Last week, it happened in the local coffee shop. The other day, I was welcomed home on the bus.
This is not my first time traveling overseas, but it is surely the first time that someone else has tried to dictate to me where my home is and where I should live. Israel is the homeland of the Jewish people. It is an essential place where Jews all over the world can go and feel accepted.
But, history and religion aside, what makes it my home? I didn’t grow up here, I don’t have family here, I don’t speak the language and, to be perfectly honest, I don’t feel like I mesh very well with the culture so far.
With everyone welcoming me “home”, I wonder what “home” even means. Is Israel my home? Is America my home? Where do I feel “at home”? What is a “home” anyway?
I used to have two definitions of “home.”
1) Home is with your loved ones. Family and friends give you that sense of belonging and security that we all need to feel comfortable.
2) Home is a physical place. It is developed over time and through the lasting memories that attach emotion to a location.
The more time I spend in Israel, however, the less I believe in these definitions. Homesickness occasionally leads me to think, “I just want to go home”. But where is this? One option is the house in the U.S. where my family lives and where I grew up. The other is my university, also in the U.S., where I rooted myself over the past four years.
Let’s face reality. I’m not moving back in with Mom and Dad after my year in Israel, and that little thing I have called a diploma reminds me that I’m not welcome in my old college apartment. My friends are scattered around the U.S. I haven’t yet established the close relationships, the memories, or the general level of comfort to be able to consider Israel my home.
When I analyze it this way, I realize I’m homeless. It’s a scary feeling.
The good news is that being thrown into limbo forces you to grab hold of any ounce of stability that can be found. That stability doesn’t come from the outside. It comes in little epiphanies when you are stranded, lost, and dehydrated on the side of a desert road after missing the last bus home before Shabbat. You start walking, and keep walking until dark in order to get back to your apartment. It comes when, in this dire moment, your feet amazingly keep moving, you smile, and you laugh out loud because no one can hear and because you realize that you are strong. You got yourself into this, you’ll get yourself out, and even though the predicament is absurdly out of control, you are in control.
It was in this moment when I realized that home isn’t attached to any place or person but myself. Home is when nothing around you makes any sense, when you feel more lost and displaced than you have ever felt, and yet you can retreat into a corner of your soul and feel at ease. That power to reach within and find something to be happy about – that is home. It’s the only one I have right now, and it doesn’t matter where I am.
I’m American. I’m Jewish. I’m living in Israel. I’m not staying, thank you. I don’t know where I’m going either. That’s okay. I’m finding my way home.