Friday, September 7, 2012

If a place can make you cry

This morning I finally got around to reading Jewish Action, rather browse through it. I was browsing during breakfast, quite lightly, and then I opened to this page.
I did not even look at the article, but I immediately recognized this place as the synagogue in Katzrin, Israel. It is located in Golan Heights.

This summer, I visited Israel for the first time. My husband and I had a short trip, only 6 days. We rented a car and drove everywhere. I have a friend living in the Golan, and she recommended for us to visit a talmudic village in Katzrin, as we were making our trek toward Karmiel, where my grandmother used to live and is buried. Here is our image of the same shul, taken from the outside.

I saw the image in the article, and tears sprung from my eyes. I am an emotional person, but I usually do not experience nostalgia for a place which I only visited once, where nobody I know lives. But this is different...

When I left Kishinev, I managed to leave in a manner different from most other immigrants: I got to go back. I left for highschool, but my parents stayed behind, so three times, over the course of the next 6 years, I went back to visit. Those visits fully cured any nostalgia I might have had. It is very trendy among Russians ( Russian Jews?) to pine to go back, walk down the same street, see the school they attended, places they visited. Some do manage to go back, while for many others it remains this kind of a dream, best fulfilled by eating salted herring, drinking compote, and teaching your kids to speak Russian. Now, having gone back myself, I saw quite different images: here is a place where I had to make a sharp turn not to bump into a drunk with his pants down, here is where my classmates rubbed my face with snow, here is a neighbor hoisting her son onto me to "remember our youth", here is a pile of cr*p in the corner because there are no public bathrooms, here is a bureaucrat eager to paw my back to "straighten my posture because a girl should be slender, like a birch", and I cannot say much because he is supposed to give us some vital piece of paper... Ok, it was not all bad, but you get to see the place as it is, not as you remember it through hazy fog of longing.

Here, in Katzrin, the Jews left a village and a synagogue. They are both dated to 4-7th CE. We can go back and visit those remains and say, this used to be ours, and now it is ours again. What did Jews live in Kishinev? If I am lucky, there is a plaque hanging somewhere commemorating the pogrom of 1905. I do not feel that is something I want to go back to. 

A few days ago, my husband and I watched an aliyah video made by a family moving to Israel. It is honest, emotional, painful at times. What really got me are the people greeting the plane. The signs, the hugs, the friends who traveled from all over to meet new arrivals. I looked at my husband and said: Which other country will greet new immigrants like that? Where else do they roll out the red carpet? Oh, I know, this is just the first day, and then there are years of learning the language, the ropes, finding your place, heartaches, regrets. But what is different about moving to Israel is that "coming home" feeling.

On our very brief trip, we were asked repeatedly when are we moving to Israel. The American response is: none of your business! But that is not true: it is your business. Same way as you would want to know whether a close relative is moving in nearby, so do all these nosy Israelis want to know: when are you coming?

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