What if the loved one who passed away is a place, not a person? There is no shiva, no ritual form of mourning at all. There is no acknowledgement, really. After all, it’s just a place.

How many times have I seen the devastation and destruction of natural disasters, the sense of the world gone awry. We feel for the “others,” their pain and loss. We pray, contribute money and may even look for some meaning the disaster has in our lives. But if I am honest, in the end it is not about me, it is about “them”. I’m okay. My life resumes and I remain untouched.

Last week’s mudslides in Montecito, California was different.

I grew up in Montecito. My father was a highly regarded university professor. My mother was, among other things, an accomplished environmentalist, in part responsible for securing the green, open spaces that stretched from Ventura through Santa Barbara.

As a pre-teen I’d ride my bike with friends down Coast Village Road, the main drag of this sleepy suburb, to buy a Coke. When I was 16 and got my first car, I drove even farther through the winding mountain roads. It was a quiet natural beauty, infused with money. The beach was my sanctuary and my counselor. Montecito was my home.

When I left home to go to college on the East coast, I still felt tethered to Montecito. Even when I moved to Israel, I came back. Up until five years ago, until the death of my second parent, I would return to see my elderly father. He lived in the same house I grew up in. Even after the year after he passed away, I had to return one more time. I was coming to the U.S. for business and told myself it was to visit his grave, to show my respects. But I knew I was also drawn to see my “other” home, Montecito.

I’ve been living in Israel for nearly 30 years. I was married (divorced, and thankfully re-married), had all my children here and now, thank God, have grandchildren, and we all live here in Jerusalem. I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.

When the wildfires started in the LA area, it registered with me. As it moved North, my sense of possession and personal loss was sparked. Pictures of palm trees outlined in orange were not from the beautiful sunsets of yore, but from the furious flames eating up the coast. Ojai, Carpentaria, Montecito, Santa Barbara. At last, weeks later, the fire was put out. The firefighters did an amazing job. The Almighty’s help was clear. In the largest fire in California history, burning through highly populated and residential areas, there was “only” one death. It was nothing short of miraculous.

Highway 101 buried in mud

Then came the rain. In minutes, in the middle of the night, inches of water poured from heaven, unleashing torrents of mud from the fire scorched mountains, washing down 10-ton boulders the size of pick-up trucks. The San Yisidro Road of my childhood became a canal of mud. The beach I loved became littered with SUVs, as if they were the Matchbox cars my little brother used to play with. Coast Village Road is under mud. And parts of the 101 Freeway are closed for the foreseeable future. There are areas of the freeway under 10 feet of mud! Twenty dead, more still missing. All in a few minutes.

Boulders from the mudslide

I feel as if my loved one was spared from a horrific accident, only to be hit by a car when crossing the street. I feel shock, disbelief, grief.

I’ve lived through wars, intifadas, bus bombing, tractor terror, knifings, and more. But this is somehow different.

It is like a death of a loved one. They say, "You can’t go home again,” but I always did.

Alas, my beautiful city has no water, electricity, sanitation. Gas mains have broken, bursting into balls of fire despite the drenching rains. Mass evacuations.

Monticito Village Inn on right. My family home is just beyond the rainbow.

What has become of the pristine beaches, hills and homes? The winding roads? One of the most beautiful places on earth is in ruin.

In the famous prayer U'Nesane Tokef we say that on Rosh Hashanah it will be inscribed and on Yom Kippur it will be sealed, who will live and who will die, who by fire, who by water... I never thought that this could also have meaning for places, too.

I’ve seen it happened to other places, but now it’s “my” home. Home, for me, is both a literal and metaphoric place. We live in this world, and the place we come from informs who we are, it is part of what constructs us. It is also part of the tool box we take with us as we go forward, through our lives.

I lost a part of myself in those mudslides. After the loss of my father, there was still a place that I could return to and feel nourished by, a place that, as if, knew me and my history. A place that some part of me still belonged, even during times in my current life when I felt out of sorts.

It is said that home is where the heart is, but I say, home is where the essential self is, for which the heart is one part. My identity, and my early connection to God I found reflected back to me from my environment. During my childhood, my parents were busy “saving” God's world. God, in His kindness, returned the favor, and took care of me in this little part of His world. Montecito was my first spiritual home, too. I found comfort there.

I am blessed to be living in Jerusalem, God’s backyard. I try to live with purpose and spiritual growth. In many ways I’m not so different from the girl that I was, but my context and focus has changed. My home is here. Though I still love nature and it nourishes me, God is more present in my life, seen in a daily way. He doesn’t need to be hidden from me within nature.

I don’t know why destruction happens. Technically, the family home survived, but my hometown looks like a WWI battlefield. As I say goodbye to my “loved one", the girl I was has become homeless, but my essential self becomes more connected to God and to my limitless potential.