What does it mean to feel “at home”? During a recent visit to Jerusalem, this question filled my mind.
I spent Passover in Jerusalem and stayed on for a month until the bar mitzvah of our oldest grandchild. During this visit, I felt at home in a way that I rarely feel in Los Angeles, where I live. Sitting in Aroma café with my daughter-in-law, teacher, and writer Rachel Sharansky Danziger, I exclaimed over and over, “I feel at home here!”
If home means comfort and familiarity, then LA surely beats Israel. America in general and Los Angeles in particular have mastered the art of making life convenient. Amazon packages appear overnight. Costco and Target are open every day. Hey, it’s 70 degrees on almost any day! The government runs predictably without much drama from hyper-individualistic bureaucrats. Traffic can be bad, but you can often work around it. The stores are well-stocked. Undoubtedly, LA is a great place to be a consumer. But does convenient shopping make a place a home?
I have dwelled in Los Angeles most of my life, and the city has been good to me. I started and raised my family, reconnected to Jewish observance, and founded a successful business here. I own a home not far from the beach. By most standards, I have it made. Nevertheless, I have never truly felt at home in Los Angeles. It’s the city I live in. But a genuine sense of home? Nope.
Los Angeles is comfortable and familiar, so why does it not feel like home? What is home after all? Is it a physical place? A product of relationships? A state of mind? I think it is all of those. In many ways, Los Angeles is surely my home – I know my way around, even when Google Maps is offline. I know where to buy everything I need. But in my soul’s-eye view, the city lacks a heartbeat.
Perhaps being at home has nothing to do with physical location. As the proverb says, “Home is where the heart is.” With my husband and children, I am home. Part of the magnetism of Israel is that I have two married children and a passel of grandchildren there. Each one is a universe and each one brings me joy. Yet even though I have dear family members and friends in LA as well, the lure of Israel still beckons.
So, what exactly do I mean by feeling “at home” in Israel? It’s a profound sense of being where I belong — as if the missing piece of a puzzle has finally found its rightful spot. Being a Jew is natural there, unlike in the United States where we are a tiny minority. Religious school is free, unlike the sky-high private tuition we pay in America. Kosher food abounds – no prowling through grocery aisles to find the few products I can buy. Before Passover, there were dumpsters in the street specifically marked for people to burn their chametz. I just don’t see that in LA. Certainly, the presence of loved ones makes a difference, but I think that even people who don’t have blood kin there feel they have returned to their family when they enter the Land.
Friends who’ve made aliyah assure me that moving to Israel entails serious cultural and linguistic shock; I imagine that if I moved there permanently, it would take a while for me to gain the familiarity that I enjoy effortlessly in LA. I would undoubtedly lean on my adult children who paved the path. But once I got through the red tape, that feeling of at-homeness would be waiting for me. Living as a Jew in a Jewish state would feel seamless and natural.
Now that I have returned to Los Angeles, the at-home feeling of Israel is fading as I embed myself deeper into the familiar places and things of my house and neighborhood. Nevertheless, the bright light of Israel shines as a place where physical, emotional, and spiritual homes can finally come together.