Until now. Home is certainly where the heart is.
When I arrived to STL 2 1/2 weeks ago, I couldn't have been happier to see/experience the aforementioned things. I ran to the baggage claim at Lambert so excited that my heavy carry-ons felt light-as-a-feather, and I will never forget coming around the bend and seeing my family, my mom, dad, and little brother with huge smiles on their faces and tears in their eyes (even Adam, though he'll never admit it...) It was a defining moment in my life; I knew then that no matter how far I'll ever go, they will always be there when I return and welcome me back with open arms. I know it's cheesy, but it's 100% true.
Later that same day, I came back to my other home in STL: Temple Israel. I was a little nervous about coming back to T.I.; I wondered how people would see me. Would the clergy, staff and congregants view me as the same old Tracy, or would they see me as "Cantor" Tracy (a title I do not yet feel comfortable with using.) Would different things be expected of me now that I'm in cantorial school and on my way to becoming a "professional Jew"?
I was thrilled when I came into T.I. and was hugged by an excited Rabbi Feder, and then Rabbi Shook, and then Linda. Walking into Linda's office and seeing her and Ella, with their warm hugs and smiles was a wonderful moment that I will remember forever. Thank goodness that they, along with the congregation at large, saw me for exactly what I was and still am; they saw me as a cantorial student, caught in the strange juxtaposition of knowing slightly more than the average congregant, but still very much a student of both Judaism and of life. I was treated exactly the same as always by everyone, proving once again that I could leave and change and grow without the fear of not being welcomed back in.
After that first day, my winter break was a mad rush of visitors, reuniting with friends and family, singing, home improvement projects, shopping (thank Gd for Lane Bryant and Target!), cooking, rediscovering my favorite American foods and products, and trying to rest and watch as much wonderful American television as possible. There were so many wonderful moments, and for the sake of time and your eyes, I will simply list some highlights rather than discuss every single one. So, in no particular order:
- Chanukah with mom and Adam the day I got home
- The Mocha and Music talent show at TI
- Having Mike, Joey, and Leah in St Louis, all at the same time!
- Reuniting/taking gorgeous pictures with Rach and Jane...so much fun (and the pictures are great!)
- The welcome-home dinners with both my mom and dad's sides of the family
- Showing my Israel pictures at least 142 times to various people
- Chanting Torah for the Hebrew School and answering the kid's questions about life in cantorial school
- Singing on the bimah with Linda--as wonderful as it is to sing at HUC, nothing can beat that.
- Getting needled by Stefanie, my chiropractor/cousin
- My very un-Kosher cheeseburger from The Sports Page. BEST. MEAL. EVER.
- Meeting Stefani, Adam's girlfriend, who is as adorable as they come.
- Cooking the most Jewish meal EVER and sharing it with my family, Stefani, and Joan.
- TARGET! You'll be proud to know that I only visited 7 times while I was home.
- Brunch with the Arnolds and dinner with the Sangers--thank you for being so proud of me and sincerely interested in what I am doing.
- The many intelligent discussions on Reform Judaism that I was able to participate in, thanks to HUC.
As wonderful as it was to be home, I am also happy to be back in Jerusalem. There is something about Israel that just gets under your skin, despite the challenges and mishaps that are involved with living here. I am struggling with the idea that in 4 months, the year I have been dreaming about and looking forward to is going to be over. I feel like there is still so much that I haven't done yet---my days of saying "I have plenty of time to do that" are officially over. It's also nice to know that J'lem now feels like another home to me, a fact I didn't quite realize before I left for break. I am excited to see my classmates and start classes again, and to see what unravels for us in the next 4 months, in this city where ANYTHING can happen.
I will end with some pictures and a huge THANK YOU to everyone who made my winter break so special. I miss y'all from home already and I can't wait to see you at the end of May. Continue to be well and keep in touch, and know how much you are loved all the way from Jerusalem.
Me and my men! From left to right: Adam (my brother) Andrew (good friend from high school), Joey and Mike (friends from California), Bryan (cousin)