June 27, 2002
Mother, Let’s Talk
There is nothing easy about telling your mom you are moving to Israel. It might have been easy two years ago, but not now.
Even though my mom knew that I'd been planning this trip ever since last summer, once the second intifada began, she assumed I had abandoned the idea. She was wrong. I'd just gotten quieter in my planning.
So after too many months of stalling and time spent practicing my response to mom's inevitable freak-out, I thought I was finally ready to tell her. I drove over to her condominium one sunny Monday afternoon. We sat down together in her living room and began a light conversation.
Periodically rubbing my sweaty palms along my blue jeans during our chat, I waited for an open door where I could insert my announcement. My mom started talking about the political situation in Israel. A perfect segue.
I took a deep breath, waited for her to finish her sentence, and just as I was about to say it, mom enthusiastically declared, "Thank God you're not going to Israel. I would just kill myself if you were there right now!"
So I decided I should probably tell my friends first before telling my mom.
Their reactions could help me gauge exactly what her anxiety would look like and how best to counter her attempts to dissuade me. My speech to my friends was direct and simple: "I just wanted to let you know that I am moving to Israel to study Torah in a yeshiva for an indefinite amount of time," I said.
Their responses covered a wide spectrum: from dread to humor, from hesitation to encouragement.
Graham: "You're going where? To study what?"
Jeff: "Selfish and dumb. So how much time do we have left to hang out before you die?"
Roy: "OK, just remember that if someone wants to shoot you, get up and with a big smile, start skipping down the street. No one can shoot a smiling girl who's skipping. Maybe you should hold some flowers, too."
Storm: "Fret, fret, fret. I can't help but fret. I was born to fret. I'm good at it. So just know that I'll be doing a whole lot of fretting while you're away."
Dennis: "Great, Jenna. Now I'm gonna have to start caring about what's going on in the Middle East. Thanks a lot."
Todd: "I'm not scared; I'm amazed."
But, the most common response I received, and the only question my dad had for me, was, "Now? Are you sure you want to go there now?"
For the Jewish people, there is no such thing as a wrong or bad time to go to Israel. Israel lives inside of us, no matter where we live throughout the world. Our souls are all in Israel, waiting for our bodies to catch up.
It is not a question of if we choose to go; it is only a question of when. When Israel calls, you have to go; you can think of nothing else until you do. For some of us, the time to go is now, because our homeland is hurting; our people are angry, frustrated and afraid.
I am going to Israel because of my love of Torah and my love for the land and the people that protect the Torah's teachings. As the only observant Jew in my circle of family and friends, this is a hard idea to explain and an even harder one for them to understand. Put simply: the times I feel closest to God are when I am in love and when I am studying Torah.
Time to tell mom.
I didn't know my open door would come during Mother's Day lunch. But when my mom looked at me from across the table and said, "Jenna, tell us what's going on with you. What's new?" I just knew I had to tell her.
"I'm moving to Israel to study in a yeshiva," I said without blinking.
There are very few things I can say to my mom that could make her turn instantly pale.
She stared at me, stunned. In her eyes I saw a stream of terrifying images: burnt out buses, suicide bombers, police checkpoints, political demonstrations, the burning of American and Israeli flags. I recognized that this conversation was the very one countless mothers across the world would give anything to have again, so that they could forbid their child from going to Israel and prevent them from never coming back. In my mom's stare I saw pictures of all of those mothers weeping for our faith, for their lost children, for the sacrifices we make as Jews, and the suffering we know as a people who are hated.
But I also saw that my mom understood, maybe for the first time, that her daughter had come to understand her role in the world, as a woman and as a Jew. The debate in my mom's eyes ended there, and she surrendered.
And in perfect Jewish-mother fashion, she finally replied, "Well, do you have the right clothes? Should we go shopping?"