I started knitting a baby blanket the day after Alex and I returned from New York. We signed a lease on an apartment in Brooklyn after falling in love with the second place we saw. I could have skipped all the way back to San Antonio, relieved that our apartment search went so well.
I bought the yarn with a clear picture in mind. Here I am, 28 years old with the most incredible husband by my side, about to leave San Antonio again. For good this time. We leave knowing that in four years we will have to decide where to start our lives as we start our careers. And now that I am running out of time to avoid making decisions, our plans to start a family are coming into focus.
But the vaguest memory of a walk down Yoel Solomon sets me back. The thought of Jerusalem elicits a tightening in my chest, a contraction of my stomach, a single heart beat during which every memory of the past year rushes back to me. Its tide recedes in an instant and the realization that I lie 7,000 miles away from my friends and my spiritual home sinks in. I never knew exile until I stood for the last time on the Israeli side of airport security before returning home.
I think my sadness could have been mitigated by a visit or two to the US during my year in Israel, but only to the detriment of my connection to the land. Having spent a full year experiencing the Hebrew calendar and seasons in the land of Israel, laughing, crying, celebrating, and mourning, has let me (or perhaps forced me) to regard two lands as my home.
I expected to land in San Francisco in mourning. I was prepared to walk through customs and begin adjusting as well as I could to a foreign home land. Instead I was put off by how easy it was to feel at home in a place I had not missed that much in the year I was gone. I guess because I knew my year in Israel was just that–a year–I was able to jump in with a limited emotional commitment. Between the presence of my husband who put his life on hold for a year to be by my side and the fact that our return to the United States was inevitable, I had no difficulty with the idea of living abroad for a year. Instead I was uncomfortable with how easy it would have been to stay.
I talk about it romantically but it’s because I feel it. And then I think about how others may not understand that situation and it might just be like how inexplicably happy that woman in Under the Tuscan Sun was to be in a place that she knew was like 75% awful but there was some ridiculous charm that made it her ultimate happiness.
I don’t remember how the movie ends but in my version she goes back home and realizes that’s actually where she wants to be. And she struggles with this. And she feels guilty for turning her back on that place but she’s just not willing to sacrifice the comforts of home, no matter what dreamworld she was in that fulfilled her so completely.
Coming back to America and remembering how much I love my hometown makes me wonder if I was ever so in love with Israel. I think I was. I successfully romanticized its biblical history, its pain of exile, and its rebirth as a nation of determined Jewish people and I made its story my own. I connected to its patriotism in a way I had always feared in the United States. And yet I knew that my unwillingness to live my life as a non-Israeli born Israeli would keep me from ever submitting to the Zionist dream of making aliyah.
Yes, Israel’s allure is unending and Jerusalem’s pull on me knows no bounds, and yes I still tear up when I peruse a particular psalm or hear my favorite Israeli pop song, but I also found myself dreaming another dream from a rooftop in Brooklyn on the Fourth of July. A year away made this day finally make sense to me, not for any beautifully patriotic reason, but because I got to see how Israelis love their country on their Independence Day. Part of me wants that. The rest of me knows that settling in Israel would just be settling. I cannot leave the comforts of America behind, nor can I leave my future as a parent in the hands of a powerless Israeli Supreme Court and a morally compromised legislative body that refuses to stand up for my right to adopt children. My home state of Texas has failed me time and again on this matter, and just as I refuse to start a family there, so too do I turn my back on Israel.
If I will it, it is no dream. Truly, if I were to take my place in Zion, I would be forsaking my dream. I need Israel to exist for my children, but more importantly, I need my children to exist in the first place.
For them I sacrifice everything, even Theodore Hertzl’s romantic vision. In the meantime–as with all things Jewish and Israeli–I struggle. And I dream.