Just returned from a two week trip to the US that included stops in Chicago, New York, and Philadelphia, all places that at some point in my adult life I called home. As we landed, I found myself wondering about the meaning of the concept "home;" trying to understand the confusing mixture of feelings that tends to come over me whenever I make this trip. Each of the places I lived was truly a home for me. In each, I felt comfortable. In each, I was surrounded by friends and/or family, by a community. In none did I feel threatened or alienated; never in my life have I experienced antisemitism. Of each home I have wonderful memories, of experiences, landscapes, faces, life stages.
For me, and I don't think I am unusual, the word "home" is a somewhat slippery term, with multiple meanings. When I travel to Philadelphia to see my parents, I am going "home;" yet when I go back to the airport to fly to Israel, I also feel that I am going "home." Just what do I mean? And just what is it about this mountainside here in the Galilee that has given me such a strong feeling of at-home-ness? When the plane lands at Ben Gurion airport, I know for sure that I am about to face:
Having to communicate in a language that is my second language, so that every conversation and transaction, even after all these years, takes more energy than it does in the US; feeling helpless and tongue-tied in any argument.
"In your face" manifestations of the terrible divisions that beset Israeli society: Jew vs. Jew, right vs. left, Arab vs. Jew, rich vs. poor, etc.
The everyday frustrations and discomforts of living on the edge of the third world, with the vestiges of Turkish and British bureaucracies still apparent here and there.
Having a son in the army at a time when (as at many other times), the prospects for peace seem uncertain.
Living half a world away from extended family, including aging parents.
Alienation from the orthodox communities and their life-style - as well as from the secular alternative.
And yet, when the stewardess opens the door and I smell the mixture of aviation gasoline and orange trees, when my ear is bombarded by Hebrew (and Arabic, and Russian); when two hours later the rolling mountains and the lovely olive groves of the Galilee are all around me - then all the frustrations and alienation melt, and it just feels good to be home. And I still don't know why.
I don't believe that a full Jewish life is possible only here. And I don't believe that all the world has, and will always hate the Jews. I like the Christmas season in America. I am not sure that God really promised us a piece of real estate, or that God is especially receptive to prayers offered at the Western Wall. I do not think that romantic nationalism has been a particularly constructive force in 20th century history. And yet, here I am, feeling good about being home.
Perhaps this feeling stems from having spent important formative periods of my life here: a semester of high school in EIE, the first three years of marriage working and studying. Perhaps there really is something to the idea of collective memory, and studying Jewish texts over the years made this landscape vicariously my home even before I arrived. Perhaps it is just the inconveniences and frustrations that give a feeling of pioneering, of authenticity, of facing challenges, of living, as our hippy cousin said when she visited, "such a conscious life."
Perhaps, ultimately, there are some things that you can't understand rationally, and "home" is one of them.