Going through my par­ents’ effects in south­ern Indi­ana after their deaths two years ago was a mas­sive and, at times, mys­ti­fy­ing under­tak­ing. We unearthed my youngest sis­ter Rachael’s baby teeth, com­plete with the date they fell out and my father’s metic­u­lous hand­writ­ten notes on how hard she cried. There was a Nation­al Geo­graph­ic from 1926, and black and white pho­tos of Israel dat­ing from World War II — mys­ti­fy­ing because my par­ents had nev­er been to Israel. I sus­pect­ed that my moth­er, who’d worked as a pri­vate sit­ter for elder­ly peo­ple, had been gift­ed these items after one of her patients had passed on.

In the ear­ly eight­ies, as a stu­dent at the Hebrew Uni­ver­si­ty, there was a shop in the Old City of Jerusalem that I loved to browse in. It sold plas­tic encased water­col­or draw­ings, sepia prints, and black and white pho­tos of Jerusalem and the Holy Land that dat­ed from the nine­teenth to the twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry. I vivid­ly remem­ber hold­ing a draw­ing that depict­ed Jerusalem’s land­scape of the pre­vi­ous cen­tu­ry: against a pink-washed sky, a most­ly bar­ren Mount of Olives loomed over the Dome of the Rock. Wow,” I mar­veled, this is the view of Jerusalem that peo­ple saw way before I arrived on this earth.” At nine­teen, this seemed like a pret­ty pro­found insight.

While the view from the Mount of Olives was spec­tac­u­lar, so was the view from its adja­cent moun­tain, Mount Sco­pus, where Hebrew Uni­ver­si­ty was locat­ed. Walk­ing to and from class, I saw the Dome of the Rock below, and the Old City’s ancient lime­stone build­ings that glowed red and gold in the sun­set. It was a far cry from the land­scape of my child­hood: corn­fields stretch­ing out to the hori­zon, Chew Mail Pouch Tobac­co writ­ten on the side of barns, blue skies, peace, and tran­quil­i­ty. In many respects, Mid­west­ern­ers mir­rored this land­scape: open and not giv­en to unex­pect­ed bursts of passion.

In con­trast, Israel, with its lay­ers and lay­ers of civ­i­liza­tions — the Jebusites, Israelites,Greeks, Romans, Byzan­tines, Per­sians, Umayyads, Cru­saders, Ottomans, British and a bunch of oth­ers in between — was com­pli­cat­ed. That was evi­dent, too, from the view on Mount Sco­pus. At the edge of the uni­ver­si­ty was an amphithe­ater that over­looked the much-dis­put­ed West Bank and the bar­ren Judean Hills, the sub­ject of intense dis­cus­sions among both my Pales­tin­ian and Jew­ish friends. Just below was the Old City, divid­ed into the Jew­ish, Armen­ian, Mus­lim and Chris­t­ian quar­ters. Direct­ly south, the sev­en gild­ed-onion domes of the Russ­ian Ortho­dox Church held sway on the Mount of Olives, and down its slope was the 3,000-year-old Jew­ish ceme­tery, con­tain­ing graves from the time of the First Temple.

Peo­ple of three faiths and any num­ber of eth­nic­i­ties and nation­al­i­ties lay claim to this lit­tle sliv­er of land in the Mid­dle East. Israel is com­pli­cat­ed, and Israelis are as com­pli­cat­ed as the land they live on.

Israel changed a lot of my views, some in pro­found ways. I began to see reli­gion from anoth­er per­spec­tive, and I ulti­mate­ly con­vert­ed to Judaism. Which in turn affect­ed my world­view. I’d tak­en for grant­ed being a mem­ber of the Chris­t­ian major­i­ty in the U.S. As a Jew, I’m now pro­found­ly aware of anti-Semi­tism. And because I now iden­ti­fy with the oth­er,” I think I’ve become a more empath­ic per­son to all of the oth­er oth­ers.”

I don’t think I’ll ever not be a Mid­west­ern girl. But home isn’t just a geo­graph­i­cal place. It can also be an emo­tion­al or spir­i­tu­al space. Some­times all three. Which brings me, full cir­cle, back to those lit­tle black and white pho­tographs of a stripped-down, pre-state Israel that I found in my par­ents’ home. The pho­tos of the Dome of the Rock and the Wail­ing Wall could have been tak­en today. But the Aus­tralian Sol­diers Club is gone. The Mount of Olives is all built up. It’s not the same view as that nine­teenth-cen­tu­ry artist had depict­ed. Views change.

Image via Avi­tal Pinnick/​Flickr.

Angela Himsel’s writ­ing has appeared in The New York Times, the Jew­ish Week, the For­ward and else­where. Her mem­oir is list­ed in the 23 Best New Mem­oirs at bookau​thor​i​ty​.org. She is pas­sion­ate about her chil­dren, Israel, the Canaan­ites and chocolate.