At the ‘חוג בת מצווה’ I’m doing with my daughter, tonight’s session was focused on Jewish Israeli women heroes of the last century; this follows six weeks focused on even earlier historical Jewish strongwomen.
Posters that hung around the room exposed us to some oldies but goodies – Naomi Shemer, Golda Meir, Henrietta Szold – and some new ones I had never known of and dutifully noted to Wikipedia-rabbit-hole later (עדה יונת, בסי גוטספלד, שולמית קישיק כהן).
Naturally, as a discourse on 20th century strong Jewish women tends to do, it led to aliyah. This broke out a round-the-circle telling of family aliyah stories. Some of us mothers made aliyah ourselves, even a couple of the girls; some of our parents are the ones who did it; and for some third generation Israeli children eager to share – they pulled out their Holocaust survivor great grandparents.
As mothers and daughters told their tales, I kept quiet. Maybe, coming up on 18 years, modern aliyah stories are like birth stories – they are really meaningful at the time, within your cohort of peers – but as the years tick by you fade into it all, it’s not really a story, it’s your life, and before you know it, you’ve been here nearly two decades, the hardship of entering the sandwich generation is looming as you face over-and-painstakingly-over what it means to have left your parents behind, your accent is a long foregone conclusion, and if you ever do take pause to think about it – like, say, staring into space in a circle of women and their 11 year old daughters sharing origin stories – you know you couldn’t have done it differently, as intellectually hard as it was, as intellectually painful as it still is all these years later, now in the parenting years. You chose the hard way because it’s what you do – same as your work ethic, you can’t shed that.
I chose the hard way because the alternative felt untenable. Live a life of yearning, always wondering, always making excuses, feeling it pass by; or to live a life where I never truly fit in anywhere I am, not here, not five blocks from here, not at work, not at school, not at community events, not on the phone with my kids’ teachers.
Embracing adopted culture so deeply, while feeling culturally gagged.
The immigrant life for me.
Meanwhile, I felt the tension rising from my daughter as the stories swirled towards us in the circle. I whispered in my mind: Don’t worry dear, I won’t speak.
She’s embarrassed, you see. It’s come up more and more lately. I get it. I was surrounded by my friends’ immigrant mothers growing up. Oddly in my childhood baal tshuva environment, I managed to find a way to feel embarrassed mine was so American. (See 8 lines above.)
The next mother to speak said she came here at 18. I winced as I listened to her flawless Hebrew. I knew what was coming from my left.
“She doesn’t have an accent,” my daughter whispered in that teasing, taunting voice she uses to make a painful point.
“Her parents are Israeli.”
“No they’re -“
… and this mom finishes her sentence about how her parents left Israel to work for a couple years and stayed for 20. Her mom spoke to her in Hebrew growing up. She was… attached. There were strings.
I grew up with so many dual national kids like that. I hang out with so many now.
Maybe that’s why I wanted my kids so badly to have that duality. To live anywhere. To be somewhat comfortable anywhere. Or maybe I cursed them into feeling comfortable nowhere, too.
This week’s session actually started off with something different than Jewish heroines; it started with an exercise:
My daughter read the first sentence and handed me the paper, concluding, “Hey that’s funny, because Abba is from Melbourne!”
I said, “Hey, you know what’s funny – that girl is me. I was offered that choice at 12. And you know what I took? The trip to Israel. It changed everything -“
She cut me off, wide-eyed. “How did you read that so fast?”
I’m here, I’m there, I belong, I don’t, I get it, I’m out of it, I’m with it, I’m embarrassing.
“I’ve known Hebrew since I was 7.”
It’s just… I know I will be embarrassing either way.
I choose the hard way, the one in which I both lose and find myself every single day.