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EXCERPT:

This journey begged the question once again: where did I belong? Where was home? Perhaps I wasn’t charting my own course after all. Maybe I was simply following in my mother’s footsteps by leaving her, just as she had left her own mother to come to America. Now my sister Naomi and I would be the second generation of daughters to leave our mother for a foreign land.


Proud parents Jean & Leon with newborn twins Paula & Naomi, London 1945

Newcomers in an Ancient Land is the story of my search for home and belonging half way around the world. Although I was lucky enough to grow up in the loving embrace of my family, our many moves growing up left me feeling rootless in the larger world. While I became very good at making a home wherever we landed (after all, I’m a Cancer), feeling at home wasn’t always so easy.

The search for home – a place where you feel safe and accepted for who you are – is as old as the biblical story of Exodus, yet as urgent as today’s global refugee crisis. As human beings this need is wired into our DNA as Susan Whitcomb explains in her recent blog.

Belonging means to be a part of something—part of a friendship, or a romantic relationship, or a work team, or a community, or a group working toward a common cause, or, or, or.

The longing to belong, like the longing to be loved, is wired-from-birth within each one of us—it is a human need that every one of us has. We find meaning and inspiration in connecting and co-creating with the people we belong to; and we find comfort and solace in walking through the moments in life that are disappointing or painful.

During my first tumbleweed years, it was hard to know who I was and where I belonged for many reasons. On one hand, as a mirror-image twin with bright red hair, I couldn’t escape constant notice; yet on the rare occasions when I appeared without my “other half,” I felt virtually invisible. Turns out, when no one can tell you apart, it’s tough to know who you are! As my story evolves, the special bond that still connects my twin and me like a diaphanous membrane, will have to stretch enough to allow us each to go our separate ways.

Beyond individual identity, I also longed to feel a part of a larger community, not simply a transplant. But with my mixed Jewish/gentile heritage (Mom was from England while Dad was a secular Jewish-American leftie), that too was a challenge. Whether in a church or a temple, I felt like an outsider – half of everything, whole in nothing. Where was my tribe?

Growing up in the mixing bowl of the conformist nineteen fifties, when differences, whether ethnic or political, could be deadly, it was safer to blend in. The boogeyman I most feared was Senator McCarthy and his HUAC (House Unamerican Activities Committee), rather than any “commies” hiding under my bed.  

It’s no coincidence then, that Longing to Belong was the original working title for my memoir. [Insert hyperlink]. It’s woven into the tapestry of my story like a through thread. I hope you’ll agree as you join me on a journey of ten thousand miles in search of a place to call home.

Fast forward to the present. Nowadays, I volunteer in support of migrants struggling to reach a new home, although my efforts are only a drop in an ocean of a problem. While I may have feared being ostracized for being different as a child, today’s immigrants are downright demonized. But my underlying sense of vulnerability as an immigrant has never fully left me, so it’s natural that I identity with the immigrants of today, many of whom are fleeing dangers and conditions far worse than I ever encountered, hoping to rebuild their lives from scratch in a strange land and language.

Questions:

  • Where does your sense of belonging come from?
  • Conversely, what alienates you from feeling you belong?
  • Is your sense of belonging tied to a geographic place, your faith or some other aspect of your identity?
  • Is it necessary to feel like you belong to a tribe?
  • What can you do to welcome newcomers in a strange land?


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