My pity party — let me invite you to it.
The closest I got to a religious epiphany during the High Holidays last year was listening to the soundtrack of “Sister Act.”
I had reached my homesick breaking point at the halfway mark between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, and only Whoopi Goldberg and Motown-meets-Catholic liturgy could bring me back from the edge. “Sister Act” was familiar: The soundtrack is saturated in enthusiasm, joy, faith, and, yes, kavanah (who cares if it’s a different religion!) and listening to the nuns get down with their tambourines while channeling The Supremes made me feel more connected to my spiritual epicenter than the shofar’s primal blast.
While so many Jews all over the world yearn to spend the High Holidays in the Holy Land, I just wasn’t feeling it. Yeah, I was the (Jewish American) Grinch who stole the High Holidays .
The whiny Anglo strikes again. Whatevah.
But let’s be real: Holidays in Israel suck when you’re homesick. It’s the ultimate “lonely in a crowd” feeling – while the whole country moves as one, I was dragged down by an undertow of isolation and resentment.
Can I get a witness?
I missed the side-by-side translation that my home synagogue in Culver City, California, would always provide. I missed the familiar nigunim – the melodies I was raised on that always make my heart swell. And so, when faced with the strangeness of the High Holidays in the Homeland, I turned to “Sister Act” – I turned to the familiar words, and familiar melodies, to a joyful expression of faith and love. I turned to the familiar soundtrack of my childhood that my parents and I would listen to on car trips to Santa Barbara and Palm Springs when I was in fifth grade. I turned to the past.
I turned up the music.
There are many ways up the mountain, people. Diana Ross is one of them.
But fear not, I am sooooo not ditching the Tribe. While I’m down with religious plurality, I straight up love being a Jew. And just because I found grace in the song “Hail Holy Queen” doesn’t mean that I’m exchanging my Jewish guilt for Catholic guilt. But it’s still interesting that during these most sacred of (Jewish) days, in a place where being a Member of the Tribe is taken for granted, I felt more alone than ever before.
Or maybe it isn’t so strange.
The kibbutz where I lived last year is built on a history of communal living. Inside joke after inside joke support the foundation of this place, and if you’re from here, it’s freaking awesome. After all, there is nothing like laughing at humor so deeply ground in the rich folklore of your home. It bolsters your sense of being an insider – of being part of a community. In many ways, being in on the joke is clear indication that you do belong – and by belonging, you are therefore protected from the outside. (And outsiders who might besmirch your kibbutz’s good name all over the Internet when they feel snubbed in the heder ohel. Just saying.)
Look, I get it. I remember once, back in the day, sitting with my best friend and laughing my ass off about something a coworker said, while my then-husband looked on in stony silence.
“Sorry, I guess you had to be there,” I snorted.
Yeah, well, look who’s laughing now.
Normally, this would have been a non-issue. Normally, I would have just hopped on the train and gotten the fuck off the farm and felt comfort in choosing to be anonymous. But when the country shuts down during hag, it felt like the kibbutz had a glass dome, and the homesickness reverberated and ricocheted all around me. Yeah, it was just like “The Simpsons Movie.” Only in Hebrew, and without the funny ending.
Still, I guess I should’ve been used to it – that sense of not really belonging but having nowhere else to go. And yet, it took me by surprise in a choke-hold from behind. Passover was hard last year, but I felt even more alone during the High Holidays than when I was whispering with conviction at the end of the Seder “Next year in LA, bitches.”
And that — along with 1,000 other reasons — is why I left a life that wasn’t mine. And started a new one. A complicated, exquisitely unpredictable life — but a life I can own. And a lot has happened in the year since things broke down — and now that the dust is settling, I realized something: I have become an insider.
So while this year winds down, and everyone is lit from within with the excitement of the Hagim, I am trying to shuck off that sense of impending doom. Because while I miss my family so much that when I think about them my eyes well with tears, somehow I am managing to create a family here as well.
And ultimately, there is godliness in the relationships we have with others – the clamorous, messy closeness of family, and the friends who are like family. It’s what I want. And I’m starting to have it. So maybe this year will be better. Maybe this year I won’t have anything to whine about. And maybe this year, I’ll feel that oneness with everyone here in the homeland.
And if not, there’s always “Sister Act II.”