It’s a sentiment that is increasingly resonating with me, though in a very different context. Lately I feel as if I’m an immigrant too—not to a new country, but to religious Judaism and Jewish ritual life. I grew up secular and became more observant as a young adult. It was a world I both chose and didn’t feel totally at ease in; then, when I became less observant again, I found that I wasn’t comfortable returning to my original lifestyle, either. Now I’ve returned once more to observance, and am more or less at peace with it… except for all the moments when I’m not.
Immigrating is a choice that many people ultimately make not for themselves and their own comfort, but for their kids. My father may feel like he’s internationally homeless, but he also successfully changed the direction of his life so that his children could be Americans. While I don’t always feel 100% comfortable in an observant lifestyle, I think I will want my children—if I have them—to grow up in an observant home. Perhaps that sounds hypocritical, but it makes a kind of sense to me at this point.
After high school, I moved to New York; a couple of years later, my brother moved to New York as well. My father proceeded to pack up our Houston apartment: he sold furniture, threw away or donated mountains of stuff, put some boxes in storage, and said goodbye to fifteen years in Texas. Even though he had always hoped to return to the east coast, the transition to New York was bittersweet. “How many times do I have to leave a place with a suitcase in each hand?” he asked me after it was over.
His question reverberates. I wonder how many times I’ll travel from one identity to the next; I wonder if I’ll ever toss the suitcase, and really put down roots. I don’t know the answer to my father’s question—for him or for myself. But he’s shown me that it’s never too late to reroute and rewrite your life and (if you’re a parent) the lives of your children. That is something I will carry with me wherever I go.