I took a break out of life in the crazy trenches this past week to take a good friend to the mikvah - in Houston. Six hours driving there, a few hours in town, then six hours driving back the same day. Thank goodness there were two of us.
Why schlep to Houston? There's currently no mikvah open to people becoming Jews by choice in New Orleans, and there hasn't been since Beth Israel's building in Lakeview flooded out. Want to convert to Judaism here, but don't want to become a Lubavitcher Hasid? Your conversion studies and your beit din session will be here, but your immersion in a mikvah will be happening elsewhere. If you don't have much money, flying in to Houston for just that purpose gets to be an expensive proposition, so...road trip!
I was amazed that I hadn't completely forgotten how to get to my old neighborhood. We used to live not too far from the United Orthodox Synagogues' building, or from my Jewish day school, which was a hop, skip, and a jump away from UOS, where the mikvah facilities were - but it had been over 20 years since I had last seen Meyerland or Westbury. And I'd been grateful to leave it all, and yet... surprisingly... not. In retrospect, twelve child formative years in southwest Houston had given way to a few aimless years in the northeastern part of the country, punctuated by nearly eleven adult formative years spent in New Orleans, where I hope I'll remain for a long, long time, but who knows? At this rate, my fifties'll be spent somewhere in Georgia...but I'm getting off the point, which is that the move from Houston in the middle of my high school years set a pattern for me that resonates to this day: how permanent an entity is home, really? When you finally make peace with your home, and find a better place within it, only to be yanked out of it due to circumstances beyond your control, how do you keep that peace with you? I'd never had much of a desire to go back to the old neighborhoods, and yet - here I was. Helping a friend. And whatever memory I had of the way we used to go to get off I-10 on the way back from visiting my grandparents in Tennessee was still in working order.
Damn near everything was different. The physical synagogue buildings looked the same, and the general look of the neighborhoods surrounding them was there, but I couldn't put my finger on it right off until I looked at the apartments that were sitting atop what had once been empty fields, and the storage facility that dwarfed what had once been a familiar turnoff for the day school. "The walls!" I said to my friend. "The fences! It's all very enclosed. God forbid the surrounding neighborhood encroach on those shuls' properties..."
For me, you can't go home again is very true. I knew deep down that my old neighborhood was no longer much of a refuge, but this trip confirmed it. Everything's bigger than ever in Houston and keeps increasing in size...but it's also not as free.
Guess I got out when the getting was good.