Monday, July 5, 2010

No Longer in Israel

By Susan Esther Barnes

Sitting at the JFK airport in New York waiting for my connecting flight to San Francisco, I hear voices speaking a language that isn't English, but it isn't Hebrew either.

Out of the corner of my eye I see a man walking toward me. Something sways near his hips, but when I glance up it is not the tzitzit I expected to see, but instead it is the arms of the sweatshirt he has tied around his waist.

I purchase a bottle of water, but the vendor does not want Shekels, she wants Dollars.

I realize the Hebrew, the tzitzit, the Shekels were not surprising or jarring when I arrived in Israel. Why, then, are their absence here so unsettling to me now?

Why in the world would I think nostalgically about the Hardei turning their back to me as I walked down the street?

The woman sitting next to me asks me, in Spanish, what time it is, and I am able to answer her in Spanish. Sadly, I would have had more trouble understanding her question and formulating the answer if we were trying to speak Hebrew. So why doesn't this exchange make me feel more at home?

Whatever led me to believe that if I just visited Israel once I would be satisfied? I don't want to live there, but I want to be there, soaking it in. I know I belong here now, in the US, and I suspect the alien feeling of my own country will fade with the jet lag.

Yet part of me will forever miss the ease I felt, walking into a restaurant or dining room without having to wonder whether the bread served with the meat might have dairy in it, violating the laws of kashrut. I will miss the mezuzah on every hotel room door and the quiet of the streets of Jerusalem on Shabbat.

It seems there will always be something here to remind me I am no longer in Israel.

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