A few years ago when I was living in San Francisco, I shared an ongoing dilemma with an Israeli friend:
“I feel torn between being here and living in Israel,” I told her. “I don’t know where I should be.”
“Why do you have to decide?” she posed. “Of course you choose a main locale for residence but as far as I’m concerned, the more comfortable you become inside your own skin the more comfortable you become wherever you are once you’ve lived in different places. And that’s a great place to be. You become a citizen of the world and you can find happiness wherever you go.”
At the time, I couldn’t wrap my head around that concept. I felt I should make a decision and declare my loyalty on some level to one place or the other. No in-between nonsense would do. And the concept of “global citizen” or feeling a sort of neutral happiness wherever I might be was way beyond my comprehension.
But, by jobe, I believe I finally got it.
For numerous reasons I won’t go into here & now, I returned to Israel four years ago after a decade hiatus in San Fran. Since returning, however, each summer I travel with my son to Cincinnati so he (and I) can maintain ties with my family & he can retain his command of the English language and gain exposure to American culture.
My parents and two of my sibs live in “Nati” & it’s where I grew up. But when I left there after college – which included a 2-year overseas stint at Tel Aviv University – I vowed never to return. Bloody god forsaken conservative place that indicted its own Contemporary Arts Center for running the Mappelthorpe Exhibit (!) was how I viewed matters. Not for me. Gateway to the North, indeed. There would be no containing me THERE, thanks. I longed for the enchanted promise of Seuss’ Oh The Places You’ll Go.
But here I am, years later, turned completely around & feeling the warm glow of “global.”
This summer my son and I spent time in Cincinnati, took a side trip out to San Francisco and now we’re back in Tel Aviv. And I can honestly say that in each place I found home. Home in cultural events that included Opera and a World Piano Competition in Cincinnati, the MOMA in San Fran and upon returning to Tel Aviv, a visit to my local gallery to check out the latest exhibit.
I found home in culinary delights in Cincinnati’s trend spots: Bootsy’s for tapas, Teller’s for rasberry vinaigrette over greens and goat cheese, my mom’s for home-cooked Indonesian chicken and a dear friend’s for backyard grilled Talapia wrapped in lettuce leaves.
I relaxed back into San Francisco food comfort with frighteningly potent margaritas served up at Puerto Alegre & generous, steaming bowls of traditional Vietnamese Pho. And upon returning to Holy Land Central (aka Israel) I hit the supermarket on a Friday at 2 p.m. – total cold-water immersion into THIS local food culture.
Home, everywhere, is about the people. I spent neery an idle moment in Cincy thanks to FB and reconnecting with old friends and loved ones who indulged me with tennis, poolside lounging, movie outings, dinners, drinks and loads of engaging conversation. Being back “Home” was an absolute treat and there are, by gosh and golly, wide swaths of WILD in Cincy.
In San Fran, I reconnected with my other sib and visited with friends and local merchants I hadn’t seen in years. Particularly pleasant was sharing a vacation apartment in the city with friends who had flown in from Australia, Manhattan, Berlin and Serbia to be together. My son benefitted from reconnecting with children from his infant and toddler days.
Back in Tel Aviv less than a week, we’ve received separate invites to go snorkeling, camping, to overnight in the country and spend a weekend at a “mango tree resort”. I am absolutely blessed. No doubt about it.
I ran into that old Israeli friend last year. She’s back in Tel Aviv and super busy with two young children and studies. But she still has that positive outlook and cheerful disposition. And she still maintains her status as a global citizen.
I believe I’ve joined her ranks. Fine by me because feeling at home wherever I might be is a wonderful place to be. But it’s also painful. Leaving loved ones and engaging aspects of each culture behind isn’t easy. But I’ll take it. Because “living globally” far outweighs the absurd compulsion of having to declare loyalty or choose.