The epigraph at the beginning of Pachinko, by Min Jin Lee, is from Dickens:
Home is a name, a word, it is a strong one; stronger than magician ever spoke, or spirit answered to, in strongest conjugation.
I am moving in a few weeks. Since I am going back to a place I lived before, people ask if I am going home. Where is home? I am from The Bronx, NY, but for 10 years I have lived on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. In between I lived in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Lafayette, Indiana, Yonkers and Pomona, NY, Lenox, MA, and Ithaca, NY. And while I am excited to be moving back to a place I love, I am nervous and exhausted at the prospect of starting over. I am spending a lot of time getting ready to fix up my new house, but more importantly, thinking about how I will create a new home.
When my children were young, home was the place I created for our family. When they left, and I moved away from the place I raised them to pursue my career, it became something different. Without children, there were no automatic networks of other parents, and being a college president was isolating. In each new place I had to make friends and find the things that nourished me socially, intellectually and spiritually.
All this was on my mind as I watched a lecture about a book I am reading for the Yiddish Book Center Book Club, Oedipus in Brooklyn and Other Stories, by Blume Lempel.
It was presented at the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research by the translators, Ellen Cassidy and Yermiyahu Ahron Taub. Taub began his remarks by saying that the lecture could be called “ the svive (sveeveh)” of Blume Lempel. “Svive,” he explained, “is a Yiddish word meaning environment, or atmosphere, but it also connotes fellowship, connection, or where one belongs – a home.”
Creating a svive is exactly what I am about to do.
Blume Lempel’s home, family and culture were destroyed in the Holocaust. She created a svive among other Yiddish writers in New York in the mid 20th century. Fortunately, when I move I get to take my connections with me. My family of origin, my children and grandchildren and my friends will continue to be dispersed geographically. I won’t deny that this often makes it hard to sustain the relationships that are so important to me, but our bonds are powerful and transportation and technology ease the challenges of being far apart.
I am moving back, but moving forward, eager to start this next phase of my life in the beautiful Berkshires.