Foreign, and yet familiar

Coming back “home” from vacation was an odd sensation because we were leaving a foreign country and arriving in another not-quite-home country.

I noticed the dissonance when we landed and El Al played their “welcome home” spot: “El Al” — “Hachi Babayit Ba’olam,” or “The most at home in the world.” (Their English slogan, incidentally, is “It’s not an airline. It’s Israel.”) The ad shows a bunch of El Al workers talking about what home means to them. It’s very moving, but it got me thinking about how I was coming home to a place that barely feels like home.

In some ways, everything about our arrival was very, very familiar. Being put through the security wringer by Israeli staff at the El Al gate? Check. Birthright group at the baggage carousel? Check. Terribly dry landscape? Check. Traffic jams on all of the highways because the train was closed for routine maintenance on a Thursday afternoon (the busiest travel day)? Check. 

On thing was a relief for me, and that was being able to communicate with everybody. Sure, everyone in the tourist business in Italy speaks English, and we talked to other tourists who spoke English, and I can understand a bit of Italian because of Spanish and English cognates…but during our whole trip, I didn’t like the feeling of not being able to communicate effectively. So I enjoyed speaking Hebrew again. It doesn’t stress me out anymore even though I still sometimes have brain farts and can’t string together a sentence or say exactly what I mean. It’s just familiar now, and familiar is home.

We picked up Rafi and drove back to our apartment. It was dark and quiet. The next morning I walked around our neighborhood and enjoyed the relaxed feeling it always gives me.

I may have mentioned before that we live in a very quiet neighborhood. Sure, the buses are loud, but the people aren’t (except on Friday nights). There are a lot of young families and retirees, and there are not too many stores at our end of the neighborhood–just the basics, nothing to attract people from further away. It’s a block and a half of strip and that’s it. There are two large playgrounds and several small ones. You have to walk a kilometer just to get a cup of coffee.

People in our neighborhood have their routines, and I can expect to see the same retirees and their Asian caregivers on the same benches every morning, the same children (more or less) at each playground at about the same hours every evening, and when I walk home from the playground I can expect to see the same man standing right in the middle of the quiet, one-way street waiting for minyan to start. (I think he’s a little off.) I even know what time the T’nuva (dairy) delivery truck makes a u-turn across the street.

I remind myself about all that and feel a little bit more at home.


One thought on “Foreign, and yet familiar

  1. Sounds a little like living in a college dorm. It’s not “home” yet but after a while it’s more home than the Student Union, for instance. And after a few years it is home. Unless, of course, you are an international student and there are language/culture issues…

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