Such Sweet Sorrow

The kids went abroad but instead of taking me along, they left me with Bibi and Barak.

A month has passed since I became a grass mother for two of my three children. Like the difference between a grass widow and a plain old merry widow or black widow, the hardest thing is the waiting. Acceptance of separation for all time is not the case here, and the expectation of a renewed meeting generates a nerve-racking experience that oscillates between sorrow and anticipation.

Partings are a very complicated business for me. Fear of abandonment is so deeply implanted within me that I usually don’t experience it at all. When it’s not my children, when someone else who is close to me goes away for a time, I experience the temporary separation as a disappearance, a kind of death, a final forsaking of every tie − anything to avoid having to cope with the fear that what was said to be temporary is actually permanent, and that I will never again see those who got up and left me. The end of every phone call becomes another parting, another small death; every email reminds me that I have been abandoned. So it is that I behave with great alienation and coldness toward the people who are closest to me, out of fear and love. Anger, too, may well be involved.

But I feel no anger toward my children who got up and left. If I were their age today, I would certainly do the same. The difference is that, at the time when a person should expand his horizons geographically as well as otherwise, I was already chained to all kinds of commitments. And, mainly, to fears. In fact, for as long as I can remember, it always seemed to me that life was somewhere else, and I always aspired to live for a time − if not for all time − in a different country. My most daring transits were from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv, and to Jerusalem and again to Tel Aviv, and my boldest travels took place on the way to the rabbinate.

Every morning as I read the paper, I tell myself that maybe it’s a good thing they left, and there is consolation in the thought that I don’t have to save at least two of my children from the schemes that Bibi and Barak are hatching between them. And the third? I hope he gets to his haven in Jerusalem in time.

They were smart to leave. It’s true that the considerations that prompted their departure have nothing to do with the consolations with which I console myself. They did not leave because of fear or for political reasons ‏(though they go to the right demonstrations‏), but because they were given the opportunity, for a time, to enjoy the possibility of living somewhere else and the benefits accruing from the foreign passport they hold. As for me, I don’t have one, and when push comes to shove, maybe I will be able to join them as a refugee or as part of a family unification program. More likely, though, I will stay here, out of laziness, tiredness or lack of choice. Well, someone has to stay here in order to be on the list of those who will be killed – which Bibi and Barak are now working on – and my life is no great shakes anyway.

The laziness, the weariness and maybe the hope that once existed here is dissolving into a mist. Egotistical considerations of my own are mainly what induced me to raise my children here, and on top of that to put their lives at risk every day in Jerusalem.

For a good many years during their childhood and adolescence, we lived in Jerusalem’s center, the hub of the big terrorist attacks. They traveled to school in buses that had a tendency to explode, and they played on the pedestrian mall and in Mahane Yehuda market. Now, for a few months or maybe a year, I can lay aside the guilt feelings and the anxiety.

It’s not like it was, I am reassured by those who also have experience and guilt feelings − friends who, at the right age, went abroad for long periods, leaving behind parents sick with worry and longing. At most, they were able to have brief telephone conversations with them once every two weeks. A girlfriend of mine who lives in Italy told me how, in the early years of her residence there, she went once every two weeks to the post office in Milan to place a call to Israel via the operator, and sometimes waited hours for the call to go through. “I would speak to my mother for maybe five minutes and it would cost 10,000 lira, which was a great deal of money back then, especially given the fact that we could barely manage to say anything beyond ‘How are you?’ and ‘What’s happening?’”

But today, with the boy living in Tel Aviv, the girl in Amsterdam and her still in Italy, she has no problem talking to them and seeing them on Skype. The phone calls aren’t expensive, either, and life is easy and comfortable.

“Be grateful it’s only children and not grandchildren,” I was comforted by a friend, who has two grandchildren growing up in Canada and a third in South Africa. Her youngest grandson calls her “Grandma TV,” because he sees her only on the computer screen. I don’t have grandchildren, but one day I undoubtedly will.

When I consider it logically, Israel doesn’t look like a good place to raise children. It is not even the same Israel in which I raised my children in the hope that one day there would be peace and democracy here. If grandchildren are born to me here, by the time they enter school they will be considered part of the constantly dwindling minority of secular schoolchildren. They will grow up in an increasingly ultra-Orthodox country, undemocratic and racist and corrupted by decades of occupation. Is that what I wish my grandchildren? Of course not, no more than I want my children to be at my side on the day Bibi, or the dictator who comes to power after Bibi, get the urge to place our lives in jeopardy for some political-survival consideration of their own.

If I were a truly good mother, lacking in egoism, my wish for my children would be for them to move to some other country for good, as my brother did 30 years ago. Their lives are still ahead of them, they can start over anywhere, they are beautiful and smart and healthy. But how can I organize things so they live there and I live here, and I will still manage to see them at least once a week?