Woman looking out airplane window.

I Don’t Want To Go Back To Israel

It’s August. Time of my annual reckoning. My yearly heart-break of a return to America, to the grandparents, the cousins, the aunties, the floor to floor carpeting, the ritual visits to Target, to Costco, to Morningstar Riblets in plastic packages that taste nostalgic like you-know-when before I  became religious and left all of this luxurious mouth-watering wonder & creature-comfort known as America to live the epic run on sentence of an Israeli dream.

Over the course of our great North American journey I will cry regularly.

I will cry watching my brother play with my baby, absolutely aching with the knowledge that he won’t see him again for another year and this child won’t be much of a baby by then.

I will cry watching my progeny romp around crazy joyous with their seldom-seen and wildly-adored cousins. I will wince with the knowledge that these 5 days will have to make up for the next 360 of distance.

I will cry when my Dad holds my daughter’s tiny hand as they walk to get the morning paper, wishing this were every morning.

I will cry when I watch my mother’s face darken as she stands in the kitchen, making pancakes for the grand-kids and she remembers again – for the thousandth time – that they are leaving in a few short sunsets. To a land 8 time zones away. A land where everything is foreign. A land with no grandma’s pancakes. A land with no family over for the holidays. A land with no Sundays.

And I will ask myself why, why in the world, am I doing this again? To my mother, my father, my children. To my entire extended American clan.  Why am I leaving again?

As I shlep this mythic weight over my shoulder onto yet another airplane set for that deliriously distant holy land.


So, let’s just put the PR machines on pause for a moment friends. Turn off the tape recorder please. For a moment I just want to be totally transparent. Just you and me and all my post-modern Zionistic complexity.

For the Truth, it seems, is a multi-layered and contradictory thing. On one layer I am utterly devoted, committed and enthralled with every silky stitch of the fabric of my Israel reality. But there are other layers too….

And at this moment, my weary soles are sticking strong to the layer where I just don’t have it in me to shlep back to fulfill the great Israeli dream. For all its glory, this morning, I just don’t want to leave.

For here, behind all the hype and hope, is a very real, very blurry-eyed sense of loss and home-sickened grief. In the dark corners of my otherwise bright historic prayer come true, I am weeping.

And I will continue to weep, bitter and quiet, as we board the plane to Tel Aviv in a few days. No one will see. The children will not know. I will not speak of this to the students visiting, to the Birthrighters, to the tourists at our glorious Jerusalem Shabbas table.

But, God as my witness, I am weeping up something tragic as I write this from the comfy familiar of my parents’ living room tweeds.


The Gemara says that Israel is acquired by yissurin, by agonies.

And though my agonies are minor in comparison to the enormous sacrifices of so many others, I still ache with my own unique and bottomless bleed.

So please God behold these two dripping handfuls of my yissurin as I prepare to leave. For these tears are as real as any choice bull set upon the altar in the Temple.

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This wince of homesickness is my very finest offering.

Accept it please in all its pungent agony as I depart again from the place my bones best know as home.

And if You don’t take it as a worthy offering then by all means turn Your eyes to my mother’s trove of yissurin. I have seen her hide away far too many tears and bite her tongue each time we step on that departing plane.

That woman’s pain is far more weighty and worthy than mine. See her, God, as she stands and waves bewildered and shattered at the airport as we take our kids and leave.

See how she hoists up the sacrifice of her own bent and splintered hopes of a close-knit family. There it burns atop the altar of the Land of Israel won by a grandparent’s yissurin.


So this one’s in honor of her and all the grandmothers whose beloved grandchildren have been spirited away by a colossal national-religious Jewish dream.

This one’s in honor of my father and his relentless commitment to my living my own dreams, even at the expense of his own grandfatherly fulfillment.

This one’s in honor of all that is given up on the other side of those great big Nefesh B’Nefesh chartered planes.

It’s in honor of all the grandma’s pancakes that will never be tasted, never made.

All those soccer games gone unwitnessed, uncheered for and way too far away.

This one’s for all those missed trips to the zoo that are the birthright of every grandparent that has ever loved their grandkid.

I acknowledge it loud and clear dear parents. I and Israel, together we have snatched untold hopes out from under your feet.

And you, you never signed up for this mission I have so single-mindedly claimed. You are just watching from the sidelines of history with the agony that only a grandparent aching for their grandbabies can claim.

Please forgive me. And know that I weep bitter over it with you too.

My Israel, my Aliyah, is your sacrifice.

You are the reluctant pilgrims caught up in some mysterious & historic current of Jewish destiny. Weeping bitterly with your own Israel-winning yissurin.

They say that we wept by the rivers of Babylon on our way out of our homeland.

No one told us that we’d also weep on the way back in.