“But do you have a community?” the woman asked me, concerned. I was in a get-to-know-you conversation on the playground and my interlocutor was clearly trying to “get” our family. Consulate? Nope. NGO? Nope. Jewish? Nope. University? Kind of. I tried to explain Terence’s project and she said: “oh, so you’re in Jerusalem because you wanted to be here?” Well, yes. But maybe for different reasons than she assumed.
Someone told me that this city has the highest concentration of Americans outside of North America. Whether or not that’s true, there are tons and tons and tons of English speakers in Jerusalem and (since my Hebrew has progressed not at all) that’s most of the people with whom I hang out. The amazing thing is the level of “intra-group diversity,” as my college professors would say. People come to this city for so many different (indeed, passionately contradictory) reasons: they make aliya, or come as pilgrims, or to study, or to resist, or they are posted here for diplomatic or humanitarian purposes. (And to some, Jerusalem is a plum post; to others, a hardship).
Back in the spring, I did a lot of networking online as I tried to research the city. For each friend-of-a-friend-of-a-friend, I would have to locate her culturally and politically, try to figure out her motivation for being here. This has become a little easier with context clues (like someone’s appearance, or the neighborhood in which they live, or the schools their children attend).
Reciprocally, people are trying to figure out who we are, and are not. For a couple of months, we’ve been going to an English-language story time at a local library. The crowd is a mix of Modern Orthodox and secular, many British and American immigrants. Stylistically it could be in Boston and I think we blend in pretty well. One of yesterday’s books had a lot of Hebrew and Yiddish expressions, and Hannah kept calling out: “what’s a mitzvah? What’s a bubbe? What’s Tu Bishvat?” I could see the librarian’s silent “oh!”….they are not Jewish.
So, no, I would not say we have any one community here. Community is not a powerful motivator in our lives this year (very much in contrast to back home, when the St. Andrew’s community defines many things about our life). If community-building is centripetal, pulling together, this year is all about the centrifuge. Our little family unit is being spun all around, getting to interact with all different kinds of people and communities. It’s confusing but not lonely, or as my parents always said about our family, “never easy, never dull.”