Updated: Dec 6, 2021
In Parshat Vayigash we complete the story of the brothers and their immigration to the land of Goshen. These days, and probably for the relatively short history of these United States, we hear about immigration in the news. Many of us are the children of immigrants or perhaps we are immigrants ourselves. This poem tries to imagine the gratitude that at immigrant feels which is mixed with sorrow. Despite the gratitude of being in a place that is safe; customs, family histories and traditions are deeply rooted in an immigrant long after he/she leaves his homeland behind.
I am reminded of a family member, who made the dangerous journey to Israel as an older adult. Although he was in the Promised Land, his homeland lived within him throughout his lifetime. As the negative aspects of his homeland slowly drifted away, what remained were hazy and wonderful memories of his land which he dreamed of for years afterwards.
I know I am lucky.
it feels like a lifetime ago
I had a home.
This place; my new home
is a haven of safety,
but I recognize none of it;
not one inch.
I am home,
but I am not.
I wake up in the dark and
I do not know where I am;
in a bed that is not mine,
on a pillow that doesn't fit my head,
on a mattress that does not recognize
my knees, my chest;
on sheets that are new and crisp
and do not smell of home.
My homeland is far away
in space and now in time.
Each hour away brings me further
from a land of no return.
Once the streets were as familiar as my hands;
routes were mapped in my heart.
I knew the arch of each doorway
and which tree would give tasty fruits.
I knew each neighbor by name.
I knew where to buy and to learn and to pray.
And now life is upside down.
My eyes do not know where to look.
My ears do not understand.
Home was my parent's house on the other side of town;
my brothers, my brother’s wife, my curly headed nieces,
the cemetery where my great grandparents rest.
Home were my books.
Home was the seat where my grandfather sat at the table.
Once I knew how to use a phone.
I knew the channels on the radio,
the authors of books.
I knew the prices in the marketplace
and where to find the best cuts of meat.
At home I was a boss, an expert in my field.
I had a job.
I understood the meanings of jokes.
I knew how to navigate marketplaces,
streets and offices.
And now I am here, in a new home.
a home not my own.
I don't know this space
this air, these clouds,
these roads, these buildings.
I don't understand why people talk so loud,
Why they slur sounds together like a windstorm?
Why is everything so strange
and why does my tongue stumble so when I try to speak?
I am the lucky one.
I am here
I am safe
My children are safe
in a place
where their roots barely break the surface of the soil.
I am an immigrant
I do the dance of the immigrant,
taking one giant step forward
and 10 steps backwards.
Ups and downs,
ups and downs,
I am like a yo-yo that never quite makes it to the top.
I want to call my mother
I want to hear her voice reassuring me that things will be OK.
That this was meant to be.
I want to taste my mother’s cooking again.
I want to drink her sweet tea.
I want to feel the fabric of my father's jacket as I hug him.
I want to smell the scents of family,
which were my home.
My roots reached far down into the earth.
Roots that have been ripped and torn away.
I must pick up those roots,
however messy and unruly they are.
I must carry them in my heart
I must bury them in new soil
and hope that they will
once again take root.
***** ******* ********
I must teach my children about the me they will no longer remember
when our new home becomes theirs,
because I know it will become theirs.
I must teach them of their grandparents and old traditions.
Teach them of the good that went along with that home
that they will soon forget.
Then Jacob bade Pharaoh farewell, and left Pharaoh’s presence.
So Joseph settled his father and his brothers, giving them holdings in the choicest part of the land of Egypt, in the region of Rameses, as Pharaoh had commanded.
Joseph sustained his father, and his brothers, and all his father’s household with bread, down to the little ones.
Thus Israel settled in the country of Egypt, in the region of Goshen; they acquired holdings in it, and were fertile and increased greatly.
Translations from Sefaria