Sunday, June 26, 2011

Going the distance

Making Aliyah isn't only, at least for me, about moving to Israel, living the dream, or living as an authentic Jew in the most authentic of Jewish places.  You might think that'd give me plenty of reason to move, but it dawned on me in today’s early hours that there's something else going on- something very emotional, very palpable, and deeply personal.   See, not every Aliyah story is filled with tears of joy. And not every Aliyah story is filled with the bittersweet push-pull of wanting to stay and go.  Sometimes an Aliyah story tells the tale of doors opening, greater self-awareness, and truth.  Aliyah is not about running away, but running towards what is good and right.  It’s about being honest with yourself, understanding that everyone’s story is different and being ready to move on to the next phase.  Its about accepting what you can fix and hoping that you can peacefully accept what is not fixable.  It’s about truth and love in the realest of senses. 

One of the gazillion questions I've been asked, up there with did you sell the house, where will you live in Israel, and what will you be doing when you're there, is about family- how our families of origin are handling the move.  I can tell you that my mother-in-law, though beyond sad, told her son that she can't be angry about our decision because she raised him to want this.  I'm not entirely sure who cried more when she uttered those words.  Every family has its issues and no one has any right to say that their issues are worse or better than the next person's, but I'll admit to feeling both great respect and a good deal of jealousy when my mother-in-law made that statement.  She doesn’t want us to leave but she gets it.

When I’m asked how *my* family, particularly my mom, is dealing with the move, I’m simply not sure what to say.  In the 15 years we’ve been in Chicago, I’ve had many causes d’ célèbre that she’s not been part of physically or emotionally in the ways I wished.  I straddle both reality and wishful thinking.  I know of the internal pain that has shaped her worldview but am disheartened at the ways it has effected mine.  I can see different perspectives even when I don’t want to but deep down really wish my mom could understand, amongst many things, what it means to make positive changes, follow your heart genuinely, and move forward.  Though I am many things and play many roles in many lives, I started out as someone’s daughter, and still think, for however naïve it may sound, that a girl (or boy for that matter) should be able to lean on her mom particularly when she’s on the cusp of a life changing event. That's not something my mom can provide and its time, truly, that I make peace with that.  I know that she will miss me, or at least my physical presence in the same contiguous piece of world property, but she doesn’t ‘get’ the significance of the move and the myriad of things its come to mean.

I’ve been an adult, or at least played one on the local stage, for many years.  As a grown up and clinician, I find “parent issues” at all ages to be one of the stickiest of the bunch.  I’m not looking to make this post, this period of time, or this point in my life, to be one solely comprised of mother-daughter difficulties.  But what I’m learning about this trip, this Aliyah, is that its not just about moving physically or drawing closer spiritually.  It’s about respectful separation; understanding what really is and what really cannot be and being the person I can be while understanding from whence I come.  I’m not looking to “break up,” as it were, or bash my mother.  This trip, this pilgrimage, this journey, is leading me not only to the Holy Land but to a different level of adulthood.  Absence, they say, makes the heart grow fonder, but I also think it can open your heart to greater goodness and empathy.  I’m choosing to open my heart with understanding so that I can be an Oleh by rising up, in every sense of the word.

Thursday, June 23, 2011


Well folks, it happened today.  Haven't been getting solid sleep, my emotions are all over the place, I'm a big 'ol mush, and there's more to do than any one human being can process.  Tears gave way to frustration which gave way to panic which gave way to more tears, and on and on it went.  I was not at my best and kinda' let 'er rip.  I'd like to say that I've handled everything until this point with grace and dignity.  Lots of humor?  Yes.  But grace and dignity?  Um, sure.  I hear the Brooklyn Bridge is for sale....

Its not an excuse, but truth be told, this whole moving- across- the- world- while- upending- your- life- to- do- so would drive the sanest person batty.  And when you're not starting off as the sanest person, you're REALLY behind the eight ball. The stresses of renting the house, refilling prescriptions, sleeping on couches and praying for an unbroken wi-fi connection got the best of me and it was not pretty.  I suppose I should apologize to the pharmacist (even though some of our meds are on  manufacturer back order and NO ONE shared that tidbit with me), our real estate agent (sorry, but the thought of our renters doing work on the house while we're still in it is way more than I can handle), my 12 year old (OK, maybe my response to you was a wee bit over the top), and our internet router (tell me though, why do you feel the need to stop- start when I need you to just work??!!).  I promise to try to be nicer tomorrow, get a good night's sleep and remember there are worse things in this life. 

I'm gonna chalk it all up to being perceptibly human and pray that these moments don't repeat themselves.  Often.  OK, too often.  OK, not in the next few days.  I'm tryin', I'm tryin'.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

I know where I am, but um, where am I???

