The two words a traveler longs to hear

Elizabeth Hersh is Senior Rabbi at Temple Emanuel (TE), and a blogger on the Jewish Light’s website (stljewishlight.com/chaplain).

By Rabbi Elizabeth Hersh

Upon returning to the United States from Israel this October, I walked through immigration waiting to hear the words which always make me smile: “Welcome home.”

Nothing.

I have returned to America through Los Angeles, San Francisco, Newark and New York City. I feel proud when I re-enter my country. I have a sense of ease and wholeness. Growing up in Buffalo, I thought nothing of traveling into Canada. Prior to 9/11, we were waved through without much thought, simply answering that we were born in Buffalo and were visiting for the day. No passports or identification were produced.

I missed the two simple words I expected to hear. I do not know if it was a discontinued policy or officers too tired to stir enough energy to utter the greeting. Maybe they are worn down from the constant waves of terrorism that plague our world. Perhaps their concentration is focused elsewhere in more important concerns.

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I am proud to be an American. Upon graduating from college I traveled through western and communist Europe. Many young Canadian travelers sewed a Canadian flag to their backpack, so as not to be mistaken as American. I understood the stereotypes they were trying to avoid, but I have always answered with enthusiasm. Trying to describe where Buffalo or St. Louis are became a different story, but I take great delight in trying to describe my home.

Why do these little words mean so much to me? Welcome home. They imply a sense of belonging and identity. I can breathe with a sense of ease and familiarity even in a different U.S. city.

I turned to my fellow travelers and said, “Welcome home.”