For the past 12 or so years of my life, home was a pastel yellow house in Kentfield, California. Home was waking up to a graham-cracker-colored ball of fur sitting on my face every morning and the familiar roars of a BMW sports car when my dad got home from work every night. Home was my sister and I pestering each other to finish our homework so we could binge watch Bob’s Burgers or Harry Potter together, and shrieking “DAD” at the top of our lungs every time we found a spider. Home was our imaginary “House of Yummy” restaurant on weekend mornings, a freezer stocked year-round with beans and empanadas, my mom’s off-key but hilarious singing to Pink, Justin Bieber, and Pitbull, and my dad’s homemade challot on Shabbat.
I used to think I had many homes, because there were many places I felt comfortable, safe, and like I belonged. In addition to my permanent residence in California, I found home in a beach house in Henlopen Acres, which every August was filled with an abundance of Rosens and Friedmans. I found home in my Abuelita’s house in Jinotepe, Nicaragua, where I scarfed down gallo pinto and begged for cordobas for the ice cream truck (which we called the “ding-a-ling”). I found home in the hallowed halls and sunny classrooms of Marin Academy where I spent the majority of my past four years. And I found home spiritually and emotionally in Israel even if I had only been there for short periods of time with my family, school, or Jewish teen programs (shoutout to the Mussketers and DTFs if any of you are reading this!).
As I drove away from my house on September 8th, 2017 for the last time in a while, I questioned my definition of home. Is a home just a place where you feel safe and comfortable? Because I felt that way about many places, but as I got onto the plane, not Delaware, not Nicaragua, not even Israel, felt like home. Only my yellow house in Kentfield did. So, what the heck did home even mean to me, then?
When I thought about it, I became aware of the gravity and intensity with which I understand the word “home.” Yes, I can feel at home in many different places. But a home, to me, is the combination of a physical space and an emotional space, not an either or. You can have a physical house in which you live where you do not feel at home. This is not a home to me. You can feel at home in places where you do not have a physical, permanent residence. This place, to me, is still not a home, but rather a place where you feel at home. To me it is only a physical, (intended) permanent place of residence combined with sentiments of comfort, safety, and belonging, that come together to create a home. Home is the end point. Nicaragua, Israel, school, and Delaware were never my end points. I may have felt at home there, but I was simply visiting. For the past 12 years, though I might have felt at home in various places, I have only had one endpoint, and it was in Kentfield.
What a convenient thing to come to terms with, now that being home is no longer my normal. Coming home is now a vacation, not a permanent status. Whereas before, I left home to go other places for temporary periods of time, I will now be leaving other places to come home for temporary periods of time. I was so obsessed with defining my home in Kentfield that I did not allow myself to rediscover home in Israel. So, you can imagine my surprise when on Saturday, as I headed into Jerusalem with my friend Vicki, I randomly texted my best friend Danielle: “I’m really happy because I’ve realized that my cousins house has become home for me.” There was no context for this text; we were talking about her experiences in college before it just came out. I had never thought about this before, but here I was, telling Danielle I had found a new home without even realizing it myself. But I didn’t think too much of it in the moment.
Now I am going to take a not-so-quick detour to share with you all the crazy adventures I had this weekend. I know it’s somewhat of an abrupt and jarring transition, but I need to share with you how physically and mentally far away I was from Ra’anana (where I am staying) this weekend before I can return to the idea of rediscovering home in Israel.
After texting Danielle, I put my phone away to talk to the two strangers that we were carpooling with to Jerusalem who we found on Facebook. Mom, dad, I bet you’re thrilled to hear this! There are a series of Facebook pages where people post offers to drive people to and from places in Israel. We found people going from Herzliya to Jerusalem, so we decided to risk our lives but save some shekels by not taking the bus. Seems reasonable, right? We were pleasantly surprised to discover our drivers were very normal. They were both from New Jersey, were no more than a couple years older than us, and had great Israeli pop tunes to share with us. They even played some Justin Bieber songs, and I did not hide my excitement.
When Vicki and I arrived in Jerusalem, we first went to the Western Wall, or Kotel, where we shed tears and blessings with our hands and lips pressed to the wall. We celebrated Havdallah, or the end of Shabbat, in a sea of huddled women crowded next to the mechitza (a partition to separate men and women). The men passed mint leaves over from their side so we could recite the blessing over sweet spices – a compensation for the loss of Shabbat. We stood on our tip toes and reached our hands high in the air to see the reflection of the havdalah candle on our finger nails as we said the blessing over the flame. Then, we walked back to our Airbnb where we ditched our long skirts and t-shirts for jeans and tank tops and headed out for a night out on the town. We went to my favorite falafel place, Moshiko’s, on Ben Yehuda Street (popular street full of stores, bars, and restaurants). Tahini oozed out of my laffa onto my jeans, hummus replaced my lip gloss, and my hands were greasy from the falafel, but I was more than content. Then, we had a night of bar hopping with what felt like the entirety of the 18-year-old population of the city. Given how late we went to bed, we rose quite early, and ate breakfast at a quaint and cozy restaurant called Tmol Shilshom, which means “yesterday and the day before” in colloquial Hebrew. We had our favorite Israeli breakfast of eggs, salads, and bread, accompanied by chocolate croissants (which are 10000x more delicious here than in America because they are filled with the creamy, milky, almost sickeningly sweet Israeli chocolate). Then, we walked around Ben Yehuda Street, but this time instead of bar and friend hopping, we went siddur and “I ❤ HASHEM” (means “the name,” in reference to G-d) t-shirt shopping! It was weird to think that just a few hours ago I was on these same streets drinking a cocktail with friends, and now I was shopping for a prayer book. But, I was nonetheless thrilled to spend all of $28 on a baby blue, leather, Bat Yisrael siddur, meaning that all of the brachot (blessings) are feminine!
