Home Sweet Tel Aviv.

After being in New York for a few months, I felt so disconnected from my life in Israel that I seriously considered just staying home. I could barely even remember why I wanted to return. Of course I knew, but I just didn’t feel it the way I thought I would. I thought I would get sick of being home, itching to come back, with no doubt that this was the right decision. But I didn’t want to leave. How could I after realizing everything I missed while I was gone?

When I thought about staying in New York, however, one feeling remained strong in my memory: the complete and utter sadness I felt over the thought of leaving Israel just a few months ago. When I remembered that, I knew I owed it to myself to see this through.

So, despite the pit in my stomach at the thought of leaving my family and friends once again, I did it. I got on the flight and landed in Israel as an Olah Hadasha (new immigrant).

Now I’m back in Tel Aviv, and–sorry Mom, cover your ears (or eyes)–I immediately remembered all of the reasons why I love it here; why I was so excited to not just move back here, but to make aliyah (become a citizen). For a while, I forgot how much this place felt like the most challenging and rewarding and beautiful home I’ve ever known. I feel lighter here–happier. I can’t explain how, or why, but I do. 

And somehow it’s like I never left. The place I had grown to know and love had waited for my return and embraced me with open arms. Strangers on the plane, the beach, and even the woman I bought a toaster from on Facebook marketplace, offered to help in my job search and invited me to Shabbat dinners. This was the Israel I couldn’t imagine leaving a few months ago. The place that feels like home even when I’m surrounded by people I don’t know, speaking a language I only barely understand. 

The first morning I woke up in my own apartment, I couldn’t keep the smile from my face. I was back in the city I love, living by myself, about to create a life that is entirely my own. My gratitude for this was ever-flowing.

I felt a sense of inner peace I hadn’t felt in a long time–since the last time I was here, probably. It’s the kind of inner peace that lets me know everything will be okay because I am exactly where I’m supposed to be at this moment in time. 

I talk about this inner peace even as I recognize how I felt in New York–that I was happy there too. Happy in a different way, but happy nonetheless. I felt happy in a comfortable-and-familiar kinda way. I was glad to be with family and old friends, but I couldn’t help feeling like something was missing. But here, in Tel Aviv, I feel happy in a passion-and-excitement-about-life kinda way, and, frankly, that’s what I’m after.

It’s a hard pill to swallow that this is where I feel my best right now, because wouldn’t it just be so much easier if I felt happier where my roots are? There are things about New York and people there that I love too, but for some reason Tel Aviv is just where my soul comes alive. I think I felt so lost while I was home because I wished that following my heart didn’t mean leaving everything else across the world. But alas, here I am across the world, and so far it feels pretty spectacular to be back.

Written by Jessica Bard.

When home doesn’t feel like home.

Two weeks ago I wrote a draft that was so depressing I cried every time I tried to re-read it. Frankly, it was less of a draft and more of a brain-dump. I poured every single sad thought I’ve felt these past 2 months at home into a google doc page in about 10 minutes. 

I wasn’t even processing as I typed. I just let it out, typing as the tears rolled down my cheeks. When I finally finished, I reread it once and started crying harder; so I did what any normal person would do and shut my laptop for days, refusing to read those words again. But I knew it then just as I know now, I was about to face the feelings I had buried since landing in New York.

Nobody really warns you about how difficult it is to come back home after being gone for an entire year. Well actually, that’s not true. They warn you about “culture shock” and “re-entry”, and those are both very real–but those were the least of my problems.

The hardest part about coming home for me was finding that the people and places that once felt so familiar become somewhat foreign in the blink of an eye. 

When I came back, I expected things to be the same (more or less), but, wow, a year is a long time to be gone. What I initially thought was just sadness about an incredible year abroad ending turned out to be so much more than that. I found that a large part of me was actually grieving the loss of the life I had at home before I left. The life that wasn’t patiently waiting for me to return while I was away. 

When I first came home, I felt completely and utterly alone. I thought nobody could possibly understand what I was going through. Plus, not only had I changed a lot this past year, but so had almost every single other person in my life. I felt like I no longer fit into anyone’s routines. I felt like I didn’t even know these people anymore (the new versions of them, at least). Mainly, I felt like my home—the place that was supposed to always accept me and comfort me—was rejecting me. 

This past year, I had been so wrapped up in my life on the other side of the world, I hadn’t realized just how much changed in my absence. I know it sounds ridiculous because of course I know life goes on, the world doesn’t revolve around me, blah blah blah. I know that, but life doesn’t just go on. People don’t just change a little bit in a year, they transform. 

When I was finally ready to re-open my laptop and face the words I left on that page, I began to realize why I was so uncomfortable. So sad. Overwhelmed. Conflicted. I came to understand that my home wasn’t, in fact, rejecting me. For the first time, I was just truly confronting the reality of moving so far away from home. The reality that no matter how much I call and FaceTime, I still wasn’t there. 

I missed a lot–but I didn’t just miss birthdays, holidays, or even special events like my brother’s graduation. I missed out on the little things that are actually really big things; like family dinners or late night talks on the couch. I missed the ways people subtly change over time, like my brother starting to mature and build his confidence, or my sister healing and becoming really happy, or my family slowly grieving and healing after my grandpa’s passing. I missed so much and it feels impossible to know all of this and just accept it. 

Since writing that first draft, I’ve done a lot of “soul-searching”…if you want to call it that. As it turns out, my version of soul-searching is crying a lot and questioning everything—including my own sanity. Thankfully the tears have (somewhat) slowed and I concluded that I am a (somewhat) sane human being. 

The funny thing is that once I finally processed what it meant to “come home”, I was able to see how many of these changes were actually good. Even if I wasn’t there to witness these changes gradually, there’s also some beauty in getting to see how much progress someone has made so clearly–a perspective I had only because I lived far away. 

Since confronting my feelings, I also took it upon myself to finally stop moping and make the most of the time I have left before I leave again. Pushing people away and avoiding my feelings wasn’t making things better in the slightest. So now I’m making more of an effort to show the people I love that I want to be a part of their routines, I want to see and embrace the ways they’ve changed. It’s not easy, but it helps.

And just like that, home is feeling a bit more like home again.

Written by Jessica Bard.