Not a typo. Reading it, your mind may have made an automatic correction, more used to reading the more common phrases ‘what am I’ or ‘where am I?’ But the question ‘when am I?’ is one you commonly ask yourself in Israel. I type this post on the way to Tel Aviv after a long day of touring, traveling from the upper-Galilee. Thinking back on the day I’ve been in the 16th century (Safed and the mystics who created kabbalah), the 3rd century (Beit Sh’arim where Rabbi Judah the Prince is buried), and of course in the 21st century (lunch in an oh so familiar Israeli mall and its food court). And when I arrive in Tel Aviv, I’ll be a little bit in the future. Meanwhile, on our bus, the three native Israelis, all of whom will be voting in tomorrow’s elections, have been arguing politics non-stop. When am I indeed?
Of course one of the reasons to come to Israel is to answer precisely that question. Modern life tends to tell you the ‘when’ you are in is right now, the immediate present. What you are doing at any given moment is the most important thing. But Judaism considers time in a different way. There is a deep past, a history and narrative that goes back thousands of years. There is a future time, a goal, an idea that we are all engaged in some mysterious long term plan. And there is the present. But the present is a bridge between the past and the future as much as it exists for its own sake. And the past is lived every day. Last but not least, every action we take has an impact on the future.
So there you have it. When am I? The answer is yes. In the past, in the present, in the future. In Jewish life, the intersection of these space/times is the land of Israel. In the future, the results of this election. Tomorrow, the election. Yesterday? A path that leads precisely to now. And today? All of that and more. No disrespect meant to H.G. Wells, but no time machine needed.