The lift has come and gone, most of my earthly possessions are somewhere between Lake Michigan and the Middle East, and as luck would have it, we've experienced the upheaval without scrapes, bruises, or any attempts to kill each other. Yay us!

After the lift left I did the requisite house walk-through. There is something overwhelmingly powerful about realizing that the only thing that fills your dining room is your echo.  Its downright depressing to want to curl up in your bed and realize that the most you can do is snuggle into the fluffy parts of carpet your bed once covered.  I'm a pretty casual gal, but I must admit I'm missing the luxury of back support my chairs, the ones currently going bummpity-bump on some highway, provide. 

I didn't expect to have flashbacks and a flood of memories consume me as I explored my empty home.  When I looked in the living room, I remembered the bris (circumcision) we'd had in that room 10+ years ago.  I wandered into the dining room, or the Shabbos room as we like to call it, and remembered the meals we've had, the people we've welcomed into our home, and the ways in which our interactions have left an indelible mark on my soul.  I went upstairs and realized that the pictures of grandparents and our literal history were stored away.  And then I walked into our daughter's room, saw the American Girl doll on the closet floor sitting near a bottle of hand cream, and the remnants of her pre-adolescence.  That's when I lost it. 

We have really lived in this house, I mean LIVED in this house.  Our kids have grown physically, matured emotionally, driven us crazy (sometimes literally), and loved in this house.  Our daughter’s keeping that doll, the one I refused to buy but Bubbe (Josh's mom) wanted her to have, and a lifetime of memories.  The Desitin hand prints in my closet remind me of when our now 12 year old decided he wanted to finger paint years ago.  I was less-than-thrilled when I found him happy as a, well, kid in cream in my closet, but there's a certain sweetness those little hand prints hold.  Our 15 year old's wall etchings have been painted over and our 10 year old's abstract crayon art (I call it 'Themes on a Wall') is no more.   We have left our literal mark on this house and I'm grateful to call it my home.

I know where I'm going, both literally and spiritually and I know where I'm currently sitting.  Still, I feel like I'm in two places at once, though the feeling is somehow tempered with direction and purpose. I spent several moments yesterday questioning if I'm an American, an Israeli, neither, or both.  There are aspects of Aliyah that no one can prepare you for.  I suppose knowing who you are, where you stand, and to where you are headed are things each oleh (person moving to Israel) has to figure out for themselves. I'm in a lot places at the moment.  I'm home, I'm headed Home, and preparing to make new memories in the place I belong.  Remind me to hide the crayons when we get there!

Friday, June 17, 2011

I'll be right here waiting for you.... (To be enjoyed after you read the post.  Trust me, it'll be worth it!)

Many moons ago when Richard Marx was a new and hip artist (wow, I just dated myself...), I heard this song and it resonated deeply.  Its a song about a heartbroken man who wonders how he can go on without his love, how he can think and breathe and exist without his love.  Oceans separate them and day after day he feels like he's going crazy without her by his side.  Somewhere through the song he decides that he's got to take the chance and do what it takes to be near his beloved.  Powerful stuff.

For me, the song has always really been a duet sung by Israel and the Jewish people.  We tell Israel that we have to go on though we miss Her terribly, and She says that no matter what, She'll be right there waiting.  We realize that our love and passion are too intense to sidestep, and Israel patiently tells us to take our time, to visit when we're ready.  At some point in time we realize that the separation is killing us and that we need to be together.  Israel sits quietly, knowingly, gratefully. 

I wish I could put my finger on what Her magic is all about, how it is that physical Land draws us in so intently and spiritually.  Israel, I'm heeding your call, acknowledging your beckoning. 

If in the end I'm with you, I'll take the chance.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

How the journey started….

August 16, 2010

How does one describe the myriad of reasons we’re making Aliyah?  There are more reasons than I can count but the short version is this- it’s where we’re supposed to be.  I’m not preaching that to the masses nor will I be adding that as a tag line to my e-mails.  Do I think it’s where we- me and my family belong?  Well, that I know.  Do I think it’s the most authentic place on the planet for Jews to live?  Well, yes.  But I’m not in your house, in your head, or in your wallet.  This kind of decision must be made by each person, each family, individually.  And considering I loathe being preached to or spoken to as if I’ve never thought about the option being preached to me, I’m not gonna start doing it to you. 

So many questions.  Why there?  Well, moving to any other country in the Middle East would be fairly ridiculous and Canada, though its very pretty, wasn’t on the list of places to go.  Why now?  Well, why NOT now?  I could speak to the fears American Jews discuss and harbor, some quite real.  But the truth of truths is that it’s the right time for us.  Add to that the fact that sometimes we plan to start things ‘tomorrow,’ or ‘when the time is right.’  Frankly, there are things you have to *make* happen at the ‘right time’ because they aren’t just gonna happen.  I’ve never wanted to be the person that sits and waits- for a bus, a call, or my life to happen.  Things don’t magically appear and in the spirit of a phrase we all know well, G-D helps those who help themselves.

