Monday, May 16, 2011
Building Roots – New York City – Israel - Pittsburgh
When we first moved to the United States in August 2007, we were inundated with possibilities. Where would we go? Where would we live? Part of me wanted to live on the East coast, so I could be closer to my mom.
As a returning American with a brother on the west coast, I wanted to build roots. But not having lived in the States for the previous 17 years challenged our decision. We didn't know anyone in Pittsburgh, and moving back to New York City to stay with my mom who had Alzheimer's for the last 13 years was out of the question. Plus, who in their right mind, would build roots at the expense of going into debt?
The arduous task of uprooting and replanting required the gift of time. Time to get to know what it was like to live outside of Israel as a American Jew, not an Israeli. And this meant leaving the small kibbutz comfort zone and getting to know an American mentality that I had so quickly forgotten.
But one thing was for sure – I had no idea what to expect from Pittsburgh. I had never been that far out west before except to visit my brother in San Diego and the farthest I had ever been up north was New Hampshire. One sultry August afternoon in 2007, while trying to keep cool in my Mother's New York City apartment, I had learned our shipping containers had finally arrived from Israel. I called the New York City office and requested to reroute our shipping from New York City to Pittsburgh. The clerk had asked, "Pittsburgh? You're moving to Pittsburgh? Where's that?"
I tried to stay composed and not let the feelings of uncertainty and insecurity enter my voice. I said, "Oh, Pittsburgh? You've never been to Pittsburgh?"
"No." She had a pure New York City accent - only that reminded me of my childhood. "Nope, I'm a Queens girl."
After hearing that, part of me wanted to stay in New York City. It was easy and comfortable and anything else but daunting. Now at a crossroads, the decision to stay in New York City was looming over me as if I had just made the biggest mistake of my life.
Weeks later, when we finally settled into our two room apartment in the heart of Squirrel Hill, a multicultural community, people started asking, "Pittsburgh? Why did you come to Pittsburgh?"
And like I had done years before when Israelis would ask me, "Why did you leave New York City?" I decided to mentally "tape record" my answers. I would say, Pittsburgh = a family friendly city, Squirrel Hill = Jewish community as if I had been living in Squirrel Hill all my life.
And then there were other tag along words I call the "itys" I would use such as affordability, proximity to New York City, accessibility…
All of these answers at the time however, seemed squeamish even for a returning American. The only difference was the way I had successfully convinced everyone (even myself) of our decision using just the right body language and eye contact, as I tried to feel like a special American all over again. All those years surviving as an EFL (English as a foreign language) teacher in an Israeli cultural classroom made me realize that I could survive anything including the feeling of living with uncertainity as a returning American trying innocuously to build roots.