Driving from Sydney airport through the outskirts of the city towards the suburbs in which I grew up, I am struck by the cleanness and the greenness of it all. Recycle bins sit neatly in driveways next to trimmed green footpaths in wide tree lined streets. Garden fronts are clean, houses are complete, councils are proud. Sydney is a magnificent city, especially in the summer. As we drive down towards Bondi beach I catch a glimpse of a depth of blue only found in the ocean and I open my window to take in the familiar scent of the summers of my teenage years.
I have missed it all; the largeness of living in a big city, the effortless flow of traffic, of order, of business. I miss the retail outlets and the ludicrous speed at which fashion is churned out and shop windows are changed. I miss the second hand bookstore where you can pick up a ''Dr Seuss'' for a few dollars and a coffee for a few more. I miss houses with views and pools filled with cousins who splash past discussing digital technologies I can''t keep up with. I miss ''granny''s chicken'' and Friday night dinner with my brothers and sisters and their mass of children of all ages and interests.
We returned to Sydney for my nephew''s bar mitzvah which took place in our local synagogue. I look down from the open woman''s section to the bustling boys club below and see my father and brothers, nephews and cousins, brothers in law, uncles, ex''s and boyfriends, all mingling together, hovering around the ancient traditions of their ancestors, some more proficient than others, and I am deeply moved. The rabbi makes a point of talking to me at the casual and elegant function that takes place the next day in my sisters lovely back yard, he knows my time in Israel has been hard, he reaches out without judgement.
I remember the first time I went to Sephardi synagogue in a small moshav near Lod. There was no back section for the women, no gallery overlooking the service; in fact it there was no place for women at all. I was shocked to see tables being dragged outside in the late cold evening for the women, one of whom was my friend''s mother, whose mothers Hazkarah we were attending. I must have raised my Ashkenazi brow and stomped my little feminist feet a little more than usual because finally the men conceded defeat and let us sit at two tables at the back of the hall, though of course I broke rank and sat next to my friend, amongst the men, dafka to prove a point. Much as I love the cultural diversity of this nation, this was an Israel to which I would never adjust.
Here in Sydney, by mid morning our local synagogue fills with teenagers who loiter on the staircase wearing their flirtatious best and children who do the ''candy round'', knowing exactly where to find the soft hearted and sweet toothed old men who will hand them candy while their fathers are too busy networking to notice. Later they will flock to the bima to fill their pockets with more candy as it rains down from the women''s section showering the bar mitzvah boy upon finishing his first Torah reading. During the service wives sign to their husbands about the whereabouts of children and car keys and daughters check out their potentials below who pretend to daven unnoticed. Before the Rabbi begins his almost always political sermon, he looks up to the grandmothers and mothers and congratulates them addressing them warmly and even though I am no longer a ''hoser btshuvah'' I feel at home in this expansive community with all its gashmius and orthodox conservatism.
The weeks fly by with celebrations and reunions, old friends and family, familiar faces, a million questions and the constant reminder of a life rich in wealth, contacts and friendships. I came with two suitcases and am leaving with three. My father inquires about my overweight baggage. I explain; of course I can buy bed linen in Israel, but not this quality, price or choice and most importantly here I can see at a glance what the sheets are made from, and whether they are king or queen, fitted or not and if they come with pillow slips. Here I can buy jeans for my girls and know that they will wash and fit well. Here I can buy little cotton cardigans and bra''s for less than a week''s rent and I here I can buy Ugg boots and vegemite.
We stop over in Hong Kong to break up the return trip. We arrive at the El Al counter for our security check where we are asked the usual questions. Why don’t you speak Hebrew? I refer to my seven year old who is fluent. Then the balagan begins. A mass of fellow Israeli''s travelling together arrive. The security tables are too close to the check in counter and of course there is no one to take charge, no one to direct the flow of traffic. Suddenly my overweight bags are shoved to one side, my children to the other. The women issuing my boarding passes is asking for my passports which are in the bag I can''t reach because there are fifteen Israelis with their loud voices and their big puffed up chests and their attitude and their overweight bags standing between me and my calm. I try getting the bags off the trolley to put them on the scale but they are too heavy and my trolley is now awkwardly positioned between women with sharp red finger nails and men with big bellies all complaining in loud voices about the flight that has been delayed by three hours. I strip down to my T-shirt and tie my sweatshirt around my waste and in my best Australian accent I swear to myself before saying out loud ''It feels like we''re in Israel already'' , and then, and only then, does someone step in to help me.
The flight is full and the service is bad but I take sweet revenge in answering the survey handed out on board. I never called Australia home until now, I miss my sister already.