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Homeland and Home

“I think you’re still a little homesick.” 

On January 12, 2022, I arrived in Israel as a new olah. Returning to the Jewish homeland, we could say. Starting life afresh in the Promised Land – studies, work, living. 

And crying, wanting my home, missing even the crippling economy and national power outages that go on for hours at a time. I wouldn’t use the word “regret” but you know… sometimes I just want to go home. 

I miss the sense of belonging – knowing where I’m going, existing in a society full of a rich diversity that goes beyond political nuance and division. 

When I first went to Tel Aviv on a day trip, it was overwhelmingly foreign and frightening, and I was glad to go back to Jerusalem. Yet when I went back there on Independence Day – the ultimate celebration of our homeland – I felt an unbelievable sense of liberation. I could be who I wanted without having to belong to a certain group. There aren’t large signs saying “don’t wear this or that” as you go around. I could belong to the secular world in the Jewish homeland. 

Do I belong in Tel Aviv? Do I belong in Jerusalem? Where on earth am I meant to be if Israel is my homeland? Maybe the problem is that it’s not my home. 

Months ago, I wrote a blog about the dilemma Diaspora Jews face, and how I felt more attached to South Africa than I do to Israel. The truth? Nothing has changed. I don’t regret my move, but I do crave home.

Israel is not really that gorgeous country that we love to glorify in the Diaspora. It can be unwelcoming, hurtful, and disorientating, despite its indisputable importance. I wouldn’t sacrifice Israel. But yet… how is it that I can feel more at home in a non-Jewish country than in the Jewish homeland? 

Please don’t feel tempted to go “you’ve just had a bad time of it” – I’m not alone, and I know so from conversations with others. If you’ve had it easy and moving to Israel was the most magical choice – well good for you.

I miss the mountains, I miss the freedom, and I miss South Africa where I felt that I could make a difference and be a part of society in so many ways. I’ve tried to shift that here to Israel with no success. It’s true that certain things are better here in my life, but I just miss home. 

Maybe that’s the curse of the Jew raised in exile. The burden. To have a homeland which isn’t your home.

About the Author
Raised in South Africa, Tanya graduated cum laude with a BA in French and Philosophy in 2020. An aspiring academic, she is currently studying for her MA in Jewish Studies at Hebrew University.
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