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Homesick, Israeli-Style

Homesick, Israeli-Style

It's true, Israel's not perfect. But what do I need perfect for when I've found home?


Until I arrived this past week for my brother's wedding, it had been over three years since I stepped foot on American soil. So I suppose it is understandable to experience a certain amount of culture shock.

This feeling started when I went shopping and asked the supermarket's manager if he sold hair elastics. He literally walked from the beginning of the beauty aids aisle to its end, searching as he massaged his chin in deep concentration. "I'm afraid not," he finally apologized, "Terribly sorry." In Israel, I thought, the manager would have just clucked his tongue, shaken his head, and walked away.

Then on Shabbat, I walked with my children to a nearby park. This block-long park features a cornucopia of slides and swings and sandboxes, as well as a free wading pool for children, and on top of all this, my children had the whole park to themselves. In Israel, I thought, I have never seen a park that nice, and even if one existed it would probably be jam-packed with kids and strewn with Popsicle wrappers.

Then we arrived at my mother-in-law's new cottage. As I write this, I am sitting by a maple-leaf-green lake that ripples softly in the light breeze, reflecting the unbroken clusters of trees along its banks. It is so beautiful that it is almost otherworldly.

Not to mention the culture shock of suddenly finding myself 6,000 miles from the fresh graves of the young soldiers killed in Lebanon, and the breast-beating over Israel's most recent war. Since I arrived here, I must confess that my body and spirit have breathed a collective sigh of relief to have exchanged the wilderness for the war zone.

But at the same time, even though it might sound crazy to a person who only knows about Israel from the evening news, I still miss Israel as much as I missed home during my first few weeks of college.

For starters, I miss the holiness and Jewishness that are such a big part of everyday life in Israel. In Jerusalem's market, for example, where I do my shopping, although "Customer Service" may be a somewhat foreign phrase, I love how the market is a living Jewish calendar, with tables piled high with dried fruits before Tu B'Shvat, and stacks of macaroons before Passover, and mountains of apples and honey before Rosh Hashana. I love the Chassidic matrons who fearlessly navigate the pre-Shabbat crowds, and the egg salesman who always sends me off with a smile and a heartfelt "Shabbat Shalom u'mevorach," a peaceful and blessed Sabbath.

I love living in a place where people care about one another like family. On our street, for example, there is a playground that everyone calls "the playground with the red slide," because a small red slide and a seesaw are all it contains. Most Americans would not even consider this a playground, but this fact does not detract from the closeness the dozen or so mothers who gather there every afternoon feel to one another.

I love Israel because she's mine. I love her because she pulses with more holiness than any other place on Planet Earth.

This park is a place where we organized a neighborhood-wide Psalm chain for a red-slide-park regular in need of a lung transplant. It's a place where we discuss nursery schools and pediatricians and the correct age for introducing solid foods. It's a place where my park-bench companions call out my name when I come to sit among them, just like Norm's friends on the TV show Cheers.

I also love living in a country that feels like it belongs to me. I miss, for example, the Jerusalem Forest that I pass through every time I pick up my oldest daughter from school. Of course, there are more impressive forests in the world, like the one I see as I write these words, but the one in Jerusalem moves me more deeply.

I love it because it's mine, because just over 3000 years ago God promised the land of Israel to me and to my children, and because of that, every rocky hill and every pine-filled valley and every field of sunflowers is, on a certain level, a part of me.


My relationship with Israel vs. all the other countries in the world can be compared to the way I felt recently at my daughter Hallel's end-of-the-year performance for kindergarten. Out of all of Hallel's 25 classmates, it is possible that there were girls who had memorized the words to the songs better than my daughter, or whose ponytails didn't get pulled askew or shirts half untucked like my daughter's.

But the truth is that even if there had been a girl like that, it wouldn't have mattered, since Hallel was the only girl I saw for that hour as I reached again and again into my purse for tissues and cried from pride.

Because I love her. Because God gave this girl to me and to my husband and to no one else. Because my love for my daughter blinds me to the virtues of every other six-year-old in the whole world.

And that is how I feel about Israel. I love her because she is mine. I love her because my community is there. I love her because she pulses with more holiness than any other place on Planet Earth.

It's true, Israel's not perfect. But what do I need perfect for when I've found home?

August 26, 2006

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Visitor Comments: 24

(24) Carl, June 19, 2013 4:18 AM

The Home I've Never Known

I've never been to Israel but I feel as if it calls me by name and my blood cries out for her. It seems nothing matters to me as much anymore as getting back home. The only thing that matters more to me than being there, other than having goo health is my love for HaShem. Perhaps as my love for Him grows so does my need to be where His foot stool is. I know it sounds strange but I really feel like I'm a stranger here.

(23) jacob john, May 2, 2009 2:58 AM

shalom al Yisroel..

thank you so much for the article. it again enlightened the passion towards Israel. Yes, Home is the place where heart dwells. Yisrael..!! as far as i live.., i stand with eretz Yisrael.. lots of Love from india.. :) Israel, you are not alone..!! our G'D is with you.. & we all do.. "shalu shalom Yerushalayim.."

(22) KrTills, September 3, 2006 11:07 PM

Shalom, I have enjoyed this article much. I have not been to Israel, and have longed to go there for many years. My dear friends moved to Jerusalem last year, they had lived there before and moved back as they love it very much there. I love it too, because of the history. Mostly because of the holiness. God, Elohim is my life, I love and respect the people. My heart is also with the people, so much I want to be there to help the poor and those who are hurting. Yes, there are those over here also, but there is different. The Land really belongs to HaShem, and His people. Again, these are what keeps me going, the scriptures, the Land, His People. I have saved some monies which enables me to come and visit and stay with my friends for two weeks in the beginning of October. I already know, I will be praying and loving just being there. I do not come as a tourist, but to live as one there for the short time I am there. Maybe someday my son and I will live there. It is not up to me, but Him who sits on the throne. Your article has confirmed what I knew in my heart spiritually and not my presence physically. Toda!! Have a great day!!

(21) elissa, September 3, 2006 9:40 AM

hello neighbor from

Although I currently live in the US Israel if feel is my home. Reading your article and remembering my 20+ stays in Eretz Yisroel and waiting to push my daughter on the only swing in the park and the feeling of kedusha that cant compare to any where in the world. Thanks for reminding me. Yearning to return.
Do you remember the song "The Little Bird is Calling?" A'H this year in Yerushalayim. Sweet year to us all

(20) Anonymous, September 1, 2006 3:49 PM

I feel the same way...

This summer I spent 6 weeks on a program in israel. As soon as we landed, our madrichim met us at the airport with lareg signs reading "Welcome Home!" We all thought they were crazy then, but even on that first day I realized that Israel was my real home. The unspoken connection among Jews is so much more evident there, and I just felt like everything was so familiar and comfortable. Even the first time I saw grafitti on the walls I smiled because it was in Hebrew. Its hard to express the exact feeling of being in Israel..all I know is that when I returned to America I suddenly felt this huge void, and wanted to get right back on the plane.

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