Home is where the heart is

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Whenever my mother-in-law goes away, which is quite a rarity, Gabi, Jessie, Charlie (my cockatiel) and I move in with my father-in-law.

It is quite lovely; there is always food for us, we have all the help in the world and we don’t have to worry about anything material. After a few days, however, I start to miss home. I think that’s the same as any holiday; we take a while to settle in and then begin to miss the comforts of our own space which we’ve made. The possessions we have bought; the furniture and pictures which we’ve arranged; the pillows upon which we rely for a good night’s rest — these are all things which we begin to miss.

But surely this is a contradiction for my title and a truly over-used idiom, ‘Home is where the heart is.’ My wife, child and pet were with me, I was with my wife’s family, which is in turn my family, and my heart was here, not back in my flat, which was empty. So home, in this sense, isn’t a physical place. But why does one still feel so unsettled? (And I don’t think it’s because we still pay for our Wi-Fi and DSTV while away).

Dr. Frank McAndrew from Knox College, in Psychology Today, also writes about the ephemeral nature that is ‘home’. He speaks about our attachment to a certain place, and how “a strong attachment to the place that you live results in greater satisfaction with your home and expectations of future stability in that place.” He goes on to explain that these feelings go above the people with whom we share these surroundings. Rather, with the passing of time, we feel an emotional attachment to the physical area in which we live. He continues, “Because our physical surroundings play such an important role in creating a sense of meaning and organisation in our lives, it is not surprising that our sense of the place we live is closely tied to our sense of who we are.”

Our home is an extension of who we are. As I am from Johannesburg, which is still very much a home to me: I have a key-hanger made out of the Jo’burg skyline and a poster of that wonderful City of Gold in our lounge. We also have a poster of Cape Town, New York’s Central Park and Paris. Although the latter two may seem like clichés, these are places which have special meaning for us, and which we want to show to others. There is also a beautiful painting my wife made of Clifton which always warms my heart.

In an article by Julie Beck in The Atlantic, she criticises the ‘Western’ notion that the individual remains unchanged, regardless of location. She posed the question, “People and the places where they reside are engaged in a continuing set of exchanges; they have determinate, mutual effects upon each other because they are part of a single, interactive system.” She continues, “on some level we do recognise the importance of place. The first thing we ask someone when we meet them, after their name, is where they are from, or the much more interestingly-phrased “where’s home for you?” We ask, not just to place a pushpin for them in our mental map of acquaintances, but because we recognise that the answer tells us something important about them.”

Recently there was a South African-born Australian who wrote to the Cape Times, speaking about the diplomatic spat between these two countries. The Australian Minister for Home Affairs commented that he wanted to prioritise visas for white South Africans. Our Minister of International Relations, Lindiwe Sisulu, quite correctly took umbrage with this statement. There were many comments in the communities of both countries. And for this new Australian citizen this resonated deeply for him. He perceived the comments as naïve and racist. Maybe these issues about race and land, issues which have driven South Africans away from our shores, created a feeling of empathy for those who were affected by these statements, causing him to respond.

I am privileged enough to be going on March of the Living with the Grade 11s from Herzlia and King David. This incredible programme, created by the South African Holocaust and Genocide Centre, is no doubt an amazing experience, and I shall certainly be writing about it for next month’s Chronicle. But for now, I will be thinking about what home is, and how our ancestral home, der heim, was destroyed during the Holocaust. This gives the opportunity for many to feel that physical sense of what was once many of our ancestors’ homes; i.e. our collective memory. Perhaps it will enlighten me as to how our spiritual or emotional home, as a Jew, evolved from our historical homes.

And so, when I return, I will be returning to Cape Town, my physical and current home, via Johannesburg, my childhood home, from Poland, my ancestral home. I am laying down memories for the future, which have been shaped by my childhood memories, and the collective memory that holds us together as Jews. Home definitely is where the heart is.

It is both the physical manifestation of where we have created and still create memories, and the emotional connection to these spaces or areas. Wherever you live, I hope that you have a home where you feel safe, sheltered and happy. I certainly do.

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