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Friday Speak Out!: Writing about the Loss of Home in my New Memoir, Sand and Steel

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by Dorit Sasson

When I first started writing my second memoir Sand and Steel: A Memoir of Longing and Finding Home back in 2017, I had no idea how our homes would become the center of our lives and that the book will offer readers a different appreciation of home.

Even after fifteen years in the States, as an Israeli expat I’m still struck by the differences in size between our kibbutz and our Pittsburgh home (Israel is the size of Delaware). In the book I write: “I’ll soon learn that when you’re an immigrant to the States or even a returning American, everything feels big, bigger than you. You try not to focus on it, but America’s vastness will not let you forget.”

All Jews to some extent wonder about this back and forth idea of Israel as “home.” For me, writing about home was somewhat a disorienting identity struggle. Each time I wrote about what I gave up to come to America, my heart grew heavy. But to write about the loss of home in an engaging way, I had to take a non-linear approach. So here’s what I did.

I unpacked the struggle to immerse in a new country

Readers have often told me they’ve appreciated my candor and honesty as they travel with me on my journey to finding my US home as a returning American. Because I have lived extensively on two continents, I felt I owed it to my readers to understand the geographical and cultural differences between Israel and America and how those feelings of “coming home” challenged and changed me.

I had to go deep with the theme of struggle

Sand and Steel is a cultural mixing memoir in the sense that I needed so much introspective observation to tease apart the things that our monocultural world often takes for granted. Target, Costco, SUVs do not exist in Israel. Parents in Israel do not schedule “playdates” in advance. I had to “teach” readers about the struggles people must face when they leave their homeland and move to a different culture or country.

I needed to redefine the role of a “rooter”

The U.S. Department of State’s website describes Reverse Culture Shock as an “emotional displacement syndrome.” Most people are familiar with the term culture shock, but RCS is much less understood. The constant “yo-yoing” between Israel and Jewish identities stressed and agitated me. In Pittsburgh I had to build U.S. roots, but my heart always felt (still does) that belongs in Israel.

I describe the holy land, “my heart home.” Translating these disorienting feelings were important for making broader identity connections. I was no longer an Israeli; I was now an American Jew – a minority in a minority culture. What did that imply for my spiritual identity?

Finding home again whether we’re talking about moving to another state or country means rebuilding from scratch relationships, a support system. To some degree we’ve had to do this in our global pandemic. Writing Sand and Steel took this process a step up. It’s a story I’m still living.

* * *
Dorit Sasson is the award-winning author of Accidental Soldier: A Memoir of Service and Sacrifice in the Israel Defense Forces and the newly released Sand and Steel: A Memoir of Longing and Finding Home. As a certified SEO (search engine optimization) strategist and copywriter, she works with companies, small businesses, and non-profits to increase online visibility with leads and conversions.
Would you like to participate in Friday "Speak Out!"? Email your short posts (under 500 words) about women and writing to: marcia[at]wow-womenonwriting[dot]com for consideration. We look forward to hearing from you!

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