Family matters

Why would married children want to set up house within a stone's throw of their parents?

By WENDY ELLIMAN
September 12, 2006 20:19
3 minute read.
Family matters

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I once had an uncle, now long dead, whose children all moved far away - some to other cities, some to other countries, and one all the way into a non-Jewish family. He was a rigid man, old-fashioned and guileless, and till the day he died he never understood why grown children wouldn't choose to live, if not in houses next to their parents, then at the very least nearby. As children, we nieces and nephews could never decide which was the more comical: that married children actually set up house within a stone's throw of their parents, or that Uncle Henry was convinced they'd want to. Into my early 20s, my mind-set remained unaltered. I dismissed as inconsequential the 2,000 miles I put between self and family when I moved to Israel. Israel was, after all, the land of the Jewish future! It was the land of my future! My friends were either there or on their way, and friends mattered a lot. My farewell at Heathrow, to which I (unsuccessfully) tried to stop my parents and other family members from coming, left me guilty and angry in equal parts for months afterward. In the face of their silent sadness I had to suppress my excitement and optimism, not to mention my relief at getting shot of the troupes of elderly aunts and tedious family gatherings. SEVERAL DECADES on, in the words of Joan Baez (which itself dates me), I'm "older now, much wiser too." I've had years of joy and achievement, setbacks and sorrows that my parents and sister have shared only from a distance. My children have grown up knowing grandparents, aunt, uncle and cousins only in brief, intensive spurts. I've returned to London to see my parents get steadily older, smaller and more confused. I've received the phone call that surely everyone living far from family dreads - although I was lucky: I got there in time to say goodbye. But this will be the fifth Rosh Hashana that I won't be going to my father's grave. Many of us immigrants to Israel are a second consecutive generation to be deprived of the one that went before. Adolf Hitler ensured that too many of our parents raised children who never knew their grandparents. Many of us are now raising our own children without a saba or safta to hand - but this is something we've imposed on ourselves, through choice. I'M NOT SAYING the decision to throw in our lot with Israel was mistaken, or that aliya should be made only by complete multi-generational clans. Nor am I demeaning the way we've compensated for the absence of our parent generation by setting up varied formal and informal support systems among ourselves. What I am saying is that perhaps we're not sufficiently cognizant of the breadth and depth of the family ties we choose to abandon when we relinquish the street, the town, the very country where our parents and siblings live. Even as we leave behind irksome family obligations and petty family feuds, we're leaving the place where we're someone's daughter and sister, someone's aunt, cousin and niece. If we're lucky we'll continue to share the bar mitzvas and the weddings, the britot and the funerals, but it's in the day-to-day that life is lived - and that's what I've come to realize was something my old-fashioned Uncle Henry understood very clearly indeed. THIS ROSH HASHANA, my daughters and I will share meals with friends at their homes and ours, and we'll go to a synagogue in which we know and like many people. We'll Skype London on Friday afternoon to wish the family a good and healthy year, and they'll probably Skype us back late Sunday to ask how the holiday passed. And in the year ahead, as in more than 30 years past, I'll continue nurturing the closely connected lives that my England and Israel families lead 2,000 miles apart. As I do so, all the while I'll hope and pray that my daughters, married or single, will choose to set up their homes within a stone's throw of mine. The author is a Jerusalem-based freelance writer and editor.


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