“Home is the center and the circumference, the start and the finish of most of our lives” — Charlotte Perkins Gilman, an early 20th century American writer.
But what if you have two circles with two centers? Two homes that are essential, but each one lacks something only the other can provide?
That’s how it is for me. I’m an American Jew, a third-fourth generation Minnesotan. I grew up in the Twin Cities, alongside the tall bluffs overlooking the Mississippi River. It’s still the landmark I search out from the air, when a plane is about to land. “Home,” I sigh, once I spot it.
I’ve lived my entire life here. Minnesota’s colors, moods, scents, and shifting light are imprinted on my soul. I never tire of this familiar and beloved landscape — rolling hills, thick forests, and peaceful farms. And lake upon lake upon lake, over 10,000 of them.
I love feeling the intensity and vitality of four seasons. Summer brings endless daylight, dawn at 5 a.m., dusk at nearly 10 p.m. Winter is the opposite. It seems the sun barely rises before it sets. Although I complain a lot about winter (and take breaks from it), I can’t imagine living entirely without its bite. Autumn is stunning, spring is an eye-blink between endless winter and sudden summer.
There’s a culture of modesty and kindness where I live, a carryover from stalwart German and Scandinavian pioneers. “Minnesota Nice” is for real.
Jewish life is rich and full in the land of the “Frozen Chosen.” Plenty of synagogues, opportunities for learning, cultural events. I became fluent in Hebrew by studying it here, at the University of Minnesota.
As is the case everywhere in the Jewish world, much of Jewish religious life takes place at home. Shabbat and holidays are flourishing at our house.
My husband is also a lifelong Minnesotan. This place is home to most of our family and friends. Two of our four kids and their families live five minutes from our house. The rest are a six-hour drive away. I’m grateful it’s not farther. If we hit the road early, we are with them in time for lunch.
I’ve been fortunate enough to see most of the vast United States and to travel to many parts of the world. Each destination delighted me with its unique beauty and culture. Places we’ve visited many times are awash with nostalgia. But never for a moment did any other place feel like home.
That is, until the first time I came to Israel, 20 years ago.
I was overcome with an immediate, visceral, primal sense of “home.” That feeling has only intensified with each visit.
Israel’s stunning landscape is part of it.
Jewish history, found in nearly every corner of the land, is also part of it.
But primarily it’s this — being part of the majority Jewish culture, speaking the Hebrew language, seeing this great Jewish, communal, collective endeavor alive and thriving.
A thrumming, humming, vibrant, colorful, diverse, electrifying Jewish peoplehood, the likes of which we find only in Israel. That peoplehood includes loved ones who are our Israeli family, and a cadre of dear friends.
This sudden, powerful sense of “home” inspired a new understanding.
We can live meaningful Jewish lives in America — and we do. We can be passionate Zionists — and we are. But the peoplehood found in Israel cannot be duplicated.
The moment I grasped that, “home’ shifted” — from navigating around one circle to doing a figure eight around two.
The precious few weeks I spend each year in Israel replenish me in a way nothing else can. I’m lucky to be able to do that.
When I’m back home in Minnesota I savor with gratitude the abundant blessings of a life lived here. And I have a job to do — to share Israel’s story wherever and whenever I can. To support Israel from my home outside of Israel.
But once in a while, the differences between Jewish life in America and Jewish life in Israel hit me with a force that cannot be ignored.
The funeral and national mourning for Ari Fuld was such a moment.
I watched the live stream of the service, as Israelis gathered to grieve for a giant of a man murdered earlier the same day. They came by the thousands for a funeral at midnight.
There is no such thing as a funeral at midnight here.
Traffic was so heavy that some people left their cars on the side of the road and walked. Religious and secular, left and right, they came to comfort and support the Fuld family. People filled the building where the funeral was held and overflowed to the hills outside.
Their voices joined together to chant psalms, to sing mournful melodies. They were united in grief. Ari’s family stood alongside his tallit-wrapped body, a searing image of anguish, strength, and courage.
And outside, the mourners kept coming.
If I’d been in Israel that day, I would have joined them. But I wasn’t there. I was 7,000 miles away. It felt much farther.
The next day on social media I saw a photo of a table filled with with cold drinks that someone had set up outside his home for the mourners. For thirsty people walking back to their cars. Am echad, lev echad (one people, one heart).
Yes, there are differences between Jewish life in Israel and Jewish life in America.
I can’t deny it.
I feel it. I acknowledge it.
I make peace with it.
Having two places to call home could leave me feeling conflicted or blessed. I could focus on what’s missing from each or be grateful for the essentials that each offers.
Some people wander from place to place and never find home anywhere.
I’m doubly blessed, circling the figure eight of two homes with a full and grateful heart.