I know that Israel is home, even after 30 years, because when I landed, exhausted and disoriented by the bitter cold and fury of the worst storm in decades, all I wanted was to go eat the food every child in Israel knows, the food I thought was Israeli until I learned it was actually Palestinian, adopted and adapted by the Jews who came to live in that land. Going home, after millennia, to the symbolic land of their ancestors, in the process destroying and displacing the actual homes of others.
I wanted to eat hummus, and tahini. So we went to Jaffa, still populated by many Arabs whose ancestry there far precedes the young city of Tel-Aviv which forcibly absorbed Jaffa. Jaffa is a site of an uneasy coexistence, eroded by the constant push of modernity and gentrification. We found the food, unquestionably what I had hoped for, in an Arab restaurant, or would they call themselves Palestinian? Did their ancestors?
I know it’s home because the sights and the sounds and the smells compel me even when I don’t like them. Because the intensity of stress everyone lives with feels like it’s just been yesterday even though it had been three years since my last visit. Because despite my distaste for the gruff mannerisms, I still love the immediacy, the unmediated access to people, the directness. Both this time and last time, my sister Arnina and I had post-movie conversations in the bathroom with total strangers, conversation that traversed meaning and slices of everyone’s personal lives. I still miss the particular brand of kindness and generosity that means anyone can ask anyone for anything and mostly they will just do it. I recognize the longing, unmistakable, for some way of being “real” that I simply don’t find in the US, the place I have made home and never feel at home in. A longing which surprised me with its intensity when a group of local Israelis in San Francisco started gathering once a month to sing the songs we grew up on. The first time I simply cried, in recognition, familiarity, and unbearable sweetness.