Out there: Separation anxiety
Finally I could empathize with anti-aliya relatives.
I sat across from my 18-year-old daughter at a local shwarma eatery the other night - the one with that special ambience that only comes from being situated inside a gas station - looked into her eyes and for the first time felt empathy for the stridently anti-aliya mother of a very close friend of mine.
This is a mother whose heart was broken long ago when her daughter followed her Zionistic impulses and left home for Israel's shores. This is a mother who - and I'm seriously understating matters here - never really got over it.
"Ah, she'll make her peace with the idea of your aliya eventually," I told my friend many, many years ago, trying to make her feel better about being essentially cut off from her mother.
Meaning well, I tried to console and regale her with stories about American parents who at first adamantly objected to their children's aliya, but who in the end accepted their kid's move and eventually even moved to Jerusalem themselves, frequenting Betar Jerusalem soccer games and buying their groceries every week in Mahaneh Yehuda. I would tell tales of parents who at first opposed their offspring's move across the ocean, but then couldn't resist coming here summer after summer to see their grandchildren.
"Give her time," I said. "She'll move on; she'll get over it." Or not.
IT TURNS OUT I didn't know my friend's mother, a woman who never really got over it and whose relationship with her daughter has never been the same. My friend and her husband have tried to make the best of a bad situation over the years, visiting the States when they could, sending their kids to grandma's house in the summer, because grandma wouldn't come visit them here.
But, unlike the happy-ending versions to similar situations other people have experienced, there was never any ultimate acceptance in this case, never any final closure. Life doesn't always work that way; things are not always neatly wrapped up; time does not always heal. Often problems are not resolved, and the principals just go on, doing the best they can under difficult circumstances.
My heart went out to my friend largely because my father was both proud and supportive when I moved here. I'm sure he secretly wished I would return someday to be in close proximity, to continue to do my chores, to be around when he grew old; but he was always supportive nonetheless. At a certain point in time, say after I was here for about 20 years, he even stopped asking if I thought I would remain.
Not so another relative, who every time I see her during a visit to the States always asks me the same question: "So tell me, do you think you'll stay in Israel?"
I'm always a bit put off by that question, never sure about its intended meaning, or why it's even asked. If someone, for instance, moved from Denver to Baltimore and lived there for 25 years, would anyone ask if he intended on staying or whether he would be "coming home" soon? In a best-case scenario there is a hidden put-down in the query, as if to say, "Okay, now that you got that nutty Israel stuff out of your system, when are you coming back to the real world?" In the worst-case scenario the question masks a subliminal hope that you'll answer, "I'll be leaving Israel soon," to justify the fact that the asker - if Jewish - never bothered to come.
"Well, let's see," I said somewhat impatiently last November, "I got me a wife, four Israeli kids, a mortgage, a shekel-linked pension plan, a permanent seat in shul, house plants and I've lived in Israel now longer than I've lived in the States. Yup, chances are I'm gonna stay."
But there at the gas station, with humous dripping down my elbow from a hole in my pita, I finally understood and empathized with those anti-aliya parents and relatives. No, I don't justify them - I still think it mighty selfish to put their needs before the hopes, dreams and aspirations of the entire Jewish people from time immemorial. But I could finally empathize.
Sitting there, looking at my daughter, I thought how crushed I would be if she ever decided to get up some day and replant herself in a foreign land thousands of miles away. Sure, I would want what was best for her - or at least theoretically I would want what was best for her - but I would always anguish over why what's best for her couldn't also be what's best for me.
Sure I would think it noble for her to want to live out her principles - or at least I hope I would think that way - but I would obviously feel pain, especially if her moving meant depriving me of having her a car-ride away, of being able to watch her children grow up.
THOSE THOUGHTS intruded upon me because in a month this daughter, child number two of four, will be leaving home.
It seems like only yesterday The Wife and I attended one of my daughter's birthday parties in nursery school, squeezing into those too-small chairs and watching her do a hula hoop dance. It seems only yesterday she put her tiny hand in mine, and I bent one of her trusting fingers at the knuckle until she yelped in pain. And now, presto, here she was sitting across from me - sans hula hoop, but fingers miraculously still intact - soon to be setting out on her own.
Finally I could empathize with the pain of parents watching as their kids flew 12-hours away to Israel to forge a new life. For I was feeling an echo of that pain, and all I was doing was sending my daughter off in a few weeks time to do her national service - 90 minutes away to Afula.