After three years of living in the ’hood, and with a mixture of sadness and excitement, I’m moving to the ’wood — Beverlywood, a more residential and quieter section on the “Upper West Side” of Pico-Robertson.
On the surface, it feels like I’m going from downtown to the suburbs; from the jazzy to the leafy; from the playing field to the nosebleeds.
Another view, though, is that I’m actually moving to the “heart” of the ’hood. Beverlywood has a heavy concentration of Modern Orthodox families who can boast of having the ultimate Shabbat gathering place: a modern-day public square called Circle Park.
Circle Park is the beating heart of Beverlywood. On any Shabbat afternoon, the locals and their children will slowly trickle in and spend several hours just hanging out.
For families who don’t drive, watch TV or use computers on Shabbat, a park where kids can play and parents can schmooze is an ideal time-killer, especially during the long summer days.
My kids love Circle Park. Our new house is half a block away, so I assume we’ll be regular visitors, and I’ll be more in tune with the local happenings.
As it turns out, on our first Friday night in our new place, I was invited to speak at one of the bigger shuls in Beverlywood, Congregation Mogen David.
I couldn’t help but speak about the move, but I found myself speaking more about the old house than the new one. My mood was somber and reflective, maybe because we had just finished the period of Tisha B’Av. In a fit of near-blasphemous exaggeration, I spoke about how leaving a home full of great memories was like seeing your own personal temple get taken down.
I spoke about the shock of seeing an empty dining room, where hundreds of holiday meals and classes had occurred. I spoke about seeing an empty kitchen, where my kids had gathered every morning and every night, and where my mother once served moufletas for a packed house at Mimouna, a North African post-Passover celebration.
I spoke about seeing emptiness everywhere. An empty living room where we had my daughter’s sweet 16; where the Happy Minyan and JconnectLA came for Shabbatons; and where guests would learn all night long on Shavuot.
So while I was excited about moving to Beverlywood, for some reason I couldn’t stop talking about the old house. The new house looked great, but it had no memories yet, just promises.
The old house had all the memories — and it had already delivered on its promises.
Just when I needed it three years ago, it had given my kids something they’d never had: a cozy Jewish neighborhood. Instead of the sushi bars and trendy boutiques of West Hollywood, we now had Pico Glatt, Jeff’s Gourmet and 40 shuls to pick from.
We had a village.
We were now leaving that house and village for other ones nearby. Where would all the memories go — the memories that were engrained in the walls of the house we could no longer see?
Luckily for me, there was something in the parasha — Vaetchanan — that helped answer that question. It came from one of my favorite Jewish thinkers, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, chief rabbi of the United Kingdom.
Rabbi Sacks took one word from the parasha — shema (hear) — and ran with it. He explained how there were two civilizations in antiquity that shaped the culture of the West: ancient Greece and ancient Israel. The Greeks were the supreme masters of the visual arts: art, sculpture, architecture and the theater.
The Jews were different. God, the sole object of worship, is invisible, and reveals Himself only through speech. Therefore, the supreme religious act in Judaism is to listen. Ancient Greece was a culture of the eye; ancient Israel a culture of the ear.
The Greeks worshipped what they saw; Israel worshipped what they heard.
So as I spoke Friday night, I realized that a lot of my sadness about the old house originated in my eyes — what I saw and could not see. I could no longer see the visual cues that held all those great memories. My heart saw only the emptiness of lost memories.
But Rabbi Sacks’ meditation suggested that perhaps our deepest memories come not from what we see, but from what we hear.
And upon reflection, it’s true that even in our colorful old house, my most meaningful moments came from what I heard — the singing at the Shabbat table, the stories of our guests, the words of the teachers, the jokes and laughter of my children.
No matter how cool the kids’ rooms look, it is my ability to hear them — hear their needs, their ideas and their stories — that will create the deepest bonds and memories.
That will hold true whether we’re walking on Pico Boulevard, or hanging out in a beautiful park in Beverlywood.