It was less the time we spent visiting my family in America over Pesach, and more our return to Israel last week, that made me realize just how much I’ve managed to pass on the bittersweetness of being an immigrant to my native-born Israeli children.
Our 9 1/2-year-old, in particular, has been incredibly nostalgic and wistful since we got back. He keeps talking about the food in America — comfort food of all sorts, but especially Mexican food. He misses the way people are so friendly and welcoming even to strangers (though he did point out that in Israel, unlike in the US, multiple people a day demonstrate their concern for him by pointing out his untied shoelaces to ensure he doesn’t trip). We both miss the vastness of everything, from stores where you can turn around without knocking over merchandise, to parking lots where you almost never have to search for a free spot, to multi-hour drives without running into a border or the sea.
Most of all, we both long for the proximity to people, grieve the missed opportunity to live near family and childhood friends; in its place, our relationships with them exist in the space of intense bursts a year or two apart rather than as mundane parts of daily life. And, having built an essentially complete life here, I am fully aware that were we to uproot ourselves and move back to America, we would simply be trading such jagged, intermittent interactions with loved ones there for those with our family and friends here. We are forever locked into this liminal space.
And yet, coming back to our lives here — landing in Israel as our nation moves together into Yom HaShoah, Yom HaZikaron, Yom HaAtzmaut — I am reminded once again of how (almost begrudgingly) connected I feel to this impossible place: a place I missed desperately over Pesach, during which, living here, an observant Jew cannot only cook normal food, but can even go out to eat — every meal in a different restaurant! A place where politics, government, and voting seem vitally important in a way they never did growing up in the US. And a place where my lot and that of my family feels intimately interwoven with the fate of this land, its people, every human being of every ethnicity and religion living within these borders. This last is so powerful that — despite the distance I frequently feel both ideologically and culturally from so many people around me, a distance which often slides into loneliness — I can’t imagine devoting myself in the same way to any work other than the kind I’ve chosen over the two decades I’ve lived here: of striving to engage both the tremendous opportunities and the extraordinary, urgent, almost overwhelming challenges of being a free and righteous people in our own land.
I don’t exactly feel “glad to be back,” though perhaps that will come with time. But I do feel deeply home.