I legitimately forgot it was Labor Day.

For the first time, ever.

17 years ago, “Israel” meant Jerusalem and the Kotel, Eilat, the Dead Sea, museums, historical sites, ruins, and graves. It meant hotel rooms, nice restaurants, and funny blue Telecards that you slip into a payphone to make a call.

17 years ago, “Israel” meant landing at 4 am to no great fanfare or arrival ceremony and trying valiantly to string together a few sentences in my “Hebrew” in a desperate attempt to communicate with people I encountered. Luckily, Dad was with me and his fluent Russian got us passage in a cab and through the gates of Bar Ilan University…where we waited for two hours, silently, with just six huge duffel bags and a cold bottle of water to keep us company.

For 17 years, I’ve prided myself on being very American. I still do. It’s a part of my identity that will always be there and with which I will always identify. Global telecommunications and media have made it easier than ever to remain connected to any place in the world, keep up with trends, and stay in touch with friends and family. English has always been and will always remain my primary language. I will always be “from LA”. I will always root for my Lakers. I will always treasure the education and experiences I was fortunate enough to get there.

Yet, today was “just another day of labor” at my office; I’d forgotten it was Labor Day.

I arrived in this country 17 years ago, just a few weeks shy of turning 17 years old. I always wondered what would “happen” once I’d lived half my life here. For me, tomorrow marks that day. I guess I know what happens now. Without realizing it, you “forget” a small part of yourself.

17 years later, “Israel” means my wife and my kids. It means my friends and my career. It means the smile that crosses my face when I hear a Jewish tune on the radio or read a FRONT PAGE news item on Shabbos about a “revolution, as Ashkenazim have started adopting some Sephardic stanzas and verses in their pre-Rosh Hashana prayers”. It means getting together with my dad and some great friends on Tuesday nights to play poker for shekels… the age-old currency of the Jewish people.

17 years later, I can barely think of a handful of items that I “miss” from back in the States because, while they might be more expensive, you can get them here now. 17 years later I realize how deeply indebted I will forever be to Hashem for sending me to the “Promised Land” at precisely the right moment in my life. If I had stayed behind, as I had originally planned on doing, I never would’ve realized what a rich life I’d be missing out on.

Yes, we’ve got our problems, but I’d take my problems here in Israel over my problems anywhere else in the world any day of the week. 17 years ago, I marveled at how incomprehensible it was to me that a 5-year-old walked his little sister home from kindergarten alone. Just two days ago, I barely gave it a second thought when I let my own 5-year-old ride his scooter for three blocks by himself from our shul to his saba and savta’s house.

17 years later, “Israel” means HOME. “ושבו בנים לגבולם”.

“!ברוך אתה ה’ אלוקינו מלך העולם שהחיינו וקיימנו והגיענו לזמן הזה”