My Heart is in the East as I Head West
By Samantha Vinokor
Copyright © YamTikhoni
At some point in the last three years, I crossed an invisible threshold. Sometime between sampling olives out of open barrels in the shuk, racing to make the last bus before Shabbat, and walking through ancient winding alleys, a shift occurred. I didn't notice it in the moment, but as I think back on who I was three years ago when I moved to Israel and who I am today as I embark on my next chapter, the change is very clear. I arrived a passionate Zionist, with an Israeli passport, rudimentary Hebrew, and a deep love of the Tel Aviv beaches. In short, I arrived as an American Jew, coming to my homeland. Leaving now, I am an Israeli, leaving my home.
People keep asking the same question. What are you going to miss the most?
I don't even know how to begin to respond. How do you rank the multitude of small and large things that make up a life?
There are, of course, the things that go without saying:
My family, the cousins who have provided me with a place to go whenever I need the comfort of a familial environment.
The friends who have shaped my experience with constant support, Shabbat dinners, and by helping me create my own community in an unfamiliar place.
There are the things that I've complained about, but can't imagine life without:
The claustrophobic closeness of most bus rides.
Being jostled (on a good day) and body slammed (on a typical day) while grocery shopping.
The tiny pieces of cardboard that somehow qualify as "plates" when pizza is being served.
There are the things that I always knew I'd miss, which have been the things that kept me coming back to Israel every year before I moved here permanently, and that kept me going when the stress of aliyah became too much:
The soft light of a setting sun on Jerusalem stone.
The warmth of the sun and the coolness of the water at the beach.
The culinary genius that is shakshuka.
The brief moments when Hebrew flows, and I actually fill like I fit in.
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The lights of countless Channukah and Shabbat candles that shine in windows around the country.
The "chag sameach" signs on busses every holiday.
The timeless infinity that can only be experienced in the desert.
And then there are the things that can't be defined:
The feeling of pride I get when seeing soldiers in the streets.
The sense of unity that this country exhibits in the face of tragedy, and the knowledge that we're all in this together.
The diversity of Jewish and Zionist expression that sometimes makes the whole country feel dysfunctional, but in reality is why we work.
The honor and responsibility of being part of a generation that gets to live the Zionist dream of being free and independent in the Jewish homeland.
When I was fifteen, and enjoying a summer in Israel, I bought a ring that I had engraved with the words of Zionist longing written by Yehuda HaLevi:
My heart is in the East and I am at the edge of the West.
I wore the ring every day for six years. Then, I made aliyah, and got a new ring, this time with the iconic words of Theodor Herzl:
If you will it, it is no dream.
I fulfilled my dream of making aliyah, of becoming Israeli, of living out the dream of generations of the Jewish people. Now, as I move on to this next stage, I'm wearing both rings, and carrying with me all that they represent: longing for the dream and the reality of Israel, and knowing that both are mine.
Samantha Vinokor is a native New Yorker who recently returned to the US after three years in Israel. She is currently living in Washington, DC, and working as a Jewish Educator. More about Samantha's freelance work, experiential education initiatives, and blogging can be found here.