I am sitting in the kitchen of my beloved friend R_, who was on the same flight with me when we made Aliyah (emigrated) to Israel in 2007. We didn’t meet on the plane because he was in such ecstasy at moving to our real home country that he didn’t notice anything around him. He was in a haze of love and joy. I met him about four months after our arrival. He was hanging out laundry on his mirpesset (balcony), and I recognized him from the flight. His place turned out to be exactly one block from mine, and my seat-mate on that flight happened to live exactly one block from him! The three of us became the best of friends. R_ has become my support system and champion in my struggle to free myself from the toxic, strangulating tentacles that have torn me from my real home country and dragged me back to America, which otherwise holds no attraction to me.
I had to take a break from my parents and America, because I found myself consumed with rage, which is a very unhealthy emotion. I developed high blood pressure and heart palpitations, and was having terrible heart pains that woke me out of sleep. They were so intense that I could not even move to call an ambulance, even had I wanted to, which I didn’t. I would have been just as happy if a heart attack carried me off, out of the misery of my life there.
So I suddenly announced that I was going to Israel for three weeks, for a break, causing immense consternation on the maternal side of things, and resignation from the Dad side. I needed a breathing spell, and specifically to breathe the air of the Holy Land, just to be here, even if all I did was to hang out with my friend R_ and walk around the shuk, inhaling and imbibing the sights, sounds, smells, and spirit of the place.
Practically as soon as I got off the plane my Israeli cell phone started ringing: “We’re so glad you’re back: now everything feels normal again.” I have a place, and my place is here. My family of choice lives here. I feel surrounded by love here.
R_ and I went yesterday to visit the tomb of the Baba Sali, a holy man who was said to have brought about many miracles in his time. Here it is customary to visit the tombs of great and wise people (like Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Rachel, Leah, Samuel, etc.) to bathe in their energy and pray for whatever needs prayed for. We don’t pray to the person, for that is idol worship, but instead we pray for the spirit of that holy person to intercede for us in Heaven so that our prayers will be heard. I had, and still have, a lot to pray for, so we went to the Baba Sali, because I have a special connection with him.
Baba Sali lived in our times, and came from Damascus to Morocco to Israel, where he settled in a tiny village called Netivot, which is located in the Negev desert right on the border with Gaza, just south of Sderot, which is a town that has been rained on with so many thousands of missiles from Gaza that every bus stop has its own bomb shelter.
Why do I feel safe here? Right now, at this very moment, Russia is funneling terrible weapons into Syria, which in turn is passing them on to Hezbollah (the terrorist arm in Lebanon), Iran is arming Hamas in Gaza, the West Bank, and Lebanon, and all of them are fighting among themselves. It’s a virtual certainty that they will attack Israel at some point. On Monday and Tuesday this week the air raid sirens went off in every town in the Land, and everyone was supposed to drill taking shelter. Nobody did, because Israelis are used to being the objects of the aggression of our neighbors, and we realize that only G-d can save us, since we are a country the size of Delaware, so we go on with our lives and our prayers, and of course we hope that rockets won’t fall on our houses or our children, but we rely on G-d to be our shelter. No Westerner can understand that.
But that’s not what this blog entry is about.
It’s about the terrible conflict that tears me apart, and keeps me from living the life I love, the life the holds out the possibility of real spiritual redemption. It’s about the conflict between kibud av v’aim, respect for father and mother, which is one of the Ten Commandments. The letter of halacha, Jewish Law, interprets this to mean that one is obligated at minimum to provide shelter, food, and clothing sufficient for one’s parents’ needs, but I have a hard time with leaving it at that.
Although my mother severely abused me emotionally, psychologically, verbally, and at times physically, and my father was a codependent facilitator, I still have difficulty separating from them completely, because I continually hope that they will magically become the parents I have always desperately wanted and needed: loving, caring, nurturing, and deserving of my love and respect.
In fact, in my adolescent confrontational phase, before I picked up and left home at age 16, my mother would scream at me, “You have to love and respect me because I am your parent.” And I would scream back, “If you want me to love and respect you, you have to earn it,” to which the dear mother would generally reply with a stream of obscenities and a smack across the face, if she could reach me.
So why, after four years of blissful content in Israel, did I rush to their side when their time of need arrived in their old age? And what has kept me there, in total isolation and spiritual desolation, for two and a half years? Unconditional love, blind even to ongoing abuse? Kibud av v’aim? Or that desperate primal hope that one day I would awaken to find them magically transformed into my real parents, the ones who dropped me off here on this alien planet 59 years ago?
I just don’t know.