Over the past year, my wife Laura and I have had the special privilege to host over 250 young adults in our home for various big holiday celebrations. While we may never be "out of COVID," this year allowed us, after almost two years, to celebrate and to be actually present with others during these times of great joy.
On Simchat Torah, Chanukah, Purim, Passover, and Yom Ha'Atzmaut, our goal was to have young adults not just enter our home, but to have them travel to a "temporary world"--as author Priya Parker puts it--when they walk through the front door. We wanted to pull them away from the mundane, day-to-day of their professional lives, and re-ignite their energy for joyously gathering in a community with other young Jews.
Whether they are stomping their feet in a circle dancing around the Torah, or are served a chocolate martini with a side of gelt, or show up to see the rabbi dressed as the blue Power Ranger, our Basers know that when they come into our home, anything is possible.
As a Base couple, Laura and I spend a tremendous amount of time thinking about how we can best host people in our homes. How can we be most welcoming? What's on the menu? What color should the door streamers be? What's on the playlist? What do we want them to leave with? Leftover food? Or "soul food" to chew on?
When we invite young Jews into our home, we want them to want for nothing. All are royalty. All are the guests of honor. That is our primary goal. But there is more: The Zohar teaches us that when we host on a holiday, we are not just hosting the human guests, but the holiday itself. The holidays are real guests in our homes, and each has a distinct personality. This we know from our personal experiences.
For me, I know that Passover is on its way when I smell the apple raisin
in the oven just before the Seder begins. I know Chanukah has walked through the door when I smell the
(moroccan donut) that Laura has fried up. The
reminds me that it is time to leave Egypt; the
that miracles are all around me if I would just open my eyes.
It has been a tough few years. And yet, this year has reminded me of the wondrous moments and guests we have had inside of our Base. On Yom HaAtzma'ut, after grilling what felt like a thousand burgers, we gathered to sing as an offering of gratitude. Yom HaAtzma'ut is the special guest that tells me and our Basers that I can live my dreams if only we will it.
The emotional height of that night was when we, 50 young adults in our West Loop apartment, concluded our singing with
, Israel's national anthem, which describes the hope of the Jewish people and our resilience to never give up our hope.
Rabbi Angela Buchdahl brilliantly explains that Jews are "prisoners of hope." That night, amidst the blue and white glitter sprinkled all around, and the smell of fresh
wafting in the air, we all traveled to the Land of Hope. I cannot wait to see who comes over next, and where we travel together as a community.
As part of Metro Chicago Hillel, Rav Ezra Balser and his wife Laura run Base Loop out of their home in the West Loop neighborhood of Chicago.