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Finding Home

Between Russia, Israel, the USA, and Canada, each place Convivium contributor Valerie Michailovich has called home has given her something distinct. Rather than a place of stability or a foundation, which many associate with the concept of home, Michailovich sees it as a place where one learns, grows and builds. 

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Finding Home December 3, 2018  |  By Valerie Michailovich
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Through Advent and Christmas, all manner of messaging will reinforce the importance of being home for the holidays. But to the extent the holidays themselves have been stretched into shapelessness, so also has our understanding of home. Over the coming Mondays, Convivium will feature writers reflecting on what home means to them. As you read, we’d love to hear from you, too. Where is home in your heart – not just until Epiphany but all year round? 


“Where are you from?”

As someone who has lived in four different countries over my twenty-four years, this is a question I have grappled with for much of my life. 

Russia is my first home. It is where I was born and the birthplace of my parents and grandparents. It is the place where I learned my first word, in Russian, and took my first steps. It is the country from which I inherited my rich culture - full of unique mannerisms, superstitions, and celebrations. It was here that I learned my first poem written by Pushkin, and sang Noviy God songs under the yolka, the Russian New Year tree. And it is where I first began to develop my true sense of self.  

Israel is my second home. It is the country that kindly opened its arms to my family and me, taking us in when we sought refuge. It is a place that taught us about persevering as immigrants and fighting for opportunity. It is where I first experienced war and felt fearful of losing my life. It was here that I had to walk to school with a gas mask in one hand and my lunchbox in the other. Israel was the place where I learned about the G-d of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and began building my connection to Him. It is where I learned the story of my ancestors and their struggle to practice their religion in freedom and peace. And it is the place where I uttered my first prayer, “Shema Israel”, with my mother before I went to sleep. It was in Israel where I felt most free to live amongst others like me.   

The United States of America is my third home. It is where I met my best friend and had my first crush on a boy. It is where I sat for endless hours learning English, forcing myself to translate English novels to my mother tongue; but also, where I learned to paint, act and perform in plays in Russian. It is the place that taught me about the Declaration of Independence and the Civil Rights Movement. It is where I pledged allegiance to the flag of the United States of America every morning and read Harry Potter in Hebrew every night. It was here that my identities were reinforced and intertwined with one another. 

And lastly, Canada is my fourth home, the place I have lived longer than any other. It is where I learned about diversity and acceptance. This place taught me to live freely and embrace all of the cultures I grew up with. It is the country that introduced me to maple syrup on waffles and hot chocolate on a cold winter day. It is where I built my first snowman with my little sister. It is a place that tested my Judaism, forcing me to choose my religion over societal pressures. It is where I learned to fight for the things that I believed in and found my calling as an advocate for my community. And it is here that I felt like my identity became fully formed into something strong and meaningful. 

To me, home is not limited to a singular place. Home can be anywhere and everywhere. It is where you feel comforted and where you feel whole. Home does not necessarily equate to stability or a foundation. Home is a place where one learns, grows and builds. 

All four countries have provided me with a home. So, when asked, “where is your home?”, I find myself struggling to answer. When I taste my mother’s blinchiki on a Sunday morning, I feel at home. When I light Friday night candles to bring in the Sabbath, I feel at home. When I pray Mincha at the Kotel in Israel, I feel at home. When I walk through the streets of downtown Atlanta with my best friend by my side, I feel at home. When I skate on the Rideau canal, I feel at home. And when I participate in Canada’s democracy by fighting for my ideals in Parliament, I feel right at home. 

When Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk, the founder of Ger Hasidism, was five years old, he asked his father, “where is G-d?”, to which his father answered, “G-d is everywhere.” After giving this answer some thought, five-year old Menachem Mendel responded with, “No, I think G-d can be found wherever one lets Him in.” 

As Jewish people, we are taught that G-d can be found at home as readily as in a synagogue. 

I believe that the same concept applies to our definition of home. We can find a home anywhere and everywhere, if only we allow ourselves to do so. Any place that feels comfortable and welcoming has the potential to become a home.   

I think that I will always struggle to grow roots in one true home, and so I believe that any place in this world can bring me in, welcome me, and provide me with a space that I feel comfortable enough to call my own.    


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