Tisha B’av is always a personally challenging time for me. When we first moved back to the United States ten years ago, I cried so much on Tisha B’av. I felt like my own Yerushalayim had been ripped away from me. I felt like I knew better than anyone alive what it meant to really yearn for Jerusalem.
The problem is, it is a personal longing. I missed my home, I missed my life.
The mourning of Tisha B’av is of something much greater, and more religious. I have struggled with and worked at internalizing that Tisha B’av is a time for real yearning for the Beit Hamikdash, our holiest Temple. Our unity as a people, our connection to G-d, and our ability to express that through the many mitzvot we cannot currently perform. We are even mourning our lack of understanding what we are truly missing. Generations past rent their clothes and cried out because the stories and memories of the beautiful Temple in all of its glory were still fresh enough to hurt and burn their hearts. We have even lost that.
I have grown at crying over these national losses, and not just how much I miss Shabbat meals at Ruthie’s or going to a class with Debbie.
This week, we had guests stay with us for Shabbat. A friend who feels like family was in from Eli (Israel) with his young son. He didn’t do anything or say anything earth shattering. Our conversations were for the most part the picking up where we left off over a year ago, as always seems to happen with good friends that you don’t see often but you know will always be friends. Just another one of our friends in from Israel for a friendly visit before returning to Israel.
I made aliyah in 1995 and lived in Israel for six years. While I only have two more years to count down until I finally get to return, I have now been “back” in the US for a full decade. One might argue that having spent 15.8% of my life in Israel hardly makes me an Israeli.
I moved to Israel straight after college (even skipping graduation) in 1995. I spent a year there from 1990-91, and never really left emotionally. Although I returned to North America to get a college degree, I was already friends with Israelis, learning and speaking Hebrew, returning to Israel each summer, and planning my aliyah. I have always felt that my childhood development was in the US, but my adulthood development was in Israel. My first apartment, job, car and many other adult experiences were all in Israel. The type of community I wanted to live in, and the kind of environment I wanted in which to grow into the person I wanted to be, were all in Israel.
When I moved there, it was for all of the reasons others have presented, historical, cultural, religious, philosophical, etc., but mostly because I felt at home. Lots of us olim seem to say that, don’t we?. I have been back in the US for so long now, and at the beginning I worried a great deal that I would simply start to feel more at home here.
That has never happened.
This is what brings me back to our Shabbat guest.
It just felt so strikingly familiar to have him around. He (and his wife) think like us, talk like us, daven like us, parent like us… are people from “our planet”. Having him around just reminded me of how much we are not with people like us and are never truly at home while here.
We live in an amazing community with wonderful people. I will need to post another blog about what a unique and special place this is for one’s growth as a Jew.
Still, this feeling that I am swimming upstream every single day doesn’t abate, and is what makes me miss Israel the most. There is something so wonderful about overcoming differences, meeting other kinds of people, broadening one’s horizons… but there is also something so wonderful about just going home.
I don’t think that most Israelis would perceive me to be very Israeli, or even necessarily from “their planet”. American olim, however, are definitely our own category, and within that group is always where I feel most at home.
It was wonderful to have a Shabbat guest, and to see an old friend. But being so close to Tisha B’av, I find myself fighting the temptation to feel consumed by yearning of the homesickness variety. I have to channel that longing and sadness and use it to tap into the true focus of the day.