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First Person Aliyah Brings Jewish Roots Closer, but Makes Family Roots Seem Distant

February 19, 2004
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

My weekly phone call with my parents brought some sad news recently.

“We’re going to have to move G.M. to a different nursing home,” my mother said to me of my 79-year-old grandmother. “They just don’t have the facilities to take care of someone with her level of dementia.”

I knew my grandmother had not been doing well lately, but this seemed like a serious escalation in her condition.

The wonders of modern technology let me hear the sadness in my mother’s voice halfway across the globe, but I can feel the distance between us. My grandmother is fading away, and the only thing I can do is sit on my cell phone and listen as the Jerusalem bus makes its way past the walls of the Old City.

No matter how much I speak with my family on the phone, or how much I pray for my grandmother’s well-being, I’m just not physically there to help in this time of need.

This family crisis is making me realize now more than ever the full impact of my choice to make aliyah.

In choosing Israel, I have excluded America. Of course I can go back to visit, but the opportunities to make quick impromptu visits are gone due to the expense, time and drain of overseas travel.

I feel as though I’ve partially severed the connection between my family and me.

I’m so caught up in my dreams of being the first in my family in 2,000 years to replant our roots back in Israel that I almost forgot that I’m making this journey alone, without any family at all.

I understood the implications this move would have on my family before I left, but since we only saw each other about once a year anyway even when I was living in New York, it didn’t seem like a such an issue.

But now my decision feels almost selfish — it’s all about my dreams, my need to live on Jewish soil, my need to live out my ideals.

Thankfully, this feeling of selfishness is not coming from my parents.

They have done nothing but support my move, be it through words, greeting cards or e-mails, reiterating their pride in my decision to be in Israel.

But despite their support — or maybe because of it — for the first time I’m really tasting the bitter drawbacks of my decision. I’m seeing how valuable the people are that I’ve left behind.

There have been other moments recently when I’ve started to feel this sting.

A few months back, my Aunt Hedy and I were catching up on the phone, and she was telling me all about a cousin’s Bar Mitzvah that I had missed. She told me about how the family all sat together that evening, shmoozing about the old days: the small variety store that my grandmother and grandfather used to run; summer trips they took to the beach in South Haven, Mich.; her grandmother, who came over from Russia, who was blind and always bitter.

As she spoke, I felt at a loss — not so much for the Bar Mitzvah itself, but for the missed chance to grab onto those slivers of family history I know so little about.

Meanwhile, I’m here in Jerusalem writing my own history.

This chapter in my book would seem to tell the story of passionate yet stubborn character, one who is satisfied with ideals, repercussions notwithstanding.

Of course, leaving the United States was never my intention — it was to come closer to Israel. But that seems to be the irony of the story: In my deep desire to reconnect to my roots, somehow I have disconnected from some of them.

I’ve also felt the loss of connection with my close friends in the United States. So many of the relationships that I put so much energy into have just fallen by the wayside, and I see that making the dream of Israel a reality has unwittingly cut important people out of my life.

Of course, when I visit there will be a warm reception, and we will eat sushi and laugh and catch up. My friends have been very supportive, even those who are not Jewish and have no understanding of what Israel means.

But once a year isn’t enough to maintain a real relationship.

The other day, my friend Valerie wrote me a short e-mail: “I got my results back from Sloan-Kettering and I don’t need to come for twice-yearly checkups anymore!!!!!”

Even since Valerie’s cancer went into remission, I remember how she used to get so panicky when the time for her checkups would come around. So we always would speak on the phone several times leading up to her appointment, and usually we would sit in some New York restaurant the week of the examination, eating something with chopsticks, while she voiced her fears. It was a small duty, but one that I was happy to take on.

Now, when I write her back a big “Congratulations” — even when it’s all in capital letters and followed by a series of exclamation points — my words lack the personal touch our meetings had.

I can’t help feeling like I’m not there like I used to be.

I go on writing e-mails and sending letters and calling, hoping to strengthen the connection between my family and friends as much as possible.

But there always is that void. I hope that someday having my own family will help fill that space.

For now, however, I realize that every dream has its price, and this distance from family and friends may be the biggest drawback of making aliyah.

I guess that’s the nature of dreams — that when they the come out of the clouds and become reality there always are challenges that come with them.

I’ve chosen with my heart to be in Jerusalem. On one hand, my heart is filled with hope for my present and future here, as well as for all the generations that will hopefully be after me in Israel. But on the other hand, my heart also is broken, because I’m so far from the people that love me the most.

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