I just came back from doing my pre-Shabbat shopping here in New Jersey, in these united states. It wasn’t bad. Easy to park. Fast checkout. Plenty of kosher food in the kosher aisle. I really can’t think of what they don’t have. Frozen borekas? Check. Fresh kosher meat and poultry? Check. Milkys? Check. Salatim? Check. Challot? Check.
So why am I feeling so bereft? Why am I thinking I should’ve stayed longer in Herzliya? It’s not like Herzliya is paradise. Parking in the supermarket lot can be an ordeal. Checking out more so. Prices for Israeli products the same or higher than in the West Orange Shop-Rite.
Obviously it’s not the supermarket.
It’s the peoplehood.
And it’s not that there they all look like me. Clearly they don’t. I’d never pass for a Yemenite Jew or an Ethiopian or even a Russian or Moroccan.
And their histories and life stories are surely very different from my own. I didn’t walk from Addis Ababa or descend from ancestors who flew in on Operation Magic Carpet.. I wasn’t freed from the Soviet noose and I never resided in the shikunim or maabarot of my Northern African cousins.
But, last week, when I was still meandering around Herzliya, I cried when they blew the awe inspiring sirens to remember the Shoah and its millions lost. I stood, as a matter of fact in the Victory Market in Herzliya, with everyone else, as the sirens punctured our calm and forced us to remember. We stood silently for two aching minutes which seemed far longer. We stood without speech, without movement. We remembered. We didn’t think about buying eggs or ordering schnitzel. We remembered.
A few days later, in a departure lounge at Ben Gurion Airport, we heard the sound of sirens again. And we remembered again. This time it was for those many of our youth who had sacrificed themselves so that our land was built and sustained. Almost 27,000 of them lie in our cemeteries, leaving a grateful nation and parents who will never ever recover.
We missed the celebration part. Yom Ha’atzmaut was festive and beautiful…..or so we heard from family with their feet on the holy ground. Seventy years! We rejoiced from New Jersey and felt the distance.
In New Jersey all was calm. Not festive. No celebrations. Oh, sure, some community events but these could never compete with dancing in the streets of Jerusalem or watching fireworks in Herzliya. Not the same at all.
So, the age old questions present themselves to us again, as they have for so many many decades. Why are we here? Why did we return? Why?
This is not at all to tell you that we don’t love America. It has been wonderful to our family and our people. We owe so much to building lives in America. Our family came from Europe in the early 20th century and almost certainly would have been slaughtered had our patriarchs and matriarchs lingered in places like Poland and Russia. We are eternally grateful for our home of the brave. Members of our family served in the American military in war and peace. No question we owed that to this country. And we served with honor and pride. Yes we did!
So why do I feel so bereft that we are here? This too is a holy land for our people.
Perhaps it’s that that’s the land of the Jews and this is the land of the free. There we are free as Jews and here we are free as Americans. It’s complicated for sure!
I hope never to be asked to choose one of our countries over the other in war. It would be impossible.
And so, as our sirens are laid down for another year, and our holiest land turns to summer heat, we are here in New Jersey, with our indoor heat still blazing away. Confused as ever. Where is home? Which passport belongs on top?