|Abby Leichman today at the Hula Valley Nature Reserve in Israel abigail klein leichman|
We recently marked our fifth anniversary in Israel – or what comedian Benji Lovitt would call our “aliyaversary.”
Lovitt arrived a year before we did, and he always celebrates the date with a reflective and humorous blog post. This year, he wrote that he didn’t feel the usual need to explore and report his feelings as an “oleh,” or immigrant. “Less and less, I see my accomplishments here as those of an oleh and more as those of just a person.”
I can relate, Benji. Everything in my first days, weeks, and months in Israel was larger than life and worthy of writing about, whether it was communicating successfully with the gas company, getting acquainted with supermarket labels and bus schedules, or gazing at the Bedouin shepherds tending flocks in the valley below our backyard.
It’s not that I’ve become jaded. I still appreciate the view from our yard. I still feel triumphant when I carry on a coherent conversation in Hebrew. I never will stop marveling at the amazing cross-section of people who come to visit or live in the Holy Land, and hearing “Hatikvah” still chokes me up.
It’s just that while I was busy adjusting, my Israeli experiences somehow became the new normal. I guess it happened in the past two years, judging by my feelings during my trip to the “Old Country” in June.
I had last been back in 2009. I recall feeling an odd sense of relief as the wheels hit the tarmac at JFK Airport, and even more when I reached my childhood home in Yonkers, where my mother awaited me. Here was familiar territory. Here were people who spoke my language. I visited Teaneck but could not bring myself even to drive past our old house because – I was dismayed to admit to myself – I still felt emotional about leaving it behind.
Something was different three years later – not the people, not the houses, but my reaction to them. I loved visiting my old stomping grounds and especially spending time with relatives and friends. Yet I did not feel that little tug of “home.” I stood in front of my old house on Cherry Lane and recalled our 20 years in it fondly, content to relegate it to a closed chapter of my personal history.
I shared meals and conversation with several very dear former Teaneck neighbors. Except for the Italian couple next door who were like second grandparents to our children, all of these friends have visited us in Ma’aleh Adumim and keep in touch with me by email. It felt good to be recognized and greeted on the street, as if Teaneck were my personal “Cheers” bar (“Where everybody knows your name, and they’re always glad you came.”).
I got a kick out of shopping in Target and Whole Foods. I was thrilled to walk among the stacks at the Teaneck Public Library.
But neither Teaneck nor Yonkers is home anymore. Home is this tiny piece of hotly contested real estate in the Middle East that I have come to love so fiercely. This does not mean that I feel Israeli, since I did not grow up here. Rather, I feel like a comfortably acclimated American immigrant in Israel, and that suits me fine.
So after five years, I am bidding my occasional Aliyah Diary column farewell. No doubt I will have more to report from time to time about our lives in Israel, but the process of settling in has come to a close. I thank the Jewish Standard for giving me an outlet for my thoughts and feelings during these five years, and most of all I thank the readers who have reached out to comment on what I’ve written. I am always happy to hear from you, and especially to see you when you come to visit Israel.