Leaving the region for the first time in nearly six months definitely gave me perspective. I’m still sorting it all out, but here are some impressions of Jerusalem seen from Western Europe, and some impressions of myself at this midpoint in our journey.
My definition of “old” has changed. I would look at a church and think: this was built in the 17th (or the 14th) century. Is that all?
My definition of “expensive” has changed. I never thought I would consider Western Europe reasonable, but I stocked up on birthday presents and even party favors in Bavaria.
My definition of “diverse” is more complicated now. Germany, specifically Bavaria, seemed extremely homogeneous. There wasn’t the variety of looks, outfits, and traditions that you see any day in the Old City. But that surface diversity belies a deep segregation here in daily life.
My definition of “comfort” has changed. There was a great line in a recent Downton Abbey. Cora, Countess of Grantham: “I’m an American. I don’t share your English hatred of comfort.” I still remember listening to groups of American exchange students at Oxford complaining about the lack of mixer taps and shower heads and thinking: I will never be like that. But comfort is stealthily addictive. As Americans go, I try to be flexible. I’ve tried to adapt to hot water that has to be turned on in advance (several hours in advance if you’re in Ramallah), to long walks through freezing rain and to other quirks of living here. And I always recognize that we live in the lap of luxury compared to most Israelis or Palestinians. And yet in Germany and Austria I also really enjoyed the small things that I can’t get in Jerusalem: Hot baths ready on the spot. Driving door to door. Pork sausages. Cheese that tastes like something. Letters I could recognize, even if they had funny dots over them.
My definition of “home” is evolving. Honestly, I didn’t miss Jerusalem when I was away and it didn’t really feel like coming back to a familiar Israel. (Familiar people, yes. I got the best hugs after four days away). I didn’t feel any unique sense of attachment to this place over other places. In some ways it was the reverse. I witnessed my father’s deeply appreciative, although not uncritical, relationship to Germany and Western Europe more generally. I benefitted from his complete facility with the language, the people, the road signs. He was at home. I am not at home in Jerusalem, at least not yet. My attitude to this place is still often puzzled and a little removed, as if I am wary of taking a stance on, or even deeply, feeling issues that are not “mine.”
I’m still processing and will have more to say on the reasons for that.