So yes, I have been back and forth a lot this year. Israel is my home. There is no where else in this world that I feel at home. I felt at home there the moment I stepped off the plane on my first visit in 2005. I returned in 2006 to study in a women’s seminary, and in 2007 I made Aliyah: I moved to Israel.
When I settled there, I knew that at some point I would be obligated to return to America to help my parents, who are now 88 and 86, respectively. That point came in the terrible winter of 2010-2011, when their remote mountain home was completely surrounded by ice, and my father had begun to fall frequently, and my mother was freaking out. I had already flown in from Israel three times to “put out fires,” and the fourth time my mother called begging for help I packed up my house and was back in the U.S. in three weeks.
They really did need me then. My father was in the early stages of dementia, and was struggling to maintain what was left of himself. He refused to use any assistive devices, not even a cane. He was constantly falling asleep at the dining table and sometimes falling off his chair. One time I had to extract him from under the table, where he had slid down and was tangled among the table legs with his arms pinned under him.
Then finally he fell and broke his wrist badly and got a concussion to boot, and was in the hospital for a couple of days. While he was there, I had his bed brought down from upstairs and made the living room into a bedroom. When he had recovered enough to understand speech, my mother and I forbade him ever to use the spiral staircase again. He was incensed and called us his jailers, which he does to this day, but better jailers than to have some disaster on the steel spiral staircase that reminds me of a submarine.
The past two-and-a-half years, since I’ve been here, have been tempestuous and productive all at once. If you are a regular reader, you will know that I have had issues with PTSD caused by my abusive mother, who has not changed any since I left home at 16. So staying here has been a challenge, to say the least.
A few weeks ago I couldn’t take it anymore. I had developed high blood pressure. I was constantly filled with rage. Suicidal fantasies filled my days and nights. Not just THAT I wanted to kill myself: developing more and better and more sophisticated methods, so that I wouldn’t be found. Oy.
I knew I had to get out of here, get back to the Holy Land for a few weeks, breathe the air in Jerusalem that is filled with holiness, even if it’s also sometimes filled with dust. So I booked a flight for a three week respite, announced my plans to the P’s, and took off.
Do you know, I have so many friends in the Holy Land that in three weeks I could not even visit two-thirds of them? My family is there, my family of choice, the loves of my life. I got to see some of my patients, who have become dear friends. Two of them have had children while I was gone. Actually, more than two–no, three–no, four–and three of those have had TWO children while I was gone! I went around smooching babies. I had coffee and Israeli breakfast (oh, Israeli breakfast! I could do a whole post on Israeli breakfast. Maybe I will.) with a lady so pregnant that she could hardly reach the table. She has since given birth to a girl, MAZAL TOV, even more mazal tov since she already has four little boys.
I stayed with my adopted brother. We took bus trips to exotic places and had extraordinary meals and adventures. And we made Shabbos together and drank strong Israeli port wine (20% alcohol!) and solved all the problems of the world.
I spent one Shabbos with my adoptive family, my rabbi and his wonderful wife (my adopted sister) and their adult children and grandchildren. We sang and learned Torah together and laughed and cried and I felt bathed in love.
And then it was time to leave.
I freaked out. I ran to the rabbi upstairs. He is an expert in Jewish Law, and qualified to judge cases. He is also an expert therapist. Two hours with him, and I knew what I had to do: I had to save myself by being in the Land with my real family. So I scuttled about and **voila** found a tiny apartment, just right for my needs, and signed a one-year lease. That night I flew back to the States.
I had already told my parents that I planned to return to Israel for the High Holidays plus the month preceding them. My custom is to devote that month, Elul, to intense Torah learning, in preparation for the Days of Awe: the ten days between Rosh Ha’Shanah, the Jewish New Year, and Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. There is much spiritual work to be done, if one is to get the most out of those intense and heavy days.
But as soon as the plane hit the tarmac on my return from this three week trip, my heart sank into my shoes. I just feel terrible here. I belong in Israel. I belong TO Israel, and she belongs to me. We are lovers. I am my lover, and my lover is me. I did not know what I would do, how I would be able to survive the–what, six weeks?–of what remained of the summer, because I knew that after the next trip, I would be back here for the winter, and who knows how much longer?
I tried to put a good face on it, and smile, and I don’t think it worked, because yesterday my parents told me, in a kind way, that they know I am not happy here, and they know I am very happy there, and they want me to be happy, so they want me to return to the Holy Land.
This is bitter-sweet for me. Part of me is elated that they have released me. Part of me feels like I am failing them. Both the rabbi in Jerusalem and my therapist here tell me that this is guilt, and guilt is in no way productive, and it is entirely optional. I plan to get over that guilt, because this place is killing me. The rabbi in Jerusalem reminded me that we are not permitted to harm ourselves in any way, and even I have said that very thing on this very blog.
My ticket is at the end of July, with an early October return. I might extend that through November so that I can spend Chanukah in Jerusalem, that amazing festival of light and enlightenment. And then we will see, we will see what the light brings in.
My Channukiyah (menorah) in Jerusalem