … the home that would never send us off to a meaningless war.




WFYI Essay: “Making a Place into a Home.”

Making a Place into a Home
Jim Walker
CEO of Big Car Collaborative

Placemaking is a relatively new term — even a buzzword — and one more and more people are using, sometimes incorrectly. As an artist who works to help make places for people, I was searching for a good metaphor that helps explain what placemaking really is. I found it thanks to David Engwicht, an Australian artist, writer, and placemaker. In his book, Street Reclaiming, David explains that placemaking is like homemaking — but for public places.

We understand the difference between a house and a home. An empty house— maybe abandoned or just between residents — isn’t anybody’s home. Once people are in the building, once they begin bringing in beds, sofa, lamps, kitchen table, desk, knickknacks for the shelves, art for the walls, it starts feeling like a home.

But the house isn’t there yet. Homemaking takes more than stuff. Home only happens when people are there in the kitchen eating breakfast, reading a book on the porch, talking with each other over dinner, dancing to music in the living room during a party. Home is a place where people share affection, where we feel connected with each other. Home is where we — hopefully — feel welcome and safe, where we play and have fun, where we feel comfortable putting our feet up and staying a while. Home is a place we’re in no hurry to leave.

In thinking about it this way, placemaking is really about bringing these warm, safe, and social feelings into public places. And, just as we know a house isn’t made a home without people, places aren’t made by nicely designed landscapes with plopped-in public art and shiny stone benches. The key ingredient to a made place is people being there. This takes amenities and activities — often associated with home — that invite us to stay, to linger and connect with each other. These might be comfortable seats for taking a break, tables and for eating lunch, games to play with new friends, music to enjoy, opportunities for conversations and for people of all ages to get creative.

Today, our society struggles with people living in isolation, with families and real-life social networks frayed as we spend more time with technology than each other. Too often, we’re in such a hurry — imagined or otherwise — that we rarely spend time on neighborhood sidewalks or in our public places where we might mingle and spontaneously connect with our fellow citizens. And that’s why making and sustaining places that bring people together is so important. We all need and deserve that feeling of home, of knowing we’re in a place where we belong.

= = = = = =

Each year Spirit & Place partners with WFYI on a series of essays on the annual theme. Listen to them here.

WFYI Essay: “The Joy of Many Homes.”

The Joy of Many Homes
James H. Madison
Emeritus Professor of History at Indiana University     

As we crossed the state line at Richmond, coming back from visiting their grandparents, I always made my kids sing “Back Home Again in Indiana.”

Since those long-ago trips, a pessimist might say, home has withered away. We have no home in our mobile and, oh, so global society. I don’t sit on the front porch on Sunday waiting for family coming home. My kids and grandkids live in other states and come home only a few times a year.

Home is not gone, but it has changed, from one particular place to many. The place of my childhood is gone but survives in memory. So do the places I’ve lived in over the decades. My many homes are a blessing.

Two of my favorite homes are overseas, one in England, the other in Japan. I lived a year in Whitstable and another in Saijo. Sometimes I was a homesick foreigner. Watching “Breaking Away” on TV that year in Japan I nearly cried over scenes of my Indiana hometown. But in both places I was welcomed by people who became friends. They taught me to like warm beer and sushi. Those two towns became hometowns and remain so in my memory.

I even have homes in places I’ve never lived. I’m lucky to have met people from all over. In the 1970s two hipsters from Berkeley joined our cooking group. They brought recipes for Mexican dishes when I barely knew a taco. I’ve been to Berkeley only once, but these close friends cause me still to imagine I know that California town.

For three years I mentored a young Muslim student studying at Indiana University. She cooked her country’s food for us, showed us pictures, talked about the beauty of the seaside. I now own Indiana’s major collection of swag from Azerbaijan. I’ve not yet been to her hometown of Baku, but I can imagine it.

That’s the key. To know and imagine a place and its people, from Berkeley to Baku, from Whitstable to Saijo. Food and swag help, but it’s the people. Hoosiers, Californians, Japanese, English—-folks, so different, yet with doors to their homes. We must knock and wait for the greeting “whose ‘er.” We must connect. And we remember, if we’re lucky, there is always an Indiana home to return to.

= = = = =

Each year Spirit & Place partners with WFYI on a series of essays on the annual theme. Listen to them here.

WFYI Essay: “Fostering Home”


fullsizerender-4Fostering Home
By Elizabeth Friedland
Foster mother and Director of Communications at Appirio

As a single, childless woman, my home is a shrine to myself, built and designed around no one’s interests or tastes or preferences but mine. Or at least it was until recently when I decided to voluntarily launch myself into single parenthood and become a foster mother.

In the blink of an eye – or more specifically, the phone call of a caseworker – my space was forever and instantly changed. On that fateful afternoon in May, my immaculate and quiet retreat was suddenly filled with the cries of a two-month-old baby girl in desperate need of safe and stable home.

We’re a little ad hoc family, this tiny beautiful girl and I. There are no guarantees with a foster child. No firm timeline that outlines how long we might get to stay together, or when or if she might return to her biological family. While our home together may be temporary, our bond is surely permanent. Though she may not ever remember the home of her infancy – the cream rugs now splattered with applesauce and the hallway that smells of baby lotion – we’ve forever shaped each other. She is my daughter and I am her mother until she is no longer my daughter and I am no longer her mother.

As time passes, our hearts will continue to grow and swell with our strengthening bond, while the physical space around us becomes smaller and more cramped. Those applesauce-stained rugs will be imprinted with her first steps. The baby lotion scented hallway will become a runway for her to toddle down.

A small part of me will breathe a sigh of relief when my home returns to the way it was before a newborn first took over – when the living room looked more like a museum than a daycare. And yet I will be crushed when my home is no longer hers. When her giggles and coos and lopsided, one-dimpled smiles become ghosts that linger inside these walls.

I used to measure the completeness of my home by how closely it resembled my Pinterest inspiration boards or the West Elm catalogue. Now when I glance around the space at the end of the day, it isn’t the beauty of a new sofa or a prized art print that makes me feel satisfied. It’s knowing that, at least for one more day, Baby Girl and I are a family together in this perfectly imperfect yet totally priceless home.

= = = = =

Each year Spirit & Place partners with WFYI on a series of essays on the annual theme. Listen to them here.