“I’m coming home. I’m coming home. Tell the World I’m coming home.”
-Coming Home by Diddy
“Take a deep breath of the Israeli air!” Tovya screamed to me as we ran out of the big sliding doors at Ben Gurion airport, lugging our heavy suitcases behind us. We had just disembarked from the plane and I was still floating in a hazy state of sleepiness, but as I inhaled the rich Israeli air, all the drowsiness I accumulated from the long plane ride vanished. I looked up at the sky and saw palm trees outlined against the cloudless blue sky and a thousand memories flowed through me from the times I had lived in Israel. At that moment, I understood that for me Israel is like walking into the house after a long trip; it is the indescribable feeling of being at home and the limitless feeling of belonging. But, along with the feeling of belonging there was restlessness and bewilderment. I felt these mixed emotions because my two worlds were clashing; I had arrived to Israel with my American identity and my American class.
When I came back to America after living in Israel for a year, the Israel part of my identity disappeared and I couldn’t get it back. But as I stepped off the plane and further and further into Israel, it all came back. I started to run to the bus which was waiting patiently by the corner for us, the straps of my suitcase striking against the sidewalk and making a sort of rhythm. A few feet away from the bus, I paused to catch my breath and tip my face upwards, feeling my hair cascade down my back and enjoying the sunshine radiating down on me. With the sun beating down on my face - I’m sure making little freckles appear - I realized that when I’m in America, I miss Israel, but I miss who I am in Israel even more. I’m not a different person in Israel, but there are parts of my identity that I allow to show more and parts of my identity that I keep hidden (and the same is true here in America).
When I lived in Israel, I longed to be in America, but when I came home to America I missed my home in Rishon LeZion so much. I was excited to reconnect with my Israel. My Israel is not the tourist Israel. My Israel is getting falafel on the street corner near my friend Dafna’s house and seeing a pile of sand while walking home from school. It’s the guy at the makolet saying hi to me and knowing my name. It’s bargaining and having dinner at the beach with my family. And, it’s the smell of Israel: a mix of sun-block and sunflower seeds.
As I continued on, I felt that part of my identity – who I was then – intertwine with who I am now. Tripping over my own feet, I felt growing anxiety as I looked at my friends and classmates. It must have shown on my face and Tovya looked over her shoulder at me with concern. My two worlds and identities were colliding. As I shoved my suitcase into the bottom of the bus and found my seat, I was uneasy. Usually, when I visit Israel my Israeli identity re-integrates itself into me, but because I was with my American class in Israel I was unable to lose my American identity. How could I be both, keep both identities at the same time?
As we climbed to Jerusalem, I had a little therapy session in my head. I pressed my forehead against the window and tried to organize my thoughts. Finally, I came to understand that I am a combination of these two identities and I don’t need to choose one. I can be both of them. It doesn’t matter where I am, whether in America or in Israel, because I can feel at home in both places. The fight I was having between the two parts of me was going on in my head and if I embraced both parts of my identity they would stop competing.
Israel is part of the foundation of my identity and one of my homes. I don’t have to pick between my American and my Israeli identity because I am a combination of both of them. As I looked at my classmates on the bus, I realized that I might not have been the only one feeling torn. In Israel, parts of one’s identity are brought to life -- even parts that they didn’t even know they had – like when some of my classmates got off the plane, they described of feeling of being at home, a feeling of belonging, even if they had not ever been in Israel. Anyone who has considered his or her Jewish identity struggles with many other identities. There are challenges and joys of making peace with competing identities. Being in Israel with my classmates taught me that everyone struggles with multiple identities and has helped me come up with ways to balance my current identities and ones I will gain in the future.
8th Grade Student