October 20, 2017 | 30 Tishrei 5778
Photo by Ellen Blum Barish
A Living Tabernacle
by Ellen Blum Barish

Prompted by Sukkot, which just ended last week, and by our sanctuary project which is now underway, I find myself thinking about the residential ride of a dear childhood friend.

Several years ago, she sold her family home, one that her architect father designed. It was a spectacular, floor-to-ceiling-windowed contemporary house positioned perfectly to catch the morning and setting sun, nestled by tall pines beside a trickling stream and frequent visits by shy deer.

My friend, an abstract painter, and her husband, an architect, lived and raised their daughter there until a combination of her parents’ deaths, her husband’s job loss and rising maintenance costs forced them to put it up for sale. Most of their furniture, items chosen by her parents, had to be sold.

At first, the move was excruciating, like letting go of pieces of her heart. Living in that house so long, as a child and as a parent, had, in many ways, defined her.

But in the years since that move, these dear friends for whom a house is more than merely a roof over one’s head, extraordinary things have happened.

Immediately after the sale, a housesitting arrangement materialized for them, providing them with a short-term living arrangement until an affordable rental became available. When that carriage house she had been eyeing went vacant, they moved in with a short-term rental agreement.

As the weeks passed in this less tethered, more wandering state, during our long phone conversations, I noticed a calmness, even a melodic tone, in her voice. She said she felt a lightness in her step. She was settling into the unsettledness.

When a job came through for her husband out of state, they packed up their significantly reduced collection of things and moved to a one-bedroom rental apartment. I worried that this bump would shake her. Though she acknowledged that this new chapter of her life was less grounded, she said it was infusing her with more flexibility, more ease of movement. In a short time, her work life became less space-specific, as well. She began to travel to teach and coach painting all over the United States.

In the past months, her husband’s work scenario has changed once again. They may face another move. My heart aches at the thought.

But hers does not. While my friend has been imprinted by the house she lived in for fifty years, it doesn’t define her. She carries the essence of her childhood home – the memories, feelings and sensations – inside of her; she embodies that house now. 

Perhaps even more poignantly, leaving so much stuff behind and taking only what was necessary has allowed space for her to discover new parts of herself. Even her paintings are more expansive now.

She is a modern example of someone comfortable with temporary shelter. Her living spaces may be transient but she makes herself at home in them. Her life is a beautiful illustration of our prompt from Exodus 25:8, the moment when God says to Moses, “Create for me a sanctuary and I will dwell among them.” I have come to think of her as a moving, flesh and blood tabernacle, someone who has internalized what is externally beautiful. A lightened load and more mobility allows room not only for her to grow but also, for something bigger.

Something like God.

If you’d like to share your thoughts with the congregation on what sanctuary means to you - a time in which you felt like a sanctuary dwelled within you, or how we can extend sanctuary to those who need it, feel free to reach out to Ellen Blum Barish and David Barish
E llen Blum Barish  has been an active member of the Beth Emet community in a variety of ways since she and her husband, David joined the synagogue in 1996. She became a bat mitzvah in her late 30s, taught fifth grade religious school, managed the Beth Emet blog and produced a Jewish storytelling show featuring Beth Emet writers. Outside of the synagogue, Ellen teaches writing at Northwestern University and Columbia College and edits the literary publications  Thread and Stitch . Her features and essays have appeared in  Newsweek Self The Chicago Tribune Tablet Literary Mama Full Grown People , and have aired on Chicago Public Radio. She is currently working on a memoir. For more about Ellen, go to  www.ellenblumbarish.com .
In Exodus 25:8, God says to Moses, “Create for me a sanctuary, and I will dwell among them.” These words set the building of the Tabernacle into motion. But the verse’s ending has an interesting grammatical anomaly. Instead of telling the Israelites to create a sanctuary so God can dwell within it, the wording suggests that the dwelling may be amon g the people, or within them, suggesting that God can live within us rather than exclusively in a physical sanctuary. This year at Beth Emet we’ll explore the multiples meanings of sanctuary—as physical space to gather as a community for prayer, as spiritual space where we feel safe and whole, and as an attitude that is welcoming and accepting of everyone.

This weekly e-mail project, curated by David and Ellen Barish, allows congregants to express themselves in any of a variety of media: speechmaking, poetry, essay, story, photography, film, paint, sculpture, printmaking, textile, sound or music. If you'd like to contribute, please email Ellen and/or David .

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Beth Emet The Free Synagogue
1224 Dempster Street
 Evanston, IL 60202

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