Between

“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.

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The Edge

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Three years ago today, I boarded a plane to Israel with a four-month ticket and no plans to speak of. I was terrified, standing on the edge of something so much bigger than I could have imagined. Yet something was pulling me here. It pulled me out my comfort, directly into my fear. I thought I must be crazy. But I jumped right in.

Three years later, I am waking up to these shining faces. I can’t believe I almost didn’t know them.

There are times, I’ve learned, when we approach our edge and need to decide whether to back away or step over it. There is no one-size-fits-all prescription, no mantra that works in every situation. The best we can do is tune into ourselves, that tiny voice of wisdom within who always knows what’s right.

Some days (probably too many days), I think I might have been crazy to get on that plane. I picture the life I could have been leading and fantasize about all the people I could have become, places I could have lived. Sometimes I yearn for things much simpler that aren’t possible here – living down the street from my family, eating blueberries, watching the leaves turn colors in the fall.

I can go on for hours with these games, fill in a million “what ifs.” When all is said and done, however, when I’m honest with myself and that still, small voice inside, I wouldn’t change a thing.

Here’s to you, crazy and brave Jenna from three years ago. Thanks for stepping over the edge.

Returning, again.

This is my first attempt to publish a blog posting since the beginning of my journeys in Israel in 2011. (For some history, check out these old postings: http://jennagoestoisrael.blogspot.co.il). I came to this land oblivious as to what was ahead of me. A wide-eyed, single girl traveling the world before settling into the coming five years of doctoral work. The world, this land, was my oyster…or should I say matzah ball? My mind, my heart, my eyes were open. I was completely ready to absorb it all, have a traveling experience, and then go right back to my neat and orderly planned out life. So what happened? Everything.

I fell in love, for starters. With the land of Israel, the history of the Jewish people, my own heritage and rich tradition, my (at the time) new boyfriend and now husband. Within a little over a year, I came to this country with no plans, fell deeply into seminary learning ancient Jewish wisdom, met an incredible man with a similar journey, decided to uproot my life in America and settle in Israel, and then had a fairy tale, outdoor, organic spring wedding in the hills of Jerusalem (Thanks Yehoshua Sigala for the amazing pictures!) Today, we are both working, learning, and planting our roots here, in The Holy Land. Happily ever after, right?

Almost. When I look back at the whirlwind of my last few months, I am overcome with more emotions than I know how to verbalize. Gratitude, first of all. Awe, excitement, a longing for the past – the moments before waking that now seem much simpler, the satisfaction of listening to my intuition through adversity, missing my family. Today I am faced with challenges in every-day tasks I never thought I’d find difficult. Striving to maintain my connections to family and friends across the ocean while becoming a part of and embracing society here. I am an immigrant. I am learning more and more Hebrew every day yet it never seems to be enough. I am building a life from scratch, rather than continuing on in a life of privilege. I am humbled by this process every day (some days more gracefully than others). I am a constant student (and now teacher) of yoga – a practice that keeps me grounded and lets me fly. I am an orthodox, married woman. A homemaker. An administrative assistant for an organization doing incredible work in the field of Jewish Personal Growth (shameless promotion for The Shalev Center – check them out). A happy baker and improving cook. I am choosing to connect to and plant new roots in Israel because I believe in this land, in our people’s dream of coming back to our land. Despite all I have seemingly given up in my American life, I am comforted and reinvigorated by the idea that we are investing in our children and grandchildren in hopes that if they choose to follow a similar lifestyle, connecting to Torah and this holy land, it will not be so alien and difficult for them. A jarring, jumble of translations that fall short, foreign land and new culture. This will be their home base, Am Yisrael (the people of Israel) will be their family, no matter where they choose to go.

So this is my journey through Israel, Yoga, Judaism, making Aliyah, marriage and hopefully someday kids that I am inviting you to witness. The concept in yoga that I have come to love so much and relate to in my daily life is what has inspired this blog. Just as when we root deeply into the ground, into the earth, we are able to rise to much greater heights than we even thought possible, I hope that in my return to this land (in hebrew called making “aliyah” – literally “going up”) I am able to raise up my life and the life of my future children to new heights – both spiritually and physically. No matter what each of our life’s journey holds in store, may this concept always help to take you to exactly where you are supposed to be.