It seems everywhere I turn I meet another Anglo living in Israel who spends half his time working outside of the land. I have recently joined this enigmatic and somewhat masochistic club and am struggling to make sense of it. On the one hand it seems like the best of both worlds: we fulfill our vocational lives where we are needed, and fulfill our spiritual/national/social/family lives in Israel. Perfect combo, right?
Yes, we each find financial/psychological and/or spiritual satisfaction in our respective new positions. My friend is a dentist—in Missouri! Another one ‘lives’ half the month in Florida as a successful real estate developer; a third travels several weeks per month pursuing his various established business ventures around the world. Another couple travel together every month to the US as accountants for a large firm in Manhattan. These examples and more are only on my own block! I know of several friends who travel EVERY week Sunday to Thursday!
As for me, I used to travel to the States for one extended trip per year when I was running a women’s Midrasha; it was difficult being away, but my family and I dealt with it. Today, I am traveling at least two weeks out of the month to Eastern Europe, leaving my wife and five children behind. Are we crazy?
As I said, I am relatively new to this lifestyle and I am sure many who have much more experience (one guy has been doing this for 13 years!) than I can offer me some advice, but here are some of the issues that I have noticed when one member of the family is away for a portion of every month:
1. Taking out the garbage. Practical things that each spouse would normally do in a ‘full time’ regimen radically change. Instead of dividing up days, couples must learn how to divide up a month! When I return to Israel, saying “no” is simply not an option. Regardless of how taxing it has been for the traveler, he/she must come back (hopefully bearing gifts and) ready to be a full time partner.
2. Loneliness. A marriage is built on the idea that neither partner wants to be alone and enjoys time spent with the other. Splitting up that time is a sacrifice (one would hope!) and needs getting used to. I must say however that the invention of Viber, Facetime and Skype has radically bridged the loneliness gap. I can spend an entire night with my wife as long as I have wifi!
3. Intimacy. This is a tough one. There is no substitute to simple being together as husband and wife. Jewish law prescribes a physical break in the month (although the spouse is not required to leave the country). But if the dates don’t work out, it could have a grave effect on the relationship.
4. Socializing. Couples generally spend time with other couples. It is healthy and fun to leave the kids, free oneself from the monotony of the house and go to the movies, to a restaurant…anywhere, really. When one spouse is always away it is hard to maintain a social life. But the truth is, with five children and both partners working, we don’t have much time to go out with friends. The major time for getting together is Shabbat, and that continues to take place with or without the complete family unit, so this is not a major concern.
5. Children. I write this fifth but perhaps it’s first! Bill Cosby once wisely quipped, “Parents don’t want justice, they want silence!” What two parents give each other is a much-needed partner in the tag-team of sanity. We have four girls and one boy–that’s a lot of hair, tantrums, screeching, cackling and carpools. My being on duty 24/7 when I’m home may not suffice to pull my wife back from the brink of madness reached over the previous two weeks. Ideally, the children should recognize that mom (in our case) is alone and that they might have to ease up on the psychotic behavior. But this awareness does not always materialize.
6. The parent/child relationship. My children have started saying their father doesn’t live at home. Ouch. Maybe they enjoy ribbing me; maybe they honestly feel that way. Maybe it is true! In any case, one must contend with the seemingly obvious notion that spending half the month away from the home equals spending half as much time with the children. As it is, the statistics are startling: we have come a long way since 1965 when the average father spent 2.5 hours a week with their children. In 2011 a study from the Pew Research Center surveyed 2500 parents and found that fathers and children now spend an average of 7.3 hours a week together. However, that is still only half of the time that mothers spend. Add to that Orthodox Jews who are running to shul early in the morning and late at night, right around breakfast and suppertime, and the disparity increases.
To this last cloudy observation, I must admit I have found a silver lining. When I worked in Israel I was constantly busy and stressed. I struggled to find time simply to play with my children or help them with homework. And when I did find time, as my kids attested, I was never relaxed. This experience has been remarkably different: today I played tennis with my daughter for an hour, drove carpool for my kids, went on a tiyul with my wife and daughter, went shopping, did homework, and visited my other daughter on sherut leumi. And I did it all with a smile on my face. I know my time is limited and my trip is coming up next week and perhaps that is why I make sure to spend more time, relax with them, smile and laugh.
I am just starting out on this grand commuting journey and I don’t know where it will end. But I do know that I feel great about serving as Rabbi in Krakow and helping Jews come to terms with their new-found identities. I also know that when I come home I can give a hundred percent to my wife and children and enjoy my time spent in the Holy Land.
I hope these positive feelings stay with me and I find a true balance between what I love to do out of the country and whom I love to be with at home.