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    Where I stopped – Mass’ei

    trainParashat Mass’ei – which describes the journeys and stopping places of the Children of Israel in the wilderness – reminds me of an early stage in my career when I was Religious Director of the Association for Jewish Youth in Britain.

    I travelled all over the British Isles, mostly by train. Luton, Letchworth, Leicester, I visited youth clubs in all these and many other places. What I hardly ever saw was the place itself.

    Yes, I got to the railway station, was met there and taken to the club, eventually got back to the station and took the last train back to London. Sometimes I fell asleep in the train and woke up with a start at Paddington or St. Pancras.

    In later years I sometimes revisited the cities I had been to in my AJY days, but this time I didn’t see much of the city either. I was there as a tourist and went where the tour guides took us. Did I discover who the local people were, how they lived, what happened there in historic times, what was worth knowing about their way of life? Rarely.

    That’s why every year when we read Parashat Mass’ei I am annoyed with myself. That’s why when the commentators elaborate on the Israelites’ stopping places they remind us of what happened in each place.

    That’s why when one takes a tour it’s often best not to follow the organised program but to wander and watch. The things to see and remember are not the town halls, public buildings and statues, but the people.

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