“So how does it feel to be back?” Intuition tells me that people have a response in mind when they ask me what it is like to be back in the States after five months living in Israel. During those five months, we felt as though we were really living there – grocery shopping, cooking, having guests, being hosted, taking buses.
“So how does it feel to be back?” The question implies that we are back home rather than just back to the place we left, and therein lies the first gap. Both places are home in different respects. In America we have a son, daughter in law, five grandchildren, two mothers, four siblings, nieces and nephews. In Israel we have a daughter, son in law, six grandchildren, one sibling, nieces and nephews. In America we own a house we are fond of; in Israel we rent an apartment we are fond of. In America we have a shul and a circle of friends; ditto for Israel. So, on paper the balance sheet looks pretty even. Except that those are not the only factors. Family is a biggie but the unnamed biggie is my neshomo.
Rabbi Yehuda HaLevi beat me to it – libi baMizrach, va’anochi besof Maarav. My body is in the far West, but my heart is in the East. This week is the yahrzeit of the three boys who were kidnapped and murdered last summer. Last summer I was in Israel, helping my daughter with the household. I played hooky one night and accompanied my friend to a dinner party. In the middle of the party, one of the guests got a call from his soldier daughter saying that they had found the three bodies. It was one of those “Where were you when Kennedy got shot?” moments. We were all devastated and dumbstruck. The rest of the evening was just going through the motions. Everyone’s thoughts were elsewhere. Everyone felt that those boys were their nephews, and we were plunged into collective mourning. You know how you want to be with family in times of crisis, to comfort one another, even if it is wordlessly? That’s how I feel. I feel that all Israel is my family, and I need to hunker down with them.
Today is the Salute to Israel Parade. It is a joyous event and a wonderful expression of American Jews’ love of Israel. But it is a pale shadow of actually being there.
I remember when my brother made aliyah with his wife and children. As I watched his plane take off, I felt as though he and I were attached by a rubber band, and that band was stretching about as far as it possibly could without snapping in two. And that is how I feel about being separated from Jerusalem. I am stretched taut.
In Israel I am wildly busy with all manner of activities – some fun, some educational, some charitable. My American friends tell us, “You are living our dream.” Well, we feel blessed and wish they were following suit. But in truth, I find ways to fill my time in the US in meaningful ways. I enroll in classes, go on hikes, meet friends – the same things I do in Israel. But hiking the Manasquan Reservoir is not as fulfilling as hiking the Judean Hills. In harei Yehuda, my neshomo puts on hiking boots and off we go together. When I take in the sights, I feel that my eyes are delivering messages of profound contentment to my soul.
America saved my grandparents from Hitler and from the Cossacks. I owe my life to America and will always be mindful of that. But our ancient forefathers entered into an eternal covenant with the Land of Israel, and I want to honor that commitment. Right now, I am blessed with fulfilling the mitzvah of honoring parents, so I have to be in the States for just over half the year. But libi baMizrach.
“So how does it feel to be back?” It feels as though I am living life in black –and-white, waiting to go back to my Technicolor landscape. There is a stark beauty to black-and-white. One can see all the same images in those two colors as one sees in the complete spectrum from violet to red, but I miss the fullness of the rainbow, even when darker colors overtake the light. It feels like a parallel life, but one lived in an electrical brown-out, when the power grid is diminished and everything is a bit dimmer. I am a lady-in-waiting, waiting to return to my true self. I am waiting to touch down in Ben Gurion and hear people ask, “So how does it feel to be back?”