The Wandering Jew
How one West Bloomfield native found home in the Hummusland.
In 2009 I made the ultimate leap of faith: I made aliyah to Israel, the land of milk and honey … and hummus.
So how did I come to the decision to uproot my life, to settle down in a place I really only knew from prayers and news broadcasts?
I’m neither religious nor particularly Zionistic. Despite growing up Jewish in West Bloomfield, I spent the better part of my life fleeing from Judaism. Not that it was always that way — my first memories of Israel emerged from songs, specifically the “Hatikvah,” Israel’s national anthem. I knew it before I knew the “Star-Spangled Banner” (which, I confess I still don’t really know or understand. For example, what are ramparts? And why did we hail them?) By contrast, “Hatikvah” conjures up images of old Jerusalem, with its honey-colored bricks, the sound of the shofar and the scent of date trees. Between the Torah, Zionist history and the Hebrew language, my teachers hammered on Israel as a kind of manifest destiny for Jews.
But at some point it became too much. My grandparents were Holocaust survivors, and while I was incredibly proud of them, it seemed as if that unspoken tragedy was always with us, in sad edges of their every gesture. We ate with separate silverware, and I prayed every morning in a language I didn’t really understand. All of my friends were Jewish. I didn’t even know anyone who wasn’t.
Naturally, I rebelled. I convinced my parents to transfer me to public school. I surrounded myself with a new clique of friends, mostly non-Jewish. At Hillel I would have spent the morning in prayer. In public high school, I skipped first period for breakfast at the local diner. After graduation, l attended a small liberal arts college with a Methodist background. I was one of four Jews on campus. I dated a lapsed Jehovah’s Witness, and we ate Hamburger Helper and Chef Boyardee while singing Christmas carols.
West Bloomfield To Prague
Faced with the prospect of staying in West Bloomfield after graduation, I did what any self-respecting young woman with a cultural identity crisis would do: I moved to Prague, the Czech Republic, to teach English. I fell head-over-heels in love with the city.
Prague is something out of a child’s imagination, a real-life Grimm’s fairy tale come true, full of dark legends and colorful characters. The cobblestone streets, the castles, the Gothic churches, candy-colored buildings, and marionette-makers! The sarcastic, beer-drinking Czech people are hard to get to know. They have a comically dark outlook on life. Thanks to communism, religion is virtually non-existent. Needless to say, I fit right in.
Only, why did I find myself frequently meandering the streets of the Jewish-less Jewish Quarter, the only “wandering Jew” there? Why were so many of my friends a mash-up of similarly displaced people, including a handful of Israelis I sought out and collected, who made me wistful for something I couldn’t articulate? Why did I linger at the falafel stand, or join what was arguably the smallest and most lax Jewish congregation still operating in the city?
After two years in Prague, I found myself back where I had started: home in West Bloomfield, feeling more lost than ever. I made the rather depressing realization that I had spent most of my life running away, a wandering Jew in every sense of the word. I had no idea where I belonged.
“The Gypsy” And The Hummusland
And then I met “The Gypsy,” also known as Tomer Meir (now, my husband). He was not only Jewish, he was Israeli, born and bred. He was a wanderer, like me, having come over to the United States to study, unsure of his place after graduation.
The Gypsy turned out to be the embodiment of everything I would later come to love about Israel: determined, fiercely loyal to his loved ones, true to his values, hopeful and passionate and optimistic that things — no matter how dire they seemed — would be better tomorrow. I fell hopelessly in love with him.
It was like being in Prague, only without the beer and wooden puppets. Together we wandered back to what I’ve dubbed “The Hummusland.”
It turned out Israel and my Gypsy had something else in common: They both wanted me there. Israel will always love you unconditionally. She is the ultimate Jewish mother. She will offer you incentives to come dwell again in the land of your ancestors: Instant citizenship! Health care! Tax breaks! Employment help! Discounts on electronics! She’ll do your laundry for life! (OK, I made that last one up. But you know she probably would). Even if you don’t want to “return” home, like the quintessential Jewish mother, Israel will always set an extra place for you at the table “just in case.” And then there’s the guilt, “Why don’t you ever visit?” you’ll hear from time to time, from the tourism board, Jewish organizations and, yes, even your own mother. “You always have a home here,” she will say.
And she is right, you know.
But after wandering the world, I finally realized the meaning of home: Home isn’t where you go; it’s where you are. I had spent my whole life searching for “home,” and it had been right in front of me, all along, in every song I sang as a child at Hillel, in every bowl of matzah ball soup. I didn’t understand that until I came to live in the land of my ancestors. And whether I eventually return to the states or settle down here for good, my wandering has come to an end at last.
By LAUREN MEIR | SPECIAL TO THE JEWISH NEWS
Lauren Meir, 29, is a freelance writer and dreamer currently residing in the Hummusland with her Gypsy husband Tomer. The couple live in Hod Hasharon and love to eat hummus.