I will never forget the moment when I hopped off the plane with Taglit (Birthright) in 2007. The organizer of the trip met us at the airport and even through my feet had never trod this earth, something felt pleasant as he welcomed us home.
When I returned in 2010 to study at HUC-JIR (Hebrew Union College) I was met at the arrivals gate by a good friend I had worked with at Camp TEKO. We rode in her boyfriend’s car and as Route 1 passed by the window.
I recognized the place, but it didn’t have a special resonance with me, yet.
It really felt like I was coming home to Israel.
About a week and a half ago I left to return to work with NFTY on their NFTY In Israel trip for the summer. At the airport I spent five minutes arguing with the EL Al Airlines staff to let me check in five hours before my flight. I talked to my neighbors, congratulated a newly married couple, and spoke with the flight attendants almost exclusively in Hebrew.
I went onward through passport control, customs, and hopped onto a sheirut (shared taxi) to take me to Jerusalem, back to my old neighborhood. I sat comfortably watching the driver speed the mini-bus up, coming dangerously close to the cars in front of us, and then finally slamming on his breaks. He wove in and out of the lanes trying to move as quickly as possible, and fighting for lane space with other cars and tourist busses. All I could do was chuckle to myself and think, “Welcome home,” and it really felt like I was coming home to Israel.
The first night I spent at the Agron Youth Hostel. I was in a room with some of the other staff members for this year’s NFTY trips and we decided to go out for dinner. We set out towards Ben Yehudah Street because I had a favorite Falafel place that I wanted to eat at. I still struggle with the idea that I have a favorite places here. A hummus place, a waffle place, and some “must hit” shops in the Old City. This corner of the city felt very familiar to me, I even got to play a little part as a tour guide as we walked towards the restaurants and shops.
In no time at all my walking map of the city fell back into place.
After a week of orientation in one place we were taken to another hotel to stay until my group of teens arrived for their Israel experience, and this time we were in an area of the city that I recognized, but didn’t know. While many of the other staff members went to Tel Aviv for a beach day, I set out to learn our new neighborhood and get reacquainted with Jerusalem. It took me one wrong turn and asking for the street name from one person before I got my bearings, and in no time at all my walking map of the city fell back into place.
I spent nearly 7 hours visiting some of my favorite gardens, overlooks, shops, and restaurants and all told walked over 15 miles. Some things around here have changed, a lot. New buildings have been built, the Rakevet (what they call the Jerusalem Light Rail) is operational, and three of my favorite restaurants are working under new management and names. But I feel at home.
I didn’t think that I would ever consider Jerusalem my home.
In fact, I still think that I would rather live in Haifa, if I were to live in Israel. While living in Jerusalem I was never really happy being so far away from a large body of water, especially after spending 25 years living in Minneapolis. I was bothered by a certain heaviness that seemed to sit on the city with the old city constantly in the background.
With all of these struggles that I had while living here, the first thing I did on my own was not to flee the city, or to run to the beaches in Tel Aviv, but to orient myself around Gan Saker (the large park near my apartment), Derekh Yafo (Jaffa Street), and the Old City.
This is the epitome of my relationship with Israel. I love Israel. I feel comfortable speaking in Hebrew (and a huge thank you goes out to all of my teachers and tutors). I feel comfortable walking around the city. I have friends that live throughout the country. I have a special appreciation for struggle that many Israelis go through. And yet, I am not a staunch Zionist, I am not considering making Aliyah. Every day I think about at least one of the political, social, or religious conflicts going on in Israel. (This is not meant to be a post about these conflicts, so I will not go any further concerning them.)
Having said all of that, I am so incredibly happy to be back in Israel. I miss my first home, Minneapolis, but it is absolutely incredible being here again. I am excited to be a part of a team of people that will take a group of kids from all over the USA and show them a land that I truly love, to show them a country that I hope they will care about, to teach them and let them make their own decisions about their relationship to Israel, as it really is up to each of us to decide how we have a relationship with this country and this land.
For me, it feels good to be home. And it is an even better feeling, knowing that I feel at home.
Shalom from Israel.