Our lives in Chicago, and before that in New York, aren’t ‘bad.’ We’ve been blessed with the most devoted of friends and family, so much so that our friends have *become* our family.  We’re not running away from anything and we’re not leaving a place where there are a sum total of 10 other Jews.  We are, I suppose, running TO where we need to be and where our hearts and souls are calling.  When we were in Jerusalem nearly 2 years ago, I stood on the balcony of our rented apartment and took in the sight of the Old City’s stones, the sound of the Muslim call to prayer, and the boing-b-boing of the bouncing basketballs in Liberty Bell Park.  It was, in short, emotional overload.  I don’t know that I would’ve necessarily combined all of those stimuli, but what it did was pull me closer to The Land.  I distinctly recall thinking that if someone at that moment had told me that they’d lost our tickets back to Chicago and that we had to stay in Israel, I would’ve shrugged and said, “OK.”  No fuss, no fight, no tears.  I knew, just as I’d known at 16 when I was there for the first time, that I was home.  And folks, there really is no place like home.

I had a madricha (a group leader) when I was in Israel so many years ago, whose family had moved to Israel when she was a teen.  Her mom told her that there were but three things you need to make the trip; You need the will and desire- check! You need money - thank G-D for Nefesh B’Nefesh and the amazing ways they allow people to make Aliyah- check! And you must be absolutely, unquestionably, without a doubt, off you’re rocker and out of your stinkin’ mind- CHECK! People have asked me what I’m feeling and I can safely tell you that if you can name the emotion, I’m feeling it. 

I’ve started to mentally say good-bye to things like places I visit infrequently, extra Yom Tov (holiday) days that we won’t have in Israel, and wondering where I can find kosher food in uncommon areas beyond M&M’s and pretzels (There is no kosher food to be found on the West Side of Chicago- who knew?).  I refuse to spend my remaining 11 months in the States referencing everything as “my last this” and “our last that;” we’re not dying- we’re MOVING!  But I realize, beneath the humor and excitement, that there will be many “lasts” that I will have to say goodbye to.  Some, I’d just as soon say goodbye to right now (Kosher restaurants should be open later than 8PM.  What, no one else in Chicago gets hungry AFTER 8PM???!!!).  And some, I can’t bear to think of- the tearful hugs, selling our house, and the tears on the faces of those I love as we pretend not to wonder if and when we’ll see each other again. 

I will miss the home we’ve built in Chicago. I don’t mean the living space we co-own with the bank, but the home that is always open to guests and stragglers who feel comfortable enough to take naps on our couches, play with our dog, and stop by just because they’re in the mood.  I’m really proud of that house, more than the paint on the walls or the counter tops I chose years back.  While I will miss this place and the long summer Shabbos (Sabbath) afternoons we sit on the front lawn and people-watch, I know that we will recreate this home in Israel.  No, it won’t be the same and it’d go beyond denial to think that it would.  But it will be a home where guests and friends sleep on our couches, share in our simchas (happy occasions), and stay for awhile.

Israel is really hard to define.  It’s a place, a political hot-bed, the holiest place on earth for many, all consolidated into an itty bitty parcel of land.  How in the world does the land ‘call’ to you, how does it welcome you and speak directly to your heart and soul.  I. DON’T. KNOW.  There it is, in all its blunt honesty.  I’m not naive about the challenges- personal, linguistic, financial, or political- we will face.  Nor do I think that as amazing as Nefesh B’ Nefesh is, that we’ll get off the plane and be presented with keys to a new house and new car; this is REAL life,  not a game show.  I think that once you’re home, in whatever place you define that to be, the world’s challenges seem manageable.  They don’t always seem less difficult, but the knowledge that you can tackle them is sort of built into the fabric.  We are a close-knit family who will continue to be just that.  And with the amazing technology that’s out there, we’ll be able to touch base with loved ones across the Mediterranean as if they were next door.

Yeah we’re scared, yeah we’re excited, yeah we’re nervous, and yeah, we’re gonna cry like a bunch of babies when its time to board that Israel-bound plane.  But y’know, you have to give to get, risk to earn, sacrifice to appreciate what you really have.  What we really have is this amazing opportunity to walk the footpaths of our ancestors and connect our children, the next generation and their generations, to who and what they come from.  The Land has always wanted (the collective) us to come back.  We’re just answering our call to finally come home.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

My lists are having babies...

