I got back from Copenhagen, Denmark, last night!
Well, now that I got that out of my system, I can get down to the post.
Travelling is amazing, and spending a few days in Northern Europe with a friend, eating delicious food and wandering Christmas Markets was amazing. But so was returning to Jerusalem. That first breath of Jerusalem night air after being packed in the sherut (taxi/shuttle service from the airport), rediscovering the amazing view of the night sky from our balcony– I wanted to open my arms and scream “I’M HOME!”
But wait, is this home? I’ve been here for three months now, and some of the novelty is starting to wear off. Hebrew now comes out more easily and naturally, I don’t get lost as often, and I’ve even stopped going grocery shopping in the shuk in favor of the convenience of the chain grocery store down the street. My family is coming in a few weeks, and I am getting excited to show them around “my” city.
On the other hand, I still feel proud of myself every time I manage to communicate something in Hebrew and actually seem to be understood and not laughed at; I still stop and stare in awe at the sunset every single night as I walk home, inevitably breaking out a huge grin and repeating to myself, “I ACTUALLY LIVE HERE!”
There’s also more sensitive issues to calling this “home”. If I had succumbed to my desire to post a Facebook status “Back home in Jerusalem”, how would my friends and family have reacted? I can imagine from conversations I’ve had so far with people back home (or, not in Jerusalem- more on this in a minute) that my calling Jerusalem “home” would not be met with boundless happiness, to say the least. While I know the people who love me want me to enjoy myself and are pleased to hear that I love being here, they have not once hesitated to repeat that they strongly oppose my staying for a significantly extended period of time. It makes sense that they want and expect me to “come home” at the end of this year. Everyone wants to be close to the people they love.
The problem is, where is home? It feels easy to default to Chicago because that’s where my family is, but what about everything and everyone else? In the last 6 years I have called 6 different cities on 3 continents “home” (for those who are counting: Chicago, Durham, Conover, Madrid, Washington DC and now Jerusalem). What made me call those places home? There’s the banal: Is home where you sleep on a regular basis? Where you house your shoe collection? Where you receive mail? Where you can actually cook your own dinner? And there are more profound options: The place where the people you love live? The place where you make memories? The place where you grew up?
The problem with having called so many places home is that I can answer “yes” to most, if not all, of the above questions for all of the cities I once called “home”. Not only that, but at least while I was there, each place did have that enigmatic feeling of “home”. I said that I wanted to live abroad this year because I want to avoid putting down roots a little longer and enjoy the freedom of youth. I’ve also said that I specifically do not want to make plans for next year yet because I want to give myself a real chance to put down roots and make a life here. I know that I will not put in the same type of effort to make this place feel like “home” if I have a departure date. I’m a hypocrite.
But I’m starting to feel that perhaps the nomad plan will backfire regardless of my intentions. As I’m experiencing, every time I move, I just gain another place that feels like home. Rather than narrowing my options for “home” by making myself transient in most places, I’m just growing my list. Of course a vacation for a few days or even weeks does not a home make. But a year is a long time when the dividend is only 23. So dedicating a year of my life to a place is a lot, or at least enough to make a place home.
There is, of course, the argument that “Israel will always be my home because I am a Jew.” I’m not going to travel down that path, at least not on the blog. Besides, Jerusalem feels like home not because it’s the historical homeland of the people who like to say the same prayers as me, but for all the banal reasons I described above. I sleep here every night, my favorite pairs of shoes are here, I get mail here, I cook and bake here regularly
. The more existential questions are not yet quite at “yes”- while I am making wonderful memories, I am still working on making friends, and I don’t have any family here to my knowledge. But I trust that over the course of however much longer I am here, I will make more friends here who I trust and love and who I will miss when I go somewhere else. In other words, evidence indicates that Jerusalem will only become more “home” as time goes on. Which doesn’t detract from the fact that Chicago is also home, and Durham, Conover, Madrid, DC and wherever else I end up in the future. Which brings me to the title of the post- what makes a place home?
Whatever wise reader has the answer to that, please don’t hesitate to share…