Tuesday, February 19, 2013

A Larger Footprint - Guest Post by Varda Epstein

Yom shlishi, 9 Adar 5773.

My friend and Times of Israel blogger Varda Epstein writes movingly of another side of Aliyah that must be taken into account, and the good attitude that can make it work, nonetheless.

Mom, dancing at my wedding, couldn't dance at my daughter's...
Making Aliyah, the act of picking up and moving to Israel, changes the meaning of family forever.

For one thing, there’s the physical distance that cannot be bridged no matter how wonderful the notion and reality of Aliyah, because they (your family) are there and you are here, in the Holy Land.

It can mean giving up one mitzvah for another: leaving elderly parents to fend for themselves for the sake of your Aliyah. You can end up feeling, well, a little selfish, like you've abandoned them. That’s true even in the best-case scenario, in which the parents are supportive of your move to the Holy Land.

That physical distance means that when you’re feeling under the weather and finding it hard to cope with parenting or other demands, there’s no one to pinch hit for you. You can’t call your mother to come and rescue you. She’s too far away to bring you chicken soup and do your laundry.

Skype isn't quite like being there...
The miles (or kilometers, now that you’re an Israeli) mean that sometimes the family will miss out on your milestones, Skype notwithstanding. Your child’s first tooth, first word, and first step are just a few of the important occasions your family may miss. And your child will miss out on experiencing the unconditional love that only grandparents can give.

Having family far away also means that during the worst of times, for instance during mourning, there will be no extended family to grieve alongside you. Tradition dictates that only family members visit the Shiva house during the early days of the Jewish mourning period. Yet you may be the only person at Shiva who knew your loved one. That can tend to grow the ache that much larger and lonelier.

Out of necessity, however, the meaning of family undergoes a necessary and very beautiful evolution for those who make Aliyah. Friends metamorphose into something more than friends, if something less than family. They stand in for our families as we stand in for their own.

The bonds we create with our new friends in Israel are so much stronger than those we had with the friends we left behind, because they must fill a much larger footprint. They must be both friends and family or rather a wholly new species that is a merger of the two without being quite one or the other. It’s a tall order, yet one that is filled with the purest of intentions.

It’s an obligation that is a pleasure to fill. It means, for example, that if I have an important business meeting, my friend Leora, a makeup artist, will do my makeup for free so I’ll look spiffy and professional, while I will spend hours creating a many-tiered, decorated cake, for her daughter’s bat mitzvah, in girly-girl colors, free of charge, out of the deepest love and affection. Whatever we have, we give freely. It is a give and take that binds us despite the lack of blood ties or shared history, but binds us no less surely.

Baked with love, even though it couldn't be baked by her "real" aunt

This obligation is not an obligation, but rather something that is volunteered out of great desire. It means that my friend Rachel, who babysat my infant son when I was unwell, was there at his wedding to shed a tear instead of my mother, who could not be there.  It means that when we dance together in the middle of the circle, a kind of holy energy surrounds and caresses us, something indescribable that comes perhaps from the heavens -- something that can neither be described nor uttered. It is simply there: born out of Aliyah, a holy and wholly beautiful byproduct of our sojourn in the Land.

Varda Epstein is a mother of 12 children, blogger, and communications writer at Kars4Kids
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