On Aliyah and Individuation
For so many of us who made aliyah (moving to Israel) there was that Lech Lecha moment like the story of Abraham in the Book of Genesis, when we felt commanded to leave the land of our birth and perhaps more significantly—our father’s house. Nothing is more natural than individuation which takes place as we begin our journey to adulthood. Individuation is that process where we start to understand where we begin and where our families of origin end, and this is a process that can take a lifetime of work. It seems there is nothing new under the sun, as we see from the writings of the ancient Greek philosopher Euripides (480-406BC), who put it so succinctly, “For the weariest road that man may wend is forth from the home of his father.” Apparently, we Hebrews were not the only ones with father issues.
The connection to our parents who brought us into this world and to whom we depended entirely for our physical and emotional survival is deeply rooted within our psyches. And yet as we grow up there is a healthy imperative that compels us to say to these same people who cared for us, “This is who I am…and by the way—it isn’t you!” And yet because of all the entangled emotions, separation is never easy for either party. Perhaps the well-known suburban teenage rant that is far from Euripides both in time and space says something very similar, “I hate you, now drive me to the mall.”
My father died two years ago, and I think I have finally differentiated from him. I guess I have always been somewhat of a late bloomer. I clearly remember a dramatic moment of attempted differentiation in my late teens when I presented my father with my own personal Zionist revolution. It was not unlike the story of Abraham when he smashed the idols in his father’s idol shop and proved to his father why everything that his father believed in was wrong. For me this happened in my backyard in the holy city of Woodmere, Long Island, where I too, explained to my father why everything he believed in was wrong. I declared that I was making aliyah (moving to Israel), and that there was no future in Galut (exile). I proudly told him I was changing my name, my language, but most importantly my homeland. Of course, he completely and totally freaked out, which was the exact unconscious goal of my entire Zionist uprising.
One did not have to be Sigmund Freud to see that clearly beneath all my Zionism was just a dramatic way to tell him that I was leaving home. And like the good Galitzianer nervous father that he was…he could not let me go. As I got older our arguments became more and more volatile with each of us holding our ground until it got to the point where I felt like I wasn’t making aliyah, but rather I was committing aliyah. The more he tried to bend me to his will, the more extreme I became in my Zionist zeal. It took me years to understand that leaving my family to move thousands of miles away did not mean that I had successfully individuated; conversely, I began to see that it is possible to accomplish emotional separation while still living down the street. I also learned to see individuation as a continuum rather than an abrupt event. But these insights came to me years after making aliyah. And as much as I intellectually understood this, any time the phone would ring, and it was my father Herman on the other end of the line, the two of us simply could not help ourselves from taking our fight… back into the ring. He could not let go, but neither could I.
I now have young adults of my own who are making their way in the world. And I am trying desperately to stop what has been a multi-generational pattern of clinging or trying to control each generation. This approach certainly did not work for Abraham who verbally attacked his father and literally nearly killed his own son. And it didn’t work for my family either. Who knows, had my father said back in the day that while he personally was not interested in aliyah it might be something that I should investigate, I might be living in Montclair, NJ, instead of Jerusalem