Libi bamizrach va’ani b’sof ma’arav. “My heart is in the East, but I am in the farthest West.” Those were the sentiments of Yehuda Halevi, the Jewish-Spanish physician and poet who lived in the 11th and 12th centuries.
They are also mine.
However, while for Halevi, “East” represented the Land of Israel, for me it symbolizes both that and my other cultural home — New York City. When you live on the western edge of the North American continent, as I do, both seem very far away.
When I moved to Palo Alto, Calif. from Manhattan five years ago, I lamented not only the fact that I was leaving my beloved Jerusalem-on-Hudson, but also that I was moving further away from Israel. I had spent every summer as a teenager and young adult in Israel, and once I was married and had children, we managed to get back there at least once every couple of years. Of course, it was no picnic shlepping diaper bags, snack bags, carseats and strollers, but at least all we had to do was get on a single flight and grin and bear it for 10 to 12 hours.
Since moving to California, I have only been back to Israel once owing to the multiplied shlep and cost factor. This makes me sad. One mitigating factor: The topography, climate and flora of Silicon Valley is reminiscent of that of regions of the Holy Land. It’s no wonder that 40,000 Israelis feel right at home here.
The minute I stepped off the plane upon my arrival at San Jose International Airport, my olfactory memory kicked itself into high gear. I took a whiff of the air and said to myself, “Hey, it smells just like Israel.” It’s at this time of year, as we pick apples from our backyard tree and help friends harvest honey from their backyard beehives, that I feel especially connected to Israel. As hard as I try, I can’t recall having done either of these activities in the concrete jungle.
With the growing cycle here being almost identical to that in Israel, it is possible to really connect with the agricultural aspects of Jewish holidays. When the almond tree is blossoming for Tu B’shvat in Israel, it is also blossoming here. We grow several of the seven species of the Eretz Yisrael, such as pomegranates and olives, right outside our door. We need only go over to neighbors’ homes to find others, such as figs and grapes.
The oranges from our very own orange tree may not taste quite as good as the ones that come from Jaffa Orange groves, but when I bite into them, they transport me half-way around the world and back in time.