So lately I have been feeling envious of turtles. When I was a kid, a teacher once told us about how fortunate turtles are because they have their homes with them. My vision was that the shell would be like Snoopy’s dog house, outfitted with a sofa and a pool table, all comfy and safe. What a gift it must be for turtles to know where home is because it is always on your back. Of course, after seeing a couple of Eastern box turtles smashed by cars, I knew that no one’s home is really safer than anyone else’s home.
But to just actually know where home is seemed to be such a blessing. Figuring that I might have another twenty years left at the most if I’m lucky, it seems that the security and sense of place that you want for your last chapter is shifting for me. I’m not much of a cry baby although I was as a young ‘un. As an adult, I roll with the punches only crying when really, really pissed off and feeling powerless. But there I was, two weeks ago, with tears pouring out as I got settled in my seat for the twelve hour flight back to the US. It’s not like I had not left Israel before after a visit to get back to a life busy with work and friends. Something was different. Two days later, as I looked around my home and walked through the town, I realized that my shell had been dislodged and was askew on my back. It was as if a tremor had shifted my sense of place from a native New Englander to someone with a strange sense of yearning. What the heck is going on, I thought.
And then this happened. I remembered that often when I spoke to someone in Israel who asked how long I would be staying and I would say “I’m going home on….” I would be interrupted with “This is home. So when are you leaving?” This happened several times, once in chorus while speaking at the Women in Green vigil. In response to my “I’ll be going home…” the group response was “this is your home”. My morning walk here is along Cape Cod Bay; in Jerusalem, it was from the apartment in the city center to the Old City, Kotel and back taking different routes to familiarize myself with neighborhoods. One route with iPod, one with the sounds of the city, changing with each neighborhood but always recognizable as the sounds of Jerusalem.
When Paula Stern wrote her TOI piece entitled What Are You Waiting For?, I responded that it’s complicated for older people on limited incomes without families in Israel to make that decision which is my situation. Others commented about the religious divide that sometimes separates Jew from Jew and whether less observant Jews are welcome in Israel. But, I think Paula’s on to something. What the heck were we post-WWII kids putting all those quarters in the Jewish National Fund blue boxes if not to create a home for all Jews? What was the point of singing Hatikvah in Hebrew school with little blue and white flags in our pudgy hands when we were kids? Not the Star Spangled Banner, but Hatikvah. Was it just 1950’s pro-Israel propaganda or were we being given a message? Why do we call it the diaspora if we don’t really believe that dispersion is a negative result of historical events? And is the point of Birthright/Taglit to create more pro-Israeli advocates or to remind the next generation that there is indeed a Jewish homeland that is vastly different than the diaspora? What does “home” really mean for the now and future of Jews? Too much? Maybe and maybe Paula’s piece was too much, but I can’t for the life of me figure out why that would be so. And there’s the dilemma. Does it matter for the future of Jewry that the ingathering take place? Yes, it does. Maybe more so for those in the Ukraine or France now for reasons of personal safety, but it does matter. If it does not matter, what is the point of a Jewish homeland? How can I be homesick for somewhere that I have never lived?
For those of us who are not Orthodox, it might sometimes feel as if we do not have a stake in our religious sites or that we do not have the right to use the terms “religious Zionist” or “biblical Zionist”. But we do if we believe our history of 4000 years in this place.That is the point of a Jewish nation in this particular place on the globe. When on the Temple Mount or among the crowd at the Kotel, it feels like home. Surely at Rachel’s Tomb and even more in Hevron at the Ma’arat Hamachpela. There is nowhere in the United States where I have had the rush of emotions when visiting that I have had at those places. Nowhere at all.
So now that the process has begun, application started, documents gathered, etc., I worry about the logistics and the pending approval for Aliyah (has any Jew without a nasty criminal record been denied the right of return?). I worry about having to talk about it all the time as I spend my last summer in this little resort town (but I don’t worry that some people think I have lost my mind). I worry about moving stuff, getting rid of stuff, and finding housing. I worry about isolation in a new place with a new language. I worry about good wireless so I can still work on projects to which I am committed. I worry about leaving behind a couple of much loved people. But what I don’t worry about is whether Israel is “home”. That question was asked and answered a very long time ago.