I went on my first trip to Israel when I was midway through high school, on a six-week trip for high school girls. I fell in love immediately, to the point where I phoned my mother midway through the summer and informed her very seriously that there was no way I was leaving; she just as seriously replied that I was free to stay in Israel...when I was of age and perhaps married into the bargain. So I grudgingly agreed to come back on the group flight, very much against my will and crying the whole way onto the plane and through takeoff.
For me, it was simple--Israel was home. I had never experienced such a closeness to the Jewish people and to Hashem as I felt when I was there. It was mind-boggling to be living in a country where the mail was not delivered on Shabbos (but was delivered on Sundays!), where all the shops closed early on Friday afternoons (I was in Yerushalayim for most of the trip, b"H), where the public buildings had mezuzot and bus and cab drivers kept sifrei Tehillim on their dashboards. And so much more. I just couldn't comprehend going back to chutz la'aretz and calling it "home".
So imagine my surprise and consternation when I was on the bus with a friend at the end of the summer and overheard her conversation on the phone with someone else. "I had a great time here," she said, "but now I'm ready to go home." What?! I thought. What do you mean, "you're ready to go home"?! This IS home! Of course, thank G-d I had the tact to keep my mouth shut, but it got me thinking. Why was it that I knew that Israel was home, but she just thought of it as a nice place to visit? What differences were there between us that would lead to our disparate lines of thought?
And then it occurred to me. I came from Yehuppitzville, USA. There was very little there in the way of Jewish life. Anyone who wanted to be frum there was fighting an uphill battle, and you had to really want to be frum to stick with it; it was so easy just to slip a little here, a little there, until you weren't really doing much but called yourself "Orthodox" because you went to the one frum shul in town. So for me, it was really like coming home when I experienced a place where Judaism was such a visible, palpable part of everyday life. It was like the world as it was meant to be. My friend, on the other hand, came from a large Jewish metropolitan area; anything and everything she wanted was accessible to her. Israel was just like home + the Kotel (granted, a pretty big plus, but still...). I couldn't blame her for her attitude; she was just comfortable going home because it wouldn't be nearly as different for her to go back to chutz la'aretz as it would for me. She was going back to Jewish schools, shuls on every other corner, Jewish shops, kosher restaurants. I was going back to...nothing. "Real" galut, so to speak.
But which one of us was more in galut? Me...or her?
Wherever I am, my blog turns towards Eretz Yisrael