Pilgrimage is a pillar of all three major world religions. Although prayer is possible from anywhere in the world, physical travel to sacred monuments allows for a tangible connection to the history of belief.
I had the privilege to travel to such a monument. It is perhaps not as well known as the Wailing Wall, the Dome of the Rock, or the Vatican, but it shares a beautiful location, extensive security, and famous inhabitants.
It’s Barack Obama’s house in Hyde Park, Chicago.
The leafy neighborhood of Hyde Park has wide, quiet streets and dignified craftsman and colonial houses. Concrete blockades and signs at the entrance to Obama’s street inform visitors that “by entering this area, you are consenting to a search of your person and belongings,” but pedestrian access to the street is otherwise unimpaired.
The Obamas’ modest house stands across the street from a brick synagogue, Temple KAM Isaiah Israel. The synagogue’s intriguing architecture includes a domed roof and a towering minaret, congruent with the Moorish style of the synagogue’s sanctuary.
During the 2008 presidential campaign, the synagogue endured stringent security measures, according to Executive Director Tal Rosen.
“If someone was coming to the synagogue, they had to wait at the checkpoint and have the Secret Service call in and confirm that they were going to the synagogue, and then we had to go out and meet them,” Rosen said. “It was a hassle, but it does make you feel safe.”
Secret Service agents on duty at the President’s house do inform passersby that unless they are headed to the synagogue, they should not be on the road. However, this policy does not seem to be incredibly strictly enforced.
The two agents on duty at the time were quite amiable. One of them, an officer in the Chicago Police Force, told us he used to be an attorney. When my 10-year-old brother said that he thought it would be cool to be a Secret Service agent, the officer advised him to “stay out of trouble, do well in school, and don’t do drugs. It’s an important job.” Then he gave my brother a Secret Service lapel pin and posed for a picture.
Yes, even Obama’s home security agents are chill.
And the coolest thing is that the house next door is for sale.