Were it not for Excel, I'm pretty sure I'd have lost it awhile ago.  Making pretty charts and colorful lists and sparkly spreadsheets makes me happy.  Its my way of staying in control, you say?  Um, heck YEAH!  Let's see, I'm tracking whose medical records I still need, whose meds have yet to be delivered,  AND how I'm going to pack my make-up, jewelry, toiletries, and office supplies! See, when the going gets mind-numbingly tough, I attack the little things because that's about all my noggin can handle.  I am reasonably sure they sell face wash in Israel, but you better believe that my US-purchased St. Ives Apricot Scrub is coming with me and has been crossed off a "to-buy" list.  And my earrings?  They won't be graphed, but they will get their own little Ziploc baggies, lest they get loose in my luggage or mauled by a hair dryer or something equally threatening.

I miss the days when finding a comfy pair of pj's WITHOUT tripping over luggage to get to them was my biggest problem.  We are hardly 'slumming it' but the utter chaos is driving me to drink (I talk big, but I tend not to get too buzzed off Diet Dr. Pepper; clearly, I need to try harder).  I miss the days where my most intimidating list was the one that accompanied me on my foray to Jewel.  I miss the days when I didn't refer to them as the days I miss, but that's when I know that the overwhelming desire to stick my head under my pillows or if you prefer, in the toilet, is starting to win.

My whole life is one ball of chaos which is why I know that my sanity lay in the intersecting lines of a Microsoft worksheet.  There is a point where list making and list accomplishing becomes a whole lotta' busy work but for now, that's about all this weary head can handle. 

Sunday, June 12, 2011

The boxes are taking over!

Welcome to my 'We're moving to Beit Shemesh, OH MY GOSH we're making Aliyah' blog!  I have joked recently that 'everyone has a blog' and now laugh at the irony that I too, have jumped on the band wagon.  We head out to NYC and then Beit Shemesh on July 6th and July 11th, respectively.  G-D bless Nefesh B'Nefesh for holding our hands through the process!

My Chicago home has become a box graveyard.  Breakables, documents, "chatchkies,"  EVERYTHING is in a box- or will be.  It's daunting to say the very least, as I watch my life literally unfold and get refolded, so it all fits neatly on a barge.  I keep picturing my couches floating along the Mediterranean, on their own like seats for the fishies, but our moving company has assured us that that's never happened.  I'm trusting you boys, so my stuff better arrive in Israel dry, unharmed, and fish-free!

There are so many questions I get asked on a very regular basis; Any bites on the house? Where will you be living?  When are you leaving?  How's your family doing with all of this?  Do ALL the kids want to go?  What will you be doing?  What will Josh, my spectacular hubby, be doing?  None of these questions are rude, invasive, inappropriate, or beyond the normal scope of stuff people want to know.  HOWEVER..... I need a break!  These questions are hard for me sometimes (OK, now is one of those times) because they remind me, en masse, that we are really doing this.  I think its wonderful that folks are excited for us, proud of us, and some, jealous of our move.  But this is A LOT to process, y'know?  I had a madricha (counselor) on my NCSY (Jewish teen group) trip to Israel in 1988 who said that her mom, when they moved from the East Coast to the Holy Land, told her there are three things you need if you're going to make this move.  You need the will and desire, you need cash, and you need to be 100%, certifiably crazy.  I've got #1 down, thank G-D we have the cash to do this, and #3?  Yeah, I mastered that a long time ago!

I know that in my heart and soul, in the teeniest little cells in my baby toe, that raising a Jewish family, my Jewish family, in Israel is, frankly, where its at.  But that doesn't mean that I'm not scared out of my mind, nervous about what pundits call the "political climate," or afraid that my Hebrew won't be up to snuff fast enough.  I have four bright, really wonderful children who are, like a certain mommy they know, rather opinionated and emotional.  I'll be dealing with my own adjustment, my husband's, my kids', and our dog's!  I pray that our Maggie doesn't keel over from anxiety on the plane, but am grateful that her psychological well-being is best handled by tummy rubs and treats.  Oh, were that the case with us!

A word about my husband.  Josh has been ready to get on a plane and head to the Holy Land since he was in utero.  It helps that he was instilled with a love of The Land from that time.  And I know that he is so ready to board that plane and say, "I'm AN ISRAELI!!!!"  But I also know that he will be adjusting, transitioning from someone who goes to work everyday and has quite a bit of professional responsibility, to a shorts-wearing, unpacking-maniac, who is, at the moment, unemployed in Israel.  I anticipate, despite his poo-poo'ing me about this, a bit of an identity crisis, a good deal of pleasure with the fact that his daily grind won't be so, well, grinding, and an adjustment to what he left behind and the challenges that lie ahead. 

I know that in time, I will look back at this period and be able to smile, knowing that we did it, I mean we REALLY did it.  We're quite a ways from that time and I know that we have much joy and many struggles ahead.  G-D doesn't give us, or allow us to choose to tackle, anything we really cannot handle.  I pray for His strength, His wisdom, and eventually, a clear path past the boxes and beyond.