This week marks 20 years since the aliyah of our family, which in 1996 included my husband, popular TOI blogger Alan Rosenbaum, and our three children. We have grown to six children, including two daughters-in-law, and with gratitude to God, we are enjoying a growing number of grandchildren as well. And while I refer to growth in terms of numbers, I wish to hint at growth and development in so many ways, and to acknowledge our collective family that includes our community of neighbors and friends, who in many ways shape, influence and define aliyah success.
As some may be aware, my business is relationships, and in particular, the marital relationship. Marriage is defined by intimacy and commitment and hopefully, a healthy dose of passion experienced with vitality and pleasure. And so, as I reflect on our aliyah, and our vibrant, predominantly Anglo Modern Orthodox community of Nofei Aviv in Bet Shemesh, I cannot help but draw the comparisons between intimate and communal relationships.
Like many early connections, our community’s relationship was predicated on a combination of shared values, comfort, social and cultural familiarity, and a passionate love of Israel, together with the desire to raise our families with ‘people like us’ in order to soften the landing. What other compelling reasons would there be to move to a development town with a very hot climate, no shopping mall, few restaurants and a population composed mainly of veteran immigrants from Morocco, and new olim from Russia and Ethiopia.
Our early years together, as mirrors marital relationships, provided us with the tools and capacity to develop intimacy. Initially, like a nursing mother and child, the relationship could be described as symbiotic. We needed and relied on each other as many, like us, left parents and siblings behind. As we celebrated births, and bar/bat mitzvahs, and unfortunately also experienced painful life challenges, we learned a variety of relationship-building skills. To provide to others in times of need, we developed compassion and empathy and to be on the receiving end, we had to learn how to be vulnerable, a difficult but essential aspect of intimate relationships.
At the beginning, like many couples that fall passionately in love, we idealized our connection, our closeness and even our enmeshment. We all seemed pretty perfect to one another but then again, we really did not know one another all that well, and we wanted to present our best selves.
In romantic relationships, when the initial period of infatuation fades, people remove their masks and become more authentic, assertive, independent and differentiated. We too began to change and develop as individuals and as families and bravely pursued independent thinking as we continued to share basic values and commitment to our community. We learned to accept and contain differences, as we actually don’t all have to think and believe the same things.
And as expected, we experienced disagreements and engaged in arguments as all intimate partners do, but instead of escalating the situation with aggressive or passive aggressive hostility, distancing or disengaging, we strengthened our bond. We learned how to argue, and how to listen with curiosity rather than become reactive. If we failed to control our reactivity, or otherwise injured or offended the other, we apologized and experienced healing and recovery as we processed the experience together.
Through this shared process we moved together towards this more mature stage of development known as differentiation. We have become less symbiotic and needy, but we still enjoy spending time together. We feel comfortable and safe and secure.
But sometimes we wonder, what happened to the passion?
The passion may not come spontaneously, but we can certainly create it. Our yearly Yom Hazikaron/Yom Haatzmaut ceremonies in the park, now run exclusively by our youth, never fail to move us and stir our emotions. The yearly Purim shpiel and post-shpiel party buzz with playfulness and laughter. But if twice a year seems pretty infrequent for, um, pleasurable and meaningful engagement, fortunately there are leaders and initiators in the community committed to perpetuating our vitality, by keeping shul and community activities alive, from Carlebach services, to scholars-in-residence and an active Chessed committee that provides a hug when we are down because sometimes, all we want to do, is just cuddle.
As a couples therapist, I am sometimes asked, “why stay together?” Bet Shemesh has changed and while there is now is a mall, and plenty of restaurants, there are compelling reasons to pursue moving to a different city that may be cleaner and better run, and demographically more appropriate than Bet Shemesh and neighboring Ramat Bet Shemesh. We no longer have to stay for the kids. We are no longer as dependent on one another. Today, our community’s situation mirrors the success of long term relationships which are built on the foundations of real intimacy, not seeing one another solely as our partners, or our neighbors, but as people in their own right about whom we are curious and interested and who we respect and love. We don’t all have to stay the same and in fact, we appreciate the differences.
We don’t stay because we have to. We want to.