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My Tireless Search for a Jewish Community Finally Ended, But the Outcome Isn’t What You’d Expect

lemons on a lemon tree - cross-processed

“There’s nothing so delicious as a warm Blenheim apricot, just picked off the tree, juices running down your hand,” said Lynn, the nursery employee who was helping us pick out a fruit tree for our new yard in northern California.

Four years later, and there was not a piece of fruit to show for it, save for four or five that the squirrels got to before we did. In the tree’s defense, we had done no research on soil or anything else that might have helped the tree grow. I don’t believe it was planted correctly, nor did we feed it periodically as you’re supposed to do. Over the years it did sprout more leaves and got a little more robust. It’s possible that in a number of years it will start to bear fruit. And hopefully someone else will enjoy that. But I didn’t want to stick around to find out.

Because just like the apricot tree was having trouble putting down roots in its new home, so were we. While our house and yard were very nice, we just never really felt settled there. I remember when we bought that house, lying in bed and thinking about how the people we bought it from lived there for 40 years. That thought made me feel trapped.

We moved there to be closer for my husband’s commute—though still an hour and a half away from his work. And it’s a lovely area but try as I did, I felt like a square peg in a round hole, and I think my older son, a kindergartener at the time, did too.

We didn’t know many people when we moved there, and after four years, it still felt like there was no one we could call to just hang out. There were people we knew through school, and we could have conversations baseball or something going on at school, but it never went any deeper. We didn’t go to their churches and our kids weren’t in their boy scout troops.

And when I really let myself think about it, it felt like we were the only Jewish people at our school (although I know there were a few others). Growing up, having Jewish friends didn’t feel important to me, but both our kids had gone to Jewish preschool. Come the holidays, my older one was asking if anyone else in his class celebrated Hanukkah. When I had to answer no, I knew something wasn’t right.

On top of this, my older son has severe hearing loss and wears cochlear implants, not a common sight. And while I didn’t expect to live somewhere where this wouldn’t be unusual, I was hoping to find a place where he fit in in other ways and there was less of a barrier between us and the people we interacted with. It just wasn’t happening there. Finally my husband and I agreed we needed to make a change.

We looked and looked and couldn’t find the right house in the area where we wanted to move—near my work and a number of our friends. After two years, during which time we raised our price point and lowered our expectations, we found “the perfect house,” which is to say a small but cute old house, with a funky yard on a great street. Was this the one? After so much time looking it was hard to know. But it felt like the one, despite the fact that it checked very few of the boxes we had in mind.

“I want mature fruit trees,” my husband said, after our failed experience in our other house. This had none. But still, we wanted it. It needed tons of work—the wood was rotted under the house, the roof was shot, the ducts had asbestos, and on and on. That’s when you know it’s love, when you look at all the flaws and proceed in spite of them.

And we did. There were multiple offers and we got it. And then we were nervous. Did we overpay? Was this going to be a money pit?

Yes and yes. We moved in and three weeks later all the plumbing failed and had to be replaced. We cursed our emotional decision. What idiots. We waited all this time only to place our bet on a lipstick-on-a-pig 1950s rancher with crumbling infrastructure.

Then our son started school, and it turned out that the retired teacher next door would be the substitute in his first grade class for half the year. And a family with kids similar age had just moved in up the street. And our good friends were within walking distance. And two boys who were in his class had just moved in across the way and we could have impromptu playdates. And there were three kids from his Sunday school in his class.

It was nothing we wanted and absolutely everything we were looking for. Then winter came, and we also realized that the big, crazy overgrown tree in the front yard was in fact a Meyer lemon tree, with so many lemons we literally could not pick them all.

We started experimenting. Lemon cookies, lemon chicken, lemon water, lemonade. And what we couldn’t use we shared. It was a tree with enough for everyone, and that helped us meet our neighbors.

We painted the front door yellow to match, which makes the house look happy, and we are happy in it. It makes me realize that you don’t always know what you’re going to get, and you don’t always know what’s good for you, but when you find it, it just feels right.

This morning I was picking some lemons and could not get the one I was trying for. After awhile I decided I didn’t need that one. I walked around the tree and found a whole bunch and grabbed a few easily. Sometimes you just need to change what you’re looking for, or go after things in a different way.


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