This isn’t a theoretical question. I spent almost a decade living in another country. Many of us, for many reasons, choose to live far from our birthplace, sometimes for a while. Sometimes, for a lifetime.
By the end of 1977, I was at loose-ends. Closing a chapter of my life and looking for something else. Which is why, in January 1978, I tossed everything into a couple of trunks, got permission to take my son with me, and ran away to join the circus. Well, not the circus. I made Aaliyah and went to live in Israel which is similar. I had wanted to go there since I was an overly romantic teenager. I had a list of reasons for going, but the bottom line was a persistent hunger for adventure and a yearning for romance.
My marriage was over. I wanted to get on with life and being very far away seemed like an excellent choice. I wanted to put an ocean between me and my father. I sort of forgot this would put an ocean between me and everyone else, too My idea of Israel was gleaned from books, movies and Mom — but it sounded terrific. I was ready for the wider world. I wanted culture shock, to immerse myself in a different culture. I was bored, tired of suburban life. Wanted to do something big. I was eager for change.
I gave up everything except my son in exchange for my freedom. Divorce is easy if you hand everything to your ex and take a hike. I probably should have made a better settlement but I was young. Freedom was worth everything. Eventually I came to realize money mattered too, but it didn’t seem so important at the time. I got plenty of excitement. Layer on layer of history, ghosts of millennium walking with me on the walls of Jerusalem. I got the romance of discovery. It was the adventure for which I yearned.
I learned a lot in Israel. I discovered how provincial and ignorant I was. I learned how inaccurate the international press is, that everything you read about the Middle East is slanted. Sometimes, it’s completely untrue. As in “that never happened.” Sometimes it’s sort of true, but written in a misleading way. It’s always a little twisted.
Israelis are not of a single mind. Israelis don’t walk, talk and think in lock-step. If you know anything about Jewish culture, the idea that millions of Jews could live together and agree on anything (much less everything) is funny. Get three Jews in a room and you’ll have 4 — or more — opinions. With millions of Jews all packed together? Imagine the possibilities. When I am asked about Israel, I find myself saying: “It’s complicated.” Which translates to “The amount of time it would take me to answer your question exceeds any real interest you have in the subject. ” Where Israel is concerned, it’s always complicated. Because everyone is right. And wrong. Flaws and all, it’s the one place where Jews live by a Jewish calendar, where we aren’t a tiny minority. We need Israel. It’s not paranoia — it’s history. Without Israel, Jews are nomads, blowing with the winds of war and public opinion.
What brought me back? I’m American to my bones. This land is mine (join in for the chorus). I feel the seasons. I smell the salt air of the Atlantic. Trees are the right color in summer, and turn gold in autumn. After 9 years away, I needed to come home.
I’m glad I went away, glad I stayed, but most glad I came back.