When my parents caught the Zionist bug
I visited my childhood home today. I didn’t plan to but it just worked out that way. I had driven up north to do an errand for my grandmother and found myself with time to spare right around the corner from our house.
So I drove over and parked the car in that little bit of curb between 464 and 466 Patricia Avenue, a teeny stretch of road that in the past we could never have parked our enormous Oldsmobile Cutlas Supreme.
I stood there in one place, on the sidewalk, turning around to take in the view, a scene I had looked at so many years before.
Nothing had changed. That’s the truth.
There it was the Jewish school across the street, the Synagogue that I had watched being built from scratch, the Public Junior high school up the street and the Italian neighbors next door.
And then there was our house.
I couldn’t go near it so I walked across to see our neighbors since I knew I needed an emotional buffer between me and the house. I knocked on their front door but no one answered so I knocked again and as I stood there on the porch I looked around.
Their home had always been so well groomed. Everything had always looked so fresh and the roses in their garden were always so picture perfect. We always joked that it put our front yard to shame with its unkempt lawn and the flower patch that was nothing more than a pile of dirt with some buried Lego pieces and digging toys left in it.
Their house was dark. The once bustling home of the seamstress wife and her wine making husband now stood dormant. The only sign of life was the two Christmas wreaths hanging on their front door.
I stood there and started to take some pictures of the street when the mailman walked by. I felt the need to explain, “This is my childhood home.”
He nodded at me with a look in his eyes of interest and understanding and then he continued on his route.
I was ready now.
The walk up our driveway to the front door most likely took only a few seconds but it brought to the forefront of my mind the memories of years and years gone by.
There it all was: the cracks in the pavement where the wheels from the kid’s riding toys would get stuck, the front stairs, the railings we would swing on, the front porch we would sit on during those lazy spring, summer and fall Shabbat afternoons, that is if we weren’t busy playing Chinese jump-rope. This porch was perfect for our Chinese Jump-rope marathons since we could always tie the elastic band to the railing if we were one person short.
The mailbox had not been changed and still had two hooks underneath it which were perfect for hanging our wet towels on when we came home from camp each day.
The number on the front of the house was still the same with its dark wood background and brass numbers, a style that my mother had chosen in perfect 80’s style.
A man answered the door.
I explained to him that this was my childhood home and I grew up here. I told him who my parents are. He welcomed me in and listened to me as I spoke. But even as I spoke, my mind raced around each and every corner of the house which we had explored when we were children.
There it all was just the same as I remembered it: the stairs with slats where we would dangle our feet giggling when our father would try to catch them as we pulled them away from his reach, the crisscrossing vinyl floor with the silver trim in between each tile perfect for rolling marbles in or pushing toy cars, and those pull down window rollers that always stayed down but never ever went back up when you wanted them to and always jumped up when you didn’t making us screech from surprise.
And then I saw it:The bright crystal chandelier that would shine its light over us in the dining room each and every Shabbat meal. It was there that my parents would sit for hours on end discussing our family matters and friends and Judaism but most of all, our beloved Israel. And as they would sit there the discussion almost always turned to the Zionistic dream, a bug that had hit my mother and father so hard they could never fully get it out of their systems.
And then my grandfather died.
And my parents sat there a few months later making the final decision to go to Israel even if only for a year at first.
And we kids cried and begged and pleaded with them to reconsider but to no avail.
“What about our family and our friends and our backyard and our school. What about Canada? Why do we have to leave all of this when we are just so happy where we are?”
You see, we were kids who lived in this childhood utopia where nothing else could ever mean as much as the Bookmobile parked in the adjacent parking lot to our home every Tuesday morning or our weekly ice skating parties every winter Saturday night or just simply knowing that our friends and family members were only a bike ride away.
But cry as we may, the bubble of our utopian exile had burst for my parents. There was no reasoning with them because the Zionist bug had hit them hard and there was no cure. It was futile to try to fight it.
And so that summer we left.
And as I stood looking out of my old bedroom window at the backyard where we had played as children for hours on end and at the houses all around which had not changed in all these years, not even one iota, I knew that this was no longer my home.
A house is only a home when there are people there to make it feel alive.
And that specific pulse, the one which had been keeping this shell of a home alive for so many years, had upped and moved to Israel 25 years ago. The blood was still flowing strong, but now it was elsewhere, instilling life into a new home, a new shell in Jerusalem that needed to be loved.
And so I sat in my car and I cried.
I cried for my memories and for the people I missed the most.
I cried for our lost childhood innocence and for how life never seems to take you down the road you thought it would, for better or for worse.
I cried for my neighbor’s empty rose garden and wine shed that had stopped being used two years ago when their father died.
And most of all, I cried for the life we have today, for my family, my children and my home in Israel and for being part of something that is constantly growing and changing and has a pulse of its own.
And I feel grateful because life could have stayed the same and whatever it was that possessed my parents to institute such a drastic change in our lives so many years ago, has somehow changed our lives forever.
I drove away from the house, one experience closer to returning home.