“Through a historical catastrophe – the destruction of Jerusalem by the emperor of Rome – I was born in one of the cities of the diaspora. But I always deemed myself a child of Jerusalem, one who is in reality a native Jerusalem.” Shai Agnon, upon receiving the Nobel Prize for Literature, 1966
Some things will never change. Like how I feel instantly and deeply at home in the crisp fall weather of coastal New England, where the painted leaves line the sky and the smells of wood burning and salt water bring a deep calm to my soul. Like how when I read a street sign here, no matter how many years I’ve read Hebrew, my eyes will always fall upon the English instinctually, following the path of least resistance.
We’ve chosen otherwise. Living a life full of difficulties we never would have faced if we had continued the lives we were born into in America. We have good reasons, which I’ve written about before. It often feels easier to speak of our ideals and hopes rather than our struggles yet when I push myself to write, this topic is always resting just below the surface. Sometimes, more often than I like to admit, our ideological values don’t feel strong enough to withstand the weight of my yearning to feel at home, among the familiar.
I wonder how long it will take my children to notice the longing in me, a result of the two personalities I’ve cultivated. The American Jenna is developed, strong, independent, educated and passionate about big issues. Confident enough to speak about them freely and devote her life to them. The Israeli Jenna, on the other hand, is newly born, shy, reserved, embarrassed to speak a restaurant order in the native language let alone share her views on an important topic. How is it that in my foreign home, my historically accidental home of America, I feel more like me? And yet in my ancestral homeland, where a much deeper part of me has ached to return for generations, I feel foreign and meek, hoping to go unnoticed by shuk vendors and street walkers. It feels like I must be missing some part of the story. I wonder when and if this will ever change.
It hasn’t been long that my family has called America home. A grandchild of immigrants myself, I am part of the first generation that grew up feeling fully American without the weight of my parents or grandparents’ past lives in far away places haunting me daily. Rather, it was a truth I could easily place aside and access when conjured. It is almost poetic that I would complete the cycle, uprooting and returning to the land we came from so many years ago. Almost.
The fact that lingers with me on the days my longing to be near my family wells up and almost overflows is this: Now that I have been opened to this land and my ancestry, to our place in the bigger story, if I were to go back, I would long for Israel and the effortless holiness that lives in her stones. I cannot imagine raising children who don’t start off with Israel feeling like home, like their deeply familiar place no matter where they choose to travel. For now, it seems, I will remain stuck in between worlds. The transitional generation. It is fitting, I think now, that I was born on the water and instilled with a love for the desert, always intended to be missing something fundamental.