Now that we have been here in Israel for a cumulative ten months in three consecutive years, I can’t help ruminating about the concept of “home.” I am not at all clear about what constitutes one’s home. I have lots of theories, and I think one of them wins out. There are innumerable cultural references to home that offer clues. “Home is where the heart is.” “Home is just another word for you” (Rabbi Billy Joel). “…where seldom is heard a discouraging word” (not to mention the deer and the antelope frolicking). “El Al: ha-chi babayit ba’olam” (“the most at-home in the world”).
There is some measure of truth to all of them. Well, maybe not the infrequent “discouraging word” part. “Home is just another word for you” carries a lot of weight. I feel most secure when I am travelling with my husband. He is my locus. I feel very grounded when I am with him. He is not overprotective but I know he is there for me in times of trouble. (Oh, great. Now I am humming “Let it Be.” Another ear worm.) But not everyone has a spouse or significant other, and they do have a place they call home, so that definition is flawed. I need to imagine where and what my home would be absent Allen’s presence.
When I turn to the Tanakh for direction, my first thoughts turn to Lekh Lekha. Gd tells Abraham, Go forth from your land, your birthplace, your father’s house. So I infer that these are all elements of home, because in effect Abraham is being asked to abandon the home he knows and go to “the place I will show you,” his new and permanent home, the place that will be an inheritance for his future progeny.
To personalize that thought, my home has been the US, my birthplace and the scene of my childhood was Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, and my father’s house remains in America, where my widowed mother is living out her years. My cultural touchstones and my foundational memories are all in the US.
I remember my grandparents, who died when I was ten. I remember my father taking me to the corner candy store to buy a Charlotte Russe, that push-up confection on a stick made of sponge cake and real whipped cream. Friends, books, movies, plays, games, school, shul, vacations, language, music – all these powerfully hearken back to decades spent in America. When it comes to children and grandchildren, I am split. I have a son, daughter in law and five grandkids in America, and a daughter, son in law and six grandkids in Israel.
That factors into the definition of home but does not commit it one way or the other. The fact that my daughter ended up choosing to live in Israel is a result, at least in large part, of Zionism having been a topic of positive discussion in our home her entire life.
I have been travelling to Israel since I was nineteen, and have been in love with it since that first visit. I have close family in Israel. We sent our kids to yearlong programs in Israel. I find that rather than saying, “When I get home, I will…,” I am instead saying, “When I get back to the States….” How did that happen?
For one thing, I am a shomeret mitzvot, to the extent possible. I believe that settling the land of Israel is one of the 613 commandments, so how could I claim to be authentic if I just arbitrarily discounted one of them out of hand. (Hmmm…sort of the way I do with lashon hara…. A foolish consistency….) That is a major contributor to my concept of Israel as home.
Second and third are the goals I set for myself when we started spending chunks of time here. I was going to set up a weekly routine and I was going to create a group of friends. Thankfully, both have materialized. My week is comprised of regular shiurim, volunteer opportunities, concerts, travel, and so on. And we have joined a precious community of like-minded Anglo olim with whom we feel comfortable and actually close. And, fortunately, thanks to my yeshiva education, I am comfortable in the Hebrew language, which is a huge benefit.
So there it is. I feel that my home is in Israel. It is a combination of family, friends, patriotism, everyday life and religious mandate. I have to go back to the States for large chunks of time to care for my mother and mother in law, but at some point that will no longer be the case. And I cannot go for too long without pinching the cheeks of those American grandchildren. But I know how I feel when I leave here, and it doesn’t feel right.
When I am elsewhere, I long for Israel. I feel I belong here. I feel whole here. I feel holier here. I feel at home. Ha-chi babayit ba’olam.