I found the yellowed clipped article tucked between baby pictures and frayed friendship bracelets. It was a photo from when I was ten presenting my construction paper tzedakah(charity) box to the head of the Phoenix Jewish Federation. I had collected my dimes and proudly handed over my accumulated allowance to support Project Exodus, the campaign to save the Ethiopian Jews. I’m sure my $26.14 made a huge difference, but the bigger question is why I was so inspired to help at age 10.
Yes, it was a great cause, providing support and aid to help Jews immigrate to Israel. Yes, my mother was a very active volunteer in the Jewish Federation, which is how I heard about it in the first place. But I’d never been to Israel nor met any of these refugees. There had been other campaigns and causes that lacked homemade coin boxes. So what was the difference here?
It was home. The campaign ad crooned heartfelt lyrics as the desperate families deplaned and kissed the Israeli soil. We were helping them come home. This was something I cared about. I couldn’t ignore the loss of safety in their eyes, scanning horizons for a place to call your own. I related to the pursuit of community, the welcoming arms that cushion life’s blows. I too longed to belong, to fit in, and to exhale with a knowing of care. I sought to transform new into familiar, unpacking for a day’s vacation, tacking up pictures to the wooden walls at summer camp. I nested, secure in the trinkets and love that home defined. I resisted travel, shaky when forced to cram home into carry-on bags, lost in the backdrop of adventure.
I knew how a house isn’t always a home, how adoring aromas can vanish in the face of frustration and exhaustion. There were nights of wandering into my parent’s bedroom, mute to explain this ache of being homesick for a home that doesn’t exist. I was a worrier, and got trapped within the tentacles of fear, where reassurances that ‘nothing bad will happen to us’ paled by Holocaust legacies and nightly news.
But there were also afternoons of storybook home-ness, finger-painting with pudding on the kitchen table and diving for pennies in the lukewarm pool of an august night. There were meals of laughter and snuggling before bed. I was lucky. I had a house that stood as a home, even throughout the raindrops. And still, I wanted more, needed more. I craved constant perfection, eternal happiness, and an eraser for the edge of anger that crept in. I compared my home to TV shows and fiction chapters, always coming up short. I yearned for permanence, a home that never disappointed, was too busy, or overworked.
In other words, I needed to change my definition. And I have. I’ve grown up, and remain stunned by the beauty that I grew up in, the support that lay beneath my feet, even when I was blind. I hear about houses of horror, traumas and nightmarish childhoods. And I say a prayer of thanks that I know what home feels like.
So the coins saved were my way of sharing home. I donated my allowance in an effort to quench the desire for safety, to help the wandering rest, to build a room that could become a home for the sad eyes I saw on the screen.
I wanted to help them come home and to ensure one for myself.