Three Ladies, Three Lattes: Home from home?

Pam Peled, Danit Shemesh and Tzippi Sha-ked look at percolating issues in Israel’s complicated social and religious fabric.

 Adult and child holding hands (illustrative) (photo credit: ING IMAGE/ASAP)
Adult and child holding hands (illustrative)
(photo credit: ING IMAGE/ASAP)
I’m feeling uneasy and need advice: We made aliya seven years ago when my oldest daughter was in kindergarten, leaving an almost perfect American life. We have big, close-knit families on both sides, with lots of love lavished on my children. The only problem was that no one there was religious except for my husband and me. As we became more and more observant due to our community and rabbi, we decided to move to Israel, which we felt would better fit our lifestyle.
We have absolutely no family here, just us and our three young children. We chose a national-religious yishuv [community] and have generally been happy, apart from some devastatingly lonely times.
This summer my 13 year-old daughter went back for a visit. She’s adoring being with family, and the questions are starting already, before she’s even back: “Why don’t we live here?!” None of my answers placate her. She’s told her grandmothers that she’ll move back alone when she’s 18.
She’s wearing shorts, dressing immodestly at mixed-swimming sites, possibly not bothering about kashrut; I expected more from her.
Here’s my question: What do you do when your adult children leave? It almost feels like all the sacrifices I’ve made and all the values I’ve tried to give her are being uprooted before my very eyes. Maybe I’m exaggerating, but wow. I feel a sense of loss already. Thoughts, please.
– Uneasy Mom
Danit Shemesh: I can still see my grandmother’s home: warm, inviting, with smells of hearty pea soup on a cold, gray day, her battered, cushiony sofa and smile assuring me that all was well, even when that wasn’t always clear to me. When my parents decided to leave Israel to follow my father’s calling (medical scientific research), my grandmother gave me a packet of handkerchiefs. As she peeled my arms from her waist she told me to envisage her wiping my eyes when I felt lonely. Family can provide comfort and a buffer against life’s challenges.
You made a decision that, at the time, seemed to provide your family with better tools for life and a connection to something even greater than family: Israel, Hashem [God]. When you decided to come to Israel, you transplanted your parents’ life choices with your own, a mark of maturity.
Community functions like checks and balances, prompting us to do and be the highest version of ourselves.
Choosing a group to which to belong is always a choice, in contrast to family, which is a constant.
Choice, by definition, precludes all other options. And then what? Do we feel stuck with our decision? If we “marry” our choice and learn to enjoy it, this decision becomes a source of strength rather than of angst. Our gift to our children is that security. You decided to be here; feel good with that. The hardest part is behind you; now is the time to enjoy.
Pam Peled: I’m not sure I understand the question: Leave Israel? Or leave the derech [religious observance]? Leaving family for Israel or vice versa is tough; I remember my mom weeping before my flight and teaching me the word “irrevocable” – no decision is that, she said, you can always come home. I understand the pull to be part of our own country, to participate in something greater than ourselves; I felt it, too. Still, leaving home is hard.
But weighing up the wearing of shorts against family cuddles, and worrying about bikinis on mixed beaches (gasp!)... I’m sorry, I just can’t relate.
If modesty and kashrut are what you crave, wouldn’t moving to Williamsburg help? Then you’d have family and the lifestyle you’re looking for; and your kids wouldn’t have to leave.
If it’s leaving the lifestyle that you fear, I wonder: Would you be happy if your daughter “left” kashrut and covering elbows, for example, but lived in Tel Aviv, where you could see her often, albeit in jeans? Or would you prefer her to live an observant life far away in Crown Heights? Maybe that’s what you need to figure out.
Try to convince some of your family to spend good chunks of time here, whatever their beliefs. Israel still caters for most Jewish lifestyles. Then, I suppose, just as your family accepted your increased religiosity, you’ll have to accept that it doesn’t appeal to your kids.
All lives are always in flux. And nothing, to quote my mom, is irrevocable.
Tzippi Sha-ked: Some years ago, I offered my secular cousin’s daughter an all-paid family trip abroad. Surprisingly, my cousin flat-out refused. “I’m sorry,” she said. “I simply can’t have your religious values impacting on my daughter. It’s not our way of life. I hope you won’t take it personally.”
I was stunned, though she taught me a valuable lesson. The way we raise our kids is supremely important to secular and religious parents alike. We work hard to inculcate our values and to ensure no one derails our hopes and vision for our children.
But life is a balancing act. As long as the folks back home are decent, don’t keep your child away from beloved family. If you can’t join your daughter, limit the number of days she visits.
It’s more important to send your daughter to a place with good role models than to a religious stronghold.
(Rashi states that Abraham preferred a girl from an idol-worshiping yet moral people for a daughter-in-law over Eliezer’s religious daughter.) Instill confidence in your daughter by role-playing tricky scenarios in advance of her trip. Prove that we don’t live like ostriches, but neither do we compromise our beliefs. While she’s away, have her keep a journal of her difficulties and problem-solving techniques. Our homework is to empower our children so they’re not thrown when they encounter university morals, Bible criticism and other challenges. Religious parents should speak up before the world whispers sweet nothings in their kids’ ears.
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