I had never heard of this type of siddur before, and was thrilled to open to the first page to the מודה אני (prayer recited upon waking up), and see the words modah ani (feminine for “I give thanks”), with no modeh ani (masculine for “I give thanks”) to be found. I have been wanting my own, special siddur for a while now, and to get one from Jerusalem (and in my favorite color, too) is more than I could’ve ever asked! Afterward, we got picked up by our carpool who drove us to Tel Aviv. Partway through the ride, Vicki nudged me, saying “I think we are in the West Bank.” We both looked up from our phones, and noticed we were surrounded by tall walls and fences. In the distance, we could just make out the black water tanks, characteristic only of Palestinian homes in Israel (Jewish homes have white water tanks). We checked the maps, and sure enough, were in Ramallah, a Palestinian city in the central West Bank. I will spare you the potential for political controversy by saying only that it was very interesting. I have only ever been to Israel in recent years on teen programs, where going through the West Bank is a hard no. Vicki and I both exchanged looks of curiosity, surprise, and shock, as we had never been this close to the West Bank before. Anyways, for everyone’s sake, let’s stop there!
We finally made it to Tel Aviv, where we couldn’t get over how cute our next Airbnb was, in Florentine, a hip and increasingly popular neighborhood in South Tel Aviv. After a good 20 minutes of obsessing, taking photos, and laying on the comfortable couch, we put on our bathing suits and walked to the beach, where we spent the next few hours swimming, reading, listening to music, and watching the sunset. That night, we had dinner at arguably our favorite place in the whole country… the Blackout Restaurant at the Nalaga’at Theater in Jaffa.We had been twice before, together (once on Diller, once on Shalhevet), but this was the first time we were going without a posse of Jewish teens with us, and the first time we were legal! Let’s just say, we had quite a good time in there, eating with our fingers, guessing what was in our “surprise cocktails,” and befriending the couple at our table, Roni and Romi. Then, we decided to hit the hay instead of going out clubbing, and slept until 11AM before heading home to Ra’anana.
Now, back to this talk of “home.” I didn’t think much of my text to Danielle until I woke up on Sunday, feeling a bit off after getting only 3 hours of sleep (and after the amount we drank the night before, I’ll admit). I texted Mia: “I think I’m homesick a little bit!!! Homesick for my cousin’s house, though.” Again, I was surprised. My heart didn’t yearn to be in Kentfield, in my bed with my elephant mandala and walls covered in photos and Bieber posters. I wanted to be in Raanana, Israel, in my bed with green floral sheets and a striped rainbow comforter. I hadn’t realized it, but I had found myself a new home, for real this time. Yes, I have felt at home in this country for years, but never have I felt that I have a home here. It was only once I left Raanana for the weekend that I could understand I had found a home, just like it was only once I left the Bay Area that I grasped what “home” meant to me, and where home truly was.
Now, home to me is working out to Pure Barre videos off of a tiny MacBook air computer screen in the yoga studio. Home is playing Codenames on Rosh HaShanah and doing havdallah every Saturday night on the back patio. Home is cooking dinner every night with Simone, rushing to finish before a hungry Daniella gets home from the army. Home is grocery shopping with Jennifer, asking store clerks what certain things mean in English, and laughing about the lack of options compared to in America. Home is dance parties in the dark when Jennifer and Philippe are out, lengthy discussions about what chocolate bar to open after dinner, and who has to load the dishwasher.
I still believe that for most of my life I confused feeling at home somewhere, with having a home somewhere. I still believe that for most of my life, I misunderstood what “home” meant to me. But, I also believe that my cousin’s house in Ra’anana fits all of my requirements, so finally, I am adding a new home to my list. Since the rest of my trips for the next few months are much shorter than this one, I doubt that I will find another home, even if I do feel at home at times. But who knows, I might surprise myself, just as I did this past weekend when I went away for the weekend and yearned to go home not to Kentfield but to Ra’anana. But then again, maybe I won’t, and worse comes to worst, I will now have two homes, on opposite sides of the world but nonetheless homes, to go back to 🙂