I used to think I had a grasp on what it meant to live away from home. Since fifth grade I've spent summers in Wisconsin, Indiana, and Pennsylvania, went to school in Massachusetts and lived in Israel for nearly a year. None of these diverse experiences, however, prepared me for a full-time move to New York City.
The Big Apple is a transition in and of itself, especially for someone single and Jewish, but most of the lessons I learned leaving Chicago would've been the same if I were moving to New Mexico instead of New York.
We need only look at the Passover story to understand that we are a moving people. Although the Jewish spiritual homeland has always been Israel, our physical homeland has changed quite a bit throughout time, and the story we're about to read at the Seder alludes to one of the many times we've moved (both in the Torah and more modern times).
Yet we often forget during this retelling of the narrative from slavery to freedom just how reluctant the Jews were to leave Egypt, despite being slaves. Today, the decision to leave where we're from is not any easier or more comfortable, but much like leaving Egypt began the real narrative of the creation Jewish people, moving changes the narrative for your life like nothing else can.
Young adults share a lot of the same life-shaping experiences: getting a job, making ends meet, having friends come and go, dating, etc. Some are intuitive, some you just fall into; I believe living farther away from home should be one of the staples of life after graduation.
I've been in New York for five months, and already I've felt the effects of moving on my personal growth. Here's why you should do it:
You re-define yourself
When I moved back to the Chicago suburbs after graduation, at first I just hung out with everyone from high school. It was great, except we pretty much picked up right where we left off, just swap out fast-food restaurants and our parents' houses for new bars.
My world turned so small that many of the Jewish singles events I attended felt more like high school reunions. Of the dozens of social events, there were usually more people there that I did know than those I didn't.
Living in another state, even if some of your college friends live in your new city, the overwhelming majority of people you meet have no idea who you are. You are whoever you want to be; past experiences or expectations do not shape or define you.
You go outside your comfort zone
When you're a young professional far away from your parents, many of the safety nets are gone. This is nothing like going to overnight camp or college; your parents can't bring something you forgot from home on a random weekend or help you put your furniture together. And even if they have the means to visit you a lot, it's never long enough.
This forces you to truly be on your own and fend for yourself in ways that go well beyond learning to feed yourself and do laundry. Since my move, I had to negotiate a car lease and coordinate the construction of a fake room. (For the unfamiliar who presumably have never lived or do not live in San Francisco or New York, that means turning part of the common living space into a room by hiring a company to build you one.)
This is that point that you realize that you can accomplish something out of your comfort zone.
A new culture also forces you to adapt to your surroundings, even if it's uncomfortable. For example, I learned what happens (or, I should say, doesn't happen) when you try saying "excuse me" when you're stuck behind a large crowd of people on the subway and need to get off.
There is no better time to do it
If moving is something you've wanted to do but weren't sure when you could do it, the answer is now. Especially if you're in your 20s, you likely have the freedom others don't.
It's in our nature to lament and procrastinate, but it's much easier to move when you have fewer responsibilities and can deal with "roughing it" for a few months while you adjust.
Before I made the move to Manhattan, my sister left Chicago with nothing except my old car, her clothes and a few essentials before creating a temporary home in Montana. Her move started a series of adventures and jobs, including dating a guy she met almost instantly after moving.
After I made the decision to leave Chicago too, my dad remarked that he found it interesting that my sister and I both left a comfortable environment to live in a more minimalist way -- my sister leaving the comforts of urban life and me opting for the high cost of living in Manhattan. Yet somehow we both feel freer in our new homes than we did living in Chicago.
Had either of us waited much longer, the move might not have happened at all (dealing with roommates and living in a fake room in my 30s doesn't sound appealing).
Similarly, if the Jews had waited much longer to leave Egypt for the land of Israel, Pharaoh's might have changed his mind before they fled, and then we wouldn't be celebrating anything this season.
If you've ever had thoughts or dreams of living somewhere new, I hope this Passover gives you the clarity you need to create the freedom you've dreamed of. I once heard Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks say at a lecture that what makes the Jewish people distinct from other religions is that we've learned to never look back.
Here's to a year of looking forward, pushing our limits and finding freedom by creating a new home. Chag sameach.