Aliyah diary: Going home again
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Aliyah diary: Going home again

For a week this June, I slept in the twin bed next to my mother during my first trip back to the United States. It’s been almost two years since we made aliyah.

Until we came to Israel, I had never lived more than 20 minutes away from my childhood home in Yonkers. Although I have adjusted well to our life in Israel, I was not sure how I would react to being back. Several friends here told me what to expect.

June, who moved to Israel from Teaneck a few months after we did, said that stepping foot in America would be like putting on an old comfortable pair of slippers.

Lloyd, who made aliyah from Chicago about a decade ago, predicted I would be relieved to feel once again fully fluent and competent in the native tongue.

Susan said I would notice things about America that I’d never noticed before.

Marjorie assured me I’d thoroughly enjoy the shopping and the family time but would be happy to come back to Israel.

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Abigail Klein Leichman with her mother, Nancy Klein, at a family wedding that took place during her first trip back to America. Daniel Klein

They were all correct.

My son Joey – the sole member of our nuclear family still in America – came to pick me up at JFK from his home in Queens. As we drove to my mother’s house, the route felt comforting and familiar. I joined right into the hubbub of three generations of Kleins descending upon the huge old homestead, two days ahead of my nephew Coby’s wedding.

There were new babies and new spouses to meet and lots of details to catch up on. Though I stay in touch with my stateside siblings and their children, a face-to-face conversation always yields much more than a phone call or e-mail exchange.

Just being able to hang out with the extended family before, during, and after the wedding – especially with my son and my mother – was a pleasure. I was determined to make the most of our short time together. It would have been even better if my husband and children in Israel could have shared those family experiences with me, including a delightful Father’s Day brunch in Hackensack with the Leichman clan.

I thought of our friend Lloyd when I was standing at the Sears checkout line and started to fashion a sentence in Hebrew. Indeed, it felt good to understand and be understood effortlessly.

When my niece and I went to Old Navy to choose a gift for my grandson, I recalled with a smile that just before I took off, my daughter had jokingly requested that I bring that entire store back to Israel as her 20th birthday present.

It seemed strange to walk into a mall without passing through a metal detector and having the inside of my handbag eyeballed. The last time my daughter-in-law was in America, she automatically unzipped her bag as she approached the mall entrance. (Sad as it is to have such security procedures as part of daily life, you are free to draw your own conclusions about which country is safer.)

Riding an express bus to meet a friend at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, I chuckled out loud when I read the sign posted at the front of the vehicle: “Please do not talk to operator while bus is in motion.”

I believe it’s also technically forbidden to chat with bus operators in Israel. But after almost two years of hearing passengers routinely yak with the driver while the bus is in every sort of motion imaginable, the notion of silence on public transportation now seems odd.

The morning after my arrival, my mother’s clock radio came alive at 6:30 with a weather update from Tom Kaminski in Chopper 880. I sat bolt upright in bed. “Chopper 880!” I sang out joyfully, sort of like a 3-year-old might do. “Wow, it’s been a long time since I heard Tom Kaminski!”

In the hills of Ma’aleh Adumim, we have tenuous radio reception. The only clear station features American top-40 music broadcast from Jordan. I hear British-inflected announcers hyping up dance parties at the Amman Hilton, but no airborne meteorologist reports.

I really did enjoy being back. I wish the distance between Israel and the United States were short enough to visit more often.

And yet, although the “old slippers” felt comfortable, they are no longer my walking shoes. Like a true Israeli, I clapped when the plane touched down at Ben-Gurion, eager to return to the soil where my soles – and my soul – belong.

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