Where is home?

Where is home?

There’s an old film I used to watch with our kids when they were, well, still kids. It’s called “Homeward Bound,” and not surprisingly for me, it’s a dog story. The lead dog eventually finds his way home from rugged adventures in a dramatic and lovely conclusion. I certainly wouldn’t be embarrassed to watch it today. After all, home is where the heart is and the hearth and all number of gushing feelings are.

Home is, well, home!

Like you, I’ve certainly had many places to call my home, very unlike the story I read in the newspaper a few days ago about a man, approaching the age of 100, who had lived in the same home from his birth. That’s definitely not my story. I guess a definition of home is simply where you live, the place you seek on a snowy winter day when you are frozen to your core and you know a pot of real (i.e. not from some can or powdery collection of chemicals) chicken soup is awaiting you, perhaps even with solid kneidlach, not puffy feathery so-called matzah balls. Even as I write this in early blazing summer, air conditioning roaring as it fiercely struggles to cool the house, that chicken soup still tempts. That’s home!

Most of us have had many places to call home. We can select which one is really that one unique and special place or we can choose all of them. Which one really tugs at the soul? Is it the Newark home you grew up in? For me, that was a faux Tudor four-family house built by my zayda and occupied by several generations of our Litwak family. That will always be a contender for home, with its unlocked back doors, basement ping pong table, aunts and uncles and cousins all over, treating each apartment as part of one collective, with a cat named Lena and several beloved dogs who never provided protection, useless watchers, but tender friends, loving family members.

Momentous events took place in that Aldine Street home. People were born into it and some died, leaving it behind. There were celebrations of love and marriage and bar mitzvahs, never a bat, and the family shul was around the corner. That home was where we knew all the neighbors. No one ever seemed to sell their house and move away.

When my sister visits from Israel, that is a place we search for. It still stands and it still looks the same but we know the center has left. It is no longer reasonable to call it our home. It is part of our memories, even part of our essence, but the pot of chicken soup is gone and our mom is no longer stirring it.

It was home. Now it is not.

Our first home as a married couple was a short walk from Aldine Street. Those were the days, the early ’60s, when searching for a place to live was in Newark. Only Newark. Why? There was no place in America that was as perfect. Newark had everything. Why would we ever look to settle elsewhere? We found a three-room apartment to rent on Huntington Terrace, corner of Shephard (yes, the “a” is correct!) Avenue. The rent was a bit high at $90 a month, especially since only one of us was working. Him. I was still a college student. I immediately discovered something about myself that I had never known before. I didn’t like living facing a courtyard, with no view of the street below. I never made that mistake again.

The real homey home came three years later in Clark, when, armed with a baby-hating dog and a human baby girl, we bought a house that we could ill afford. It was an unbelievable $25,000, and it was not in Newark. We headed for the suburbs, and that home met all the criteria for home.

We raised four children there, and a series of dogs. A new shul became a huge part of our lives, and I eventually became its president. Our memories there are of building a family, watching our house grow as we put two serious professional additions onto it, plus a finished basement, with work done by our live-in handyman, Abba. That was a blessed house. We all thrived. A little evergreen tree that we had planted in our backyard grew into a towering pine, a home for busy squirrels and an endless stream of birds’ nests, a source of life and living and a cheerful orchestra of beautiful sounds, chirping and buzzing.

Both house and tree still stand tall today.

Yet that was the home we left for more than a year to build our relationship with our Holy Land and provide our children with roots in Israel, roots that are still growing as our burgeoning family now, today, owns three homes in that place, the city called Jerusalem, which provide joy, meaning, and sustenance for all of us.

It was our great experiment, to leave what we knew, a home that we loved, and wander across continents to a place we barely knew. That place will always be home. When you live through a war, as we did in the days that followed that crushing Yom Kippur of 1973, you never forget. You will be as one with the place and it will always be on the map of your life. We will never ever be tourists there, and we will suffer with that land when she is challenged. She is a part of the fabric of our lives. She has become a home.

There is another place that we remember with love but is no longer our home. It is not still standing, and our land, our trees, rocks, and pebbles, and our unforgettable joys are now only to be found in an archeological dig. Our earth has been smoothed over with indignity by a professional parking lot, and where we built memories the United States of America was deemed a site worthy of a post office.

Today, it is virtually impossible to discern what was. Nothing remains except the dreams of what was then. The place was known as the Bauman House in the now-quiet village called Parksville. Chicken soup there was made by multiple mamas, stirring away to feed their families every summer for well over 60 years. While our homes in the city or suburbs, and even in Jerusalem, provided us with sanctity, it was our home in Parksville that was our forever home. And, sadly, it is the home that no longer exists. It is not even a figment. It is to be remembered only by those few of us who are the remnants.

But to me, when I think of my forever home, it is, paradoxically, a home that is gone forever. I miss it still.

Rosanne Skopp of West Orange is a wife, mother of four, grandmother of 14, and great-grandmother of seven. She is a graduate of Rutgers University and a dual citizen of the United States and Israel. She is a lifelong blogger, writing blogs before anyone knew what a blog was! She welcomes email at rosanne.skopp@gmail.com

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