Life can seem surreal at times. Today is Sunday, June 3rd and I have just gotten home from a wedding at my synagogue of two members. As I looked around the room, I realized that half of the place were other members of my synagogue, people who have watched me grow up and whom I have known for years. Everyone was asking about my upcoming adventure to Israel... How long will you be there? What are you going to do? When do you leave? Even the bride and groom, on what is their day, were thoughtful enough to inquire. I have been on a whirlwind trip around California, and have really started to explore the idea of what home is. How do you define what your true home is? Is it where you grew up? Is it where your family is? Is it where your friends are? Is it where you found yourself? Is it where you are when you are there? What makes a home, your home? Is home truly where the heart is?
These questions have been crossing my mind as of late as I have ventured to many of my past homes and have started to really think about this new journey in my life. I will attempt again to create a new home far away from the majority of my family and where I grew up with a group of new and old friends, family, and colleagues in Jerusalem. Jerusalem was my home for part of my Otzma year, but I never really took a liking to it. Yes, it is true, Jerusalem can leave a bad taste in your mouth and it certainly did with me when I lived there. For many reasons that I will put aside for a moment, this "bad taste" has left me with the challenge of discovering how to make Jerusalem my home.
What I take from where I grew up and have lived for the last year of my life, Fountain Valley, is a strong network of support from friends and family who have watched me grow and evolve. FV has always been a "nice place to live" (the motto of the town) for me since my entire family and best friends are here (or not too far). Since college, FV has served as a quiet respite from life whether I was in Santa Barbara for college or in LA working at AIPAC. I always felt at home here, cozy and calm under the protection of my parents, and that has even extended into this year. I know I will miss my parents' and brother's presence when I am in Israel, but I will carry their warmth and love with me wherever I go. But, especially after returning here, I have wondered if this is truly my home.
UCSB in Santa Barbara pushed me to grow into who I am today. In this home, I became comfortable enough in who I am to take risks and challenge myself to do things I never thought possible. I honed my passion for Judaism and learning, and really created my own community of friends and family at UCSB. I was involved in the greater community, and really felt like I was beginning to know Santa Barbara beyond the walls of my university. I really learned to pray in Santa Barbara. I am not sure if it was a combination of the gorgeous landscape, or the breathtaking sunsets, or the haunting melodies, but I really felt like Santa Barbara was my spiritual home, and the place where I could truly let Shabbat in my life. But, after I finished my Bachelor's degree there, I felt like I had to leave. So, I had created a home, and almost overnight it was gone. Was that my home or just the place that shaped me?
In LA I learned a lot, especially about the stress of working life. Is home where my job is? I began to feel like the work at AIPAC was my mission, my duty really to wake up each day to do something to protect Israel. But, one can hardly find peace and solace with the traffic and parking in LA. The excitement of a big city, and one with Jewish life, was exhilarating yet exhausting. Through AIPAC, I learned about the pro-Israel community, and what it means to truly dedicate yourself for the well being of the country. I know my experience in LA at AIPAC taught me a lot, and despite the fact that my grandparents lived there, I'm not sure I would ever truly call it home.
So, again, I am left with the same question... What defines home? I suppose as I embark on another journey to Israel, the home of my people and my history, I will uncover more of what home means to me. I found home several times when I volunteered and worked in Israel the last time, and created a strong family among my fellow Otzmaniks. But, I always wonder if it is possible to be so strongly connected to two places. My fear is that I will never feel completely whole in one place, that I will always feel something missing when I eventually settle down.
I suppose only time will tell, but at least for the upcoming school year, Jerusalem is my home.
Embark on an exciting journey into Israel, the homeland of the Jewish People and my home for the next year! I will be adding my new observations and perspective of student life at Hebrew Union College in Jerusalem, Israel. Enjoy the ride!