It happens every time I visit the States: I spend about 35% of the time thinking about the reasons I could and couldn’t live there. By now, the couldn’ts far outweigh the coulds.
So it stands to reason that I’m going through the same process here in Melbourne. It’s different, of course, because it’s not my hometown, not my home country, and I’m very much a visitor. But there are so many striking similarities that I can’t ignore. And the conclusion remains the same.
It’s not even about the country itself, although my issue with the direction the United States is headed is definitely important here. It’s more about the state of Jewish community in diaspora.
I know now, more clearly than I ever knew, that the core reason I left New York was because I didn’t fit with the modern orthodox Jewish community there. It took a long time to get inside it, and when I did, I realized it wasn’t at all what made me feel comfortable with myself, my religious observance or my surroundings.
I thought the rest of the world would be different; I thought New York was unique for having the biggest, most intricate Jewish ghetto out there. But the more I travel and meet people from all over, the more I come to realize a Jewish ghetto is a Jewish ghetto for a reason. The characteristics that make it successful are carried through anywhere – New York, Montreal, Toronto, London, Manchester, Melbourne, Sydney. Sure, they all have their own uniqueness – an accent, a way of dress, an infusion of local cooking – but at the end of the day, Western Jews gathered in one place, trying to make it work in diaspora, all tastes the same to me.
Israel isn’t an obvious answer. Religious practice isn’t easy or perfect there. In fact, I try to avoid the same brand of modern orthodox/dati leumi that turns me off so much in chul. But I guess I prefer to be surrounded by Israel’s religious conflict and confusion over the over the top self assuredness of a New York Jewish community. In Israel, it’s a work in progress that constantly questions itself, and if for a moment it forgets – someone is there to remind the rest of us.
Oddly, I sense balance when I’m in Israel, internally. In New York, the scales always had to be tipped for me.
So, if I want a Jewish life for myself and my children… I don’t think I could leave Israel at this point. I wouldn’t know where to go.