The Person Behind The Posts

Friday, June 24, 2011

Epic Fail

[Hodel is leaving on a train for Siberia] 
                                     Hodel: Papa, God alone knows when we shall see each other again.
Tevye: Then we will leave it in His hands. 
- Fiddler on the Roof (1971)

Almost a year ago, we made aliyah with a 15 year-old.  We joined our older daughter who made aliyah by herself the year before.  This morning, my now 16 year-old daughter walked through security at Ben Gurion airport on her way to Baltimore, and I don't know when I'll see her again.

From the time she walked through the glass doors past where we could no longer follow her, until just a few  hours ago, I barely spoke.  I craved silence, needing be alone with G-d, to figure out how to deal with the loss of her in our daily lives.

I've left Israel so many times in the past.  Always, in the last days and hours, I would gaze with great intensity at all there is to see here, trying to burn images into my brain so I could take them with me.  In these last days and weeks before her departure, I had to continuously remind myself that I'm not going anywhere.  I confused her departure for my own.

Rabbi Simeon said: "G-d gave Israel three wonderful presents, but each one was earned through pain and suffering: The Torah, the Holy Land, and the World to Come." 

I know many people who made aliyah, and I also know many stories of trials and tribulations - economic troubles, legal problems, housing issues, health problems, family challenges.  How many times did I hear Anita Tucker, spokesperson for the former residents of Gush Katif say, "You have to be zoche (you have to merit) to live in Israel," implying that it's not for everyone?  Rabbi Moshe Lichtman teaches that, just as in shopping, where a more valuable item commands a higher price, many people pay a high price to live in Israel, exactly because it's so valuable.

Today, I faced that dead on.

Kol hatchalot kashot: All beginnings are difficult.  We knew full well that bringing a teenager on aliyah was risky.  The first few months here were challenging for all of us, but especially for her.  As she reminded us over and over, she was the only one in the family who didn't get to choose aliyah.

In response to her early difficulties settling in, her father (my ex-husband), offered to let her come back to Baltimore to live with him.  As a result, nearly her entire first year in Israel was spent half-heartedly, with a foot in both worlds.

No one can succeed at aliyah like that.  Especially not a teen.

So she flew to America today without a specific plan to return. 

Yes, I could have refused to let her go.  If you think that would have been a good idea, I'm gonna guess you never parented teens.  At least now, she has the chance to make the choice she feels she was denied.  If she chooses to use her return ticket in August, she will be choosing Israel for herself.

As a result of my blogging and my work with the Baltimore Chug Aliyah, I regularly hear from people who long to make aliyah.  Some need practical advice. Others most need spiritual support.  At least a dozen times a week, I share essays and articles meant to strengthen the desire of other Jews to make Israel their home. What I have been able to share with hundreds of other Jews, I have been singularly unable to convey to my own child.

The poetic irony that my own daughter, in boarding that plane this morning. rejected one of Hashem's gifts that I especially cherish does not escape my notice. Lest you imagine otherwise, our parent-child relationship is a loving one and our connection is deep.  Hers was not a spiteful act.  

I will never stop davening that she comes to understand what it means to be able to live in Israel, that she comes to feel the pride of a Jew who is finally Home, that she opens her heart to Israel and that she comes back to strengthen this Land with her presence.

In the meantime, the fact that she chose Baltimore over Israel this morning feels like my own personal epic fail.


L'Shmoah said...


I totally understand. I am making aliyah and will be there in August. My only daughter, who is married lived there. But they are struggling. She told me she cannot promise me they will stay there. If they think they can live better in the US, they might leave. This hurts me to no end. I understand.

Anonymous said...

I feel your pain. I hope that when she goes back to America, she'll realizes that it wasn't the bed of roses she remembered. Humans have a lovely tendency towards selective amnesia (especially women). Maybe this will help her wake out of it.

Bracha said...

Can you please, please change the title of this post from "Epic Fail" to "Setback?" If every parent would consider themselves a failure when their kid didn't live up to all of their values/hopes/aspirations, none of us would have the koach to go on. We are all works in progress - especially our teenage (and older!) children. Just like our kids ultimately need to choose their level of emunah and observance by themselves, they need to develop their own commitment to living in Israel (even those who were born here!). You have given her (and will continue to give her) wonderful kelim to build on, and now you're giving her time and space to use them. That certainly doesnt' sound like a failure to me!

