When pen­ning my newest his­tor­i­cal nov­el, The Boy with the Star Tat­too, I sec­tioned the sto­ry into three unequal parts, titled Uncer­tain­ty, Aliyah, and Belong­ing. Nev­er did I expect that the lat­ter would become so poignant since the trag­ic morn­ing of Octo­ber 72023.

The epi­taph that opens Belong­ing is bor­rowed from Som­er­set Maugham’s The Moon and Six­pence: Some men are born out of their due place. Acci­dent has cast them amid cer­tain sur­round­ings, but they have always a nos­tal­gia for a home they know not.”

A sense of belong­ing — the feel­ing of deep con­nec­tion with social groups, phys­i­cal places, and col­lec­tive or spir­i­tu­al expe­ri­ences — is a fun­da­men­tal human need. It is the innate human desire to be a part of some­thing larg­er than one­self. In his hier­ar­chy of needs, Abra­ham Maslow expressed the impor­tance of belong­ing by includ­ing it among the five basic req­ui­sites for well­be­ing, even plac­ing it above phys­i­o­log­i­cal and safe­ty needs. 

In my nov­el The Boy with the Star Tat­too, belong­ing is going back to a phys­i­cal loca­tion that is home and reach­ing that place of cer­tain­ty, of inner truth, that is not giv­en to dis­pute or to sec­ond-guess­ing by an outsider.

For two thou­sand years, Jews have been pray­ing Next year in Jerusalem.” They have been yearn­ing for this land from which their ances­tors had been cast out by invad­ing armies. This nos­tal­gia for a home most of them had nev­er glimpsed has anchored Jews to what we call among our­selves the tribe.” This eth­nic iden­ti­ty is shared regard­less of how we observe, or don’t, reli­gious dictates. 

In 2008, in Paris, while tak­ing a guid­ed tour of the Jew­ish quar­ter of Le Marais, I saw a few Has­sids in their typ­i­cal black attire cross the street. The guide stopped to explain to his curi­ous charges some­thing about these people’s lifestyle. Hav­ing grown up as a sec­u­lar Israeli, I bris­tled at the ultra-Ortho­dox impo­si­tion of their fanat­ic prin­ci­ples on the rest of us. (And don’t get me start­ed on their view of a woman’s place — my place — in the world.) Yet, at this moment, when whiff­ing a trace of deri­sion in the guide’s tone, my hack­les went up. These men in black attire were my peo­ple! Look­ing down upon them was insult­ing to me.

In my nov­el The Boy with the Star Tat­too, belong­ing is going back to a phys­i­cal loca­tion that is home and reach­ing that place of cer­tain­ty, of inner truth, that is not giv­en to dis­pute or to sec­ond-guess­ing by an outsider.

In The Boy with the Star Tat­too, the bond to the land of Israel is wrapped in a sense of respon­si­bil­i­ty for world Jew­ry — from the 1946 res­cu­ing of World War II Jew­ish orphans and bring­ing them to then-Pales­tine, to the 1960’s com­mit­ment of an Israeli naval team sta­tioned in France to make Israel a safe haven for all Jews. As I immersed myself in that spir­it that placed patri­o­tism far high­er than indi­vid­ual wants, I was also aware of how much had changed in the past five decades. Amer­i­can Jews were now two gen­er­a­tions away from the fum­bling inse­cu­ri­ty that had plagued their immi­grant par­ents. Even though many Amer­i­can Jews have had mean­ing­ful bar and bat mitz­vah cer­e­monies and have tak­en trips to Israel with either their fam­i­lies or through Birthright, their dai­ly activ­i­ties and inter­ests were tied more to their cur­rent work­place, imme­di­ate com­mu­ni­ty, or polit­i­cal party’s world­view than to Israel and Jew­ish-based con­cerns. Across an ocean and a sea, tired of sac­ri­fice, Israelis craved nor­mal­cy. The eco­nom­ic future of Israel, expressed in my child­hood in songs about grow­ing oranges, now flour­ished on some­thing else Jews had always been good at — using their brains. Social­ism, so nec­es­sary for the absorp­tion of refugees, was replaced by cap­i­tal­ism, the hall­mark of growth. In a coun­try whose nation­al air­line could fly out only in one direc­tion — west­bound — each year about half of all sec­u­lar Israelis vaca­tioned abroad. 

Octo­ber 7 changed all that. Sure­ly, in the after­math of the Hamas slaugh­ter­ing, rap­ing, and kid­nap­ping of Israelis and the bloody war that ensued — with two-hun­dred thou­sand Israelis dis­placed, too many Israeli youth killed in bat­tle, and the econ­o­my in a stand­still since tens of thou­sands of reservists head­ed to the army — not a sin­gle Israeli was spared from trau­ma and shock. Sud­den­ly, the huge inter­nal polit­i­cal and cul­tur­al divides that had threat­ened to destroy the coun­try from with­in were set aside. The vol­un­teerism among Israelis was astound­ing as they unit­ed over what was most impor­tant to them above all else: not mere­ly their exis­ten­tial sur­vival, but the bond of a shared love for their country.

What we have seen hap­pen­ing to Jews in the US has been more sur­pris­ing: a resur­gence of belong­ing to to a home they knew not.” The for­got­ten his­to­ry — the more than one hun­dred gen­er­a­tions of bar-mitz­vahs — float­ed up to the sur­face of con­scious­ness. Mil­lions of Amer­i­can Jews to whom Jew­ish­ness had nei­ther rel­e­vance nor con­text in their dai­ly lives, sud­den­ly felt the hor­ror in a per­son­al way. The sav­age attack hap­pened to them, per­son­al­ly, and the loss­es were theirs, too. In the days fol­low­ing the mas­sacre, I’d catch a stranger’s eye in the super­mar­ket and at that instant we were unit­ed in a mourn­ing that wasn’t evi­dent to the out­side observ­er. We belonged to the same tribe. Our per­son­al and social iden­ti­ties tran­scend­ed phys­i­cal bor­ders, and now suf­fered the same anguish and wor­ry for the kid­napped. We — I, a Sabra who had left, and that Amer­i­can stranger in the super­mar­ket who may have nev­er set foot in our ances­tral land — were hard­wired with an attach­ment to a cul­ture, to a her­itage, and to a land far away.

For bet­ter or worse, in our inner truths, we were home. We belonged.

Talia Carn­er is the for­mer pub­lish­er of Savvy Woman mag­a­zine and a lec­tur­er at inter­na­tion­al women’s eco­nom­ic forums. The Boy with the Star Tat­too is her sixth novel.