Tonight, my cousin Merav will arrive from South America, where she’s been traveling, taking that post-army break from Israeli intensity that so many Israelis crave. I haven’t seen her since last February, when we visited Israel. It was only last year that I really started to get a sense of her. Growing up, she was always the youngest–nine years younger than me–and she treated me like a celebrity. She’d always invite me to sleep on a cot in her tiny room and we’d be the girls. Conversation was strictly in Hebrew and she nourished my sense that I belonged. My bond with her was familial, not based on any sense of each other’s internal life or unique personality. And that took us a long way. But last February I started to get a sense of her as a real person, and I’m excited to experience our friendship unfold.
When I was a kid I had a recurring dream. I’d take off in flight from our front yard–flying through the air with my arms propelling me–and I’d touch down in Israel. Then I’d have various adventures with my Israeli family. Eventually I’d fly back home and land again in my front yard. Israel was the source of so much fantasy and identity–the mysterious yet knowable place that my accented mother came from. The place where my grandparents, aunt, uncle, and cousins lived. I thought of it as home and it helped make it easier for me to accept that in many ways my home didn’t feel like home. I imagined making aliyah and even considered–with some urgency–asking Prime Minister Golda Meir if it would be permissible for me to defer going into the army so that I could go to college. It was only many years later that I realized that America is more home to me than I had ever been able to feel.
In the last couple of years I’ve begun to yearn for Israel in a new way. I suppose it’s a yearning that comes out of the knowledge that I’ve made my peace with being at home here while knowing that my story and my family will always be deeply rooted there. And e-mail has exacerbated that yearning. Now my Israeli relatives pop up regularly on my screen. I’m more connected to their daily lives, and they to mine, than we’ve ever been. First it was my Aunt Simone, then my cousin Nadav, and yesterday, for the first time, my cousin Hagai. Each time I hear from them I’m transported to their world and feel the jarring pain of separation. Maybe it’s the illusion of being close that does it. Maybe it’s the ease of pushing a button. More than ever before I encounter my frustration at the unfairness of being so far apart.
A couple of weeks ago I dreamed that I phoned my aunt and uncle’s apartment and spoke with Hagai. I told him that we’d be coming to Israel to pick up my dying grandmother to bring her to the States. My grandmother has been dead for five and a half years, and it felt like a mysterious gift to have her pop up in my dream that way. I suppose I welcome the connections in whatever form they come, even if it hurts.