Friday, July 11, 2014

Born In The USA But My Heart Is In The East

“I was born in the US, but I am originally from Israel,” is how my American-born daughter described herself in a second  grade personal narrative booklet.  The statement must have surprised her teacher, but I felt that it made sense.
My two daughters were born in the Midwest during our long stay in the US. Although we were not sure whether we would ever return to Israel, we spoke Hebrew at home, taught the girls  to read and write Hebrew, and at bedtime read to them from Israeli children's books.  Still, we always lived in American neighborhoods, they attended public school, had American friends and when they read on their own it was always in English. 
Since I was born in Israel it was clear to me that my “real home” was Israel, but until I read my daughter’s biography I hadn’t  imagined that her idea of a real home was not the one that our family had in Texas.
When we were at university in the US we met a young cousin who told us that he planned to move to Israel once he graduated from university. “But you don’t know if you’d like it, you have never been there,”  I said in amazement, and he answered: “ I just know.”  He has been in Israel now for over 30 years
Longing for a “real home” from afar is an old Jewish tradition; for centuries diaspora Jews  have been  yearning for Zion. They have kept Jerusalem in their prayers, vowing never to forget it and wishing to be "next year in Jerusalem."
In the 12th century Spain the Hebrew poet Yehuda Halevi wrote:

My heart is in the East
My heart is in the East, and I am at the ends of the West;
How can I taste what I eat and how could it be pleasing to me?
How shall I render my vows and my bonds, while yet
Zion lies beneath the fetter of Edom, and I am in the chains of Arabia?
It would be easy for me to leave all the bounty of Spain --
As it is precious for me to behold the dust of the desolate sanctuary.

As a poet  and a religious Jew, Halevi expressed his longings for Zion as a place and as a symbol, I, as a secular Israeli,  just missed my parents’ home in Israel. But although I had a concrete vision of that home, the  Israel that we encountered once we returned there was very different from the one that we had imagined.
 My daughter was quick to point it out; coming back from a social activity with her new class mates in Tel Aviv, she announced that "our" Israel was all wrong. She was right, my husband and I left Israel when we were in our early twenties and never experienced what it meant to live in Israel as grown- ups.  What we presented to our daughters as "home" was a fantasy made up of our childhood memories and the old fictional stories that we read as children.
Thus in our late thirties we finally had to grow up and reconcile our dreams with the  reality, which we found in our new home in Israel.
When I skated in the park today I listened to an episode of This American Life (number 130 from 1999): “Away from Home,” and  heard Ira Glass addressing the attachment to a faraway home.  I feel that his explanation of that metaphysical connection, whether it is place or a group of people, is beautiful:
“There's an uncanny quality when you fall in love. And there's an uncanny quality to finding the home you've never had. And at some level, what is there to say? What makes home feel like home? The fact that it feels like home.”

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