Chaya said...

Your post brought tears to my eyes. As a mother of young adults, I felt your pain and understand how you must be feeling. Of course she will miss you but G-d willing, she will also miss Israel and all that you have tried to convey over the years and return on her own terms in joy!

sherri said...

Dear Rivka,
This August, GW, I too, will be making aliyah with a 15 year old, after one child made aliyah on her own last August. We will start in a rental in Maale Adumim. Almost everyone, including my kids, made fun of how focused I was on Noam's aliyah. We are moving where I felt it was best for him, not where it was Andy's or my first choice. We made so many inquiries and pilot trips for my 15 year old's sake. I would counter with "I don't want my child slamming the door on the way out". That I would rather be in the States with Zionists, then with angry kids in Eretz Yisrael. I can only hope that the good will be stronger than the challenges (for all of us), and I feel at this point, I did my best, and the rest is up to Hashem. I deeply hope you come to the same conclusion, that you did your best, and Hashem says that the time is not right for your child to be there. That there will in fact, be a right time. Trust this and Pray.
In deep appreciation for your story, Chami Gross

Batya said...

The grass is always greener. The fact that her father kept offering her an easier time, or so it seems to her now, took it out of your hands.
Your being here in the Holy Land will mean it will be easier for her to return, even for short visits until she's ready for aliyah.
Shabbat Shalom

Lisa said...

Keep on davening. I know about rocky teen years, about aliya plans which go to plan B, C, etc. and I will also pray for her and hope we see her in the fall.... BTW, my own teen is now a mommy and for some reason is rewriting our past as something of great value and which gave her many tools for her life now!! I also remember what a precious man, who was murdered in a 19 bus said to me when she was in total amok, which is that since we are all going to err, let us err on the side of love. you are doing great.

Esther said...

We came four years ago with our fifteen year old daughter. She didn't want to be here, hated everything and everybody, and made sure to let us know about it. We did everything to make her feel comfortable to no avail. The first year was a nightmare. We let her go back the first summer and prayed that she would not get stuck there. She came back. She managed to finish high school but did not make one single friend, didn't participate in any events, and was basically home in her room most of the time. This year she started sherut leumi and is living with eight other Israeli girls. She is finally happy! It took a lot of hair pulling, crying, patience, and lots of praying. I thought both my girls would leave us. I understand why you let her go and will pray with you for her return.

Karen said...

She's her own person with her own values. You can daven that she sees the light, and she might - this summer or in five or fifteen years. All you can do is model YOUR beliefs, and we both know you've done that, and love her and respect her right to make her own choices. Of course you'll miss her, but in a couple of years she probably wouldn't be living in your home full-time anyway. And Aliya at that age is HARD. She might make a different choice after high school, or college.

The Father & Ex-Husband said...

For the record, I did not encourage her to come back to the States. I merely let her know that she has the option if she is, as she claims, so unhappy in Israel. I wish she was happy there. By summer's end, she will know what she wants to do, and I hope she decides to go back. I wish I could go with her at this point.

Avivah said...

Rivka, your daughter making a different choice than you isn't a reflection on your success of lack of it - she's her own person and has her own needs and will find her own path.

Would you consider sharing about what issues you are aware of have been of concern for teen olim? We are moving this summer to Israel with several teens and would like to proactively work to smooth the path for them as much as possible. Knowing the specific challenges that are common would be helpful.


Bat Aliyah said...

Just wanted to comment on the thread of, "She's her own person and she has to make her own decisions." Yes, of course. But like most parents, I expected her to do so when she's 18. After she finishes high school.

Anonymous said...

Please do not see this as a failure. You otherwise seem to have a warm relationship with a teen which is almost impossible! I am that same teen. Years ago my parents and myself made Aliyah. Years later I left but the love of Israel that my parents always spoke of stayed with me. It was always in the back of my head. This summer I am moving back to Israel along with my husband and kids. There is always hope.