When my son comes home from anywhere he bursts through the back door with dusty sneakers, bits of his day caught in his dark brown hair and on his thick eyelashes, and always an exuberant: “I’m ho-ome!”
His voice is strong and the singsong words bounce off the kitchen walls and reverberate up the stairs. Often there is nobody around to hear them, nobody in his physical space to receive him, but he doesn’t care. He doesn’t pause with his hand on the door or stop to listen for rustling in the kitchen or footsteps in the rooms above, before announcing himself. It is the house he is telling about his homecoming. “I’m home,” he says to the taupe-colored walls and wooden floors, the dusty windows and the dishes in the sink. “I’ve come back and I am happy to be here.” And the house, his home, beams at the sound of his voice, gathers itself around his tall, gangly body and welcomes him. Home.
It’s not always easy, to come home: a sibling could be spoiling for a fight, a nagging mom might kill his buzz (Don’t bring those dirty shoes into the house. And wash your hands. With soap!), maybe we’re all out of his favorite snack, or someone’s playing their music too loud or watching an annoying show or borrowed his earphones without asking.
Still. Home is home.
“I’m ho-ome!” I murmured to the passport control officer at Ben Gurion airport. I must have said it too quietly. He didn’t even blink. “I’m ho-ome!” I told the guy at the rental car counter. He continued reading off the insurance policy and pretended I hadn’t said a word. Maybe he doesn’t like to be interrupted. “I’m HO-OME!!” I yelled at the top of my furious lungs to the women who claimed my chairs for their own at the pool. “Go away, you’re annoying us,” they replied with a condescending flick of the wrist, as if I was an irritating little sister. Ouch.
And yet. Home is home.
The radio in the car is set to Galgalatz, and the catchy combination of popular Israeli and other music makes it the best station to listen to. In my opinion. Biglal hamusika (for the music) is the tagline and a sexy, gravelly male voice fills the car every 15 minutes. That might also be a reason to listen. I turn the volume up when the news comes on and sometimes I even understand three full sentences. Last night on our way home they played Abba’s “Super Trouper.” Biglal hamusika. Every home needs a memorable soundtrack.
The kids kick the ball to each other and bury their legs in the sand as the sun streaks orange and pink above an inky sea. Their play transcends all language, time and distance: catch, giggles and hugs mean the same in English and Hebrew and all of the adults look at each other in wonder. “Next year he’ll know some English,” someone says. It really doesn’t matter, we all think. The sunset is magical and so are the connections.
And then it is Friday and we’re out of milk and pita. Maybe I’ll get a challah and creamy white cheese and the small, crispy cucumbers the kids like to eat whole. And popsicles. But the line is so long and the scanner stops working and now the cashier needs change so off she ambles. I think she forgot to come back. It’s been more than five minutes and I can see rivulets of icy juice pooling in my basket. “Tsk” and “Dammit” I mutter to myself. The woman behind me catches my eye and shrugs toward the heavens. Ma la’asot? What to do? I hear her thoughts. I shrug back. She’s right but really this is ridiculous, the line is growing longer and restless. I pay for and pack my groceries in a determined, not-so-quiet hurry. “Shabbat Shalom!” the slow-going cashier calls out as I turn to leave. It’s hard to be frustrated with someone who wishes you Shabbat Shalom.
Not everyone cares that I’m home. They honk at me if I linger one second too long at a traffic light and flash their lights if I drive too slow in the fast lane. Maybe I’m annoying with my expectations and my terrible Hebrew and my children who won’t eat anything with sesame seeds. But there are ways this place gathers itself around me and my family, holds us close in its warm waters and bustling markets, tells us stories about where we’ve come from and how we got here and inspires ideas about where we might go next.
And so… ma la’asot, what to do? I am home.
Parts of this essay were written during an online writing group with the incredible Jena Schwartz. Todah ve’ahava, Jena.