For some, making aliyah is a wonderful experience that binds the family together; the realization of a lifelong dream celebrated by the whole family, including those who stay behind, left to bask in its reflective glory. For others, it’s an uphill struggle, as disgruntled family members feel abandoned as if they have fallen by the wayside, griping and moaning with little else to do other than lick their wounds at the perceived slight and unfairness of it all. Not so much the Zionist dream but more of the Zionist nightmare for them.
So far from it being a joyous occasion the very fact of making aliyah has, for many families, caused heartache and a deep rift.
Grandparents, left reeling from sadness when their children make aliyah, taking their beloved grandchildren with them, are often the ones affected most profoundly. Keeping the lines of communication open, especially with little ones, can be very tricky. Close bonds are stretched to the breaking point in some cases, causing deep resentment and sadness.
COVID-19 has, of course, compounded this issue, as Zoom and Face Time calls have replaced kisses and cuddles for those who would otherwise have been able to travel to visit their loved ones.
The joy of watching their grandchildren grow up is no longer taken for granted, with weekly gatherings, such as Friday night dinners, school pickups and trips to the park all gone in a jiffy.
It’s not only the grandchildren who are so sorely missed, but adult children too, whose absence is keenly felt by those left behind. The loss of support and companionship upon which many elderly parents have come to rely is particularly hard.
Rosena Levy, whose three daughters made aliyah with their respective families, describes the heartache she felt, “It was so painful being without them. And yes – the missing-ness. Survival mode was visiting three or four times a year and then COVID-19 struck. Was like a brick wall coming down and the fear was real.”
Another describes how hard it was to say goodbye to her parents, “they had to say goodbye to us the day before, as they wouldn’t have coped saying goodbye at the airport.”
Many parents, upon hearing that a child is planning the big move are simply furious. Talk of abandonment abounds, leaving both parties distressed and bewildered.
Rachel (not her real name) describes the difficulties she faced when she broke the news to her parents of her impending departure.
“My father was very angry,” she said,
“He said that if I go, he will not help me financially and that I was taking a few steps backwards.”
Consequently, she didn’t visit England for 3 years until her mother bought her a plane ticket without her father’s knowledge. Things have since improved, albeit very gradually.
Daughters-in-law are often blamed for stealing away the son and grandchildren when the family decides to make aliyah. As one lamented, “My in-laws never forgave me: first, I married their son; second, I took their grandchildren away from them.”
Additionally, many face constant pressure to come back, as one woman explained: “My dad, in particular, tried for years to persuade me to go back to England. He just wanted his children in the same country as him, and having been a refugee once and found a haven in England, wasn’t planning on a move here himself.”
Of course, it’s not only those left behind who are deeply affected by the loss of loved ones, often the loss is felt just as keenly by those who move away to begin new lives in a strange place without the support of their wider family and friends. Although they chose this path, the void which is left in their day to day lives is, for many, extremely painful.
For example, the prospect of bringing up children without having grandparents around the corner to help out is a daunting one. Those who had previously relied on the wider family are left isolated, instead having to look to strangers for support.
And it’s not only adults who suffer – some children aren’t given a choice about making aliyah, which can lead to resentment and problems.
Liat, who made aliyah with her family 42 years ago, still vividly remembers how miserable she felt when she was brought to live here by her parents at age 11.
Liat had been looking forward to starting high school in London with her friends, but found herself living in a tiny house, in a strange country where she had no friends and didn’t understand a word anyone was saying. She didn’t even have her own bedroom to escape for some privacy.
She struggled in school and refused to speak Hebrew during her first three years in Israel. The fact that she was both English and deaf made matters worse. In her own words, “I had a bad time in school being English and deaf… so many things went wrong.”
These problems led to what she describes as her rebellious phase, something which she suspects wouldn’t have happened had she remained in London where she was happy with her life. In short, she was very upset with her parents for forcing her to make aliyah and blamed them for many years for doing so.
For one man, the difficulties surrounding his decision to fulfill his dream of living in Israel were compounded by the sudden and tragic loss of his brother. In the aftermath of the tragedy, his parents implored him not to go. Despite their pleas, he went ahead with his plans, explaining his decision to me as follows: “Making aliyah for me wasn’t an easy choice; it was inevitable for me. It was the culmination of years of movement activity, and the pinnacle of my dreams and aspirations. But it wasn’t easy.
“I had to withstand a lot of emotional pressure from my parents not to leave so soon after his death. And so my excitement was tinged with a little feeling of guilt. It is hard to make such a move without your parents’ full blessing, but I refused to delay it. And so, along with the ecstasy, there was a tiny qualm, which I repressed. But let me tell you, I have not regretted my decision for an instant.”
In light of the above, it’s a wonder anyone would even consider making aliyah themselves, let alone with their families in tow; yet, thousands do each year. The reasons for doing so are varied and deeply personal. They run the gamut from escaping the ever increasing shadow of antisemitism right through to the draw of a hot sunny climate.
However, for many Jews how, making aliyah is like coming home. The fact that we are able to do so now, after 2000 years, is a privilege and a duty which simply cannot be ignored.
Those who do so with the blessing and full support of their wider families are the lucky ones.
The writer is a former lawyer from Manchester, England. She now lives in Netanya, where she spends most of her time writing and enjoying her new life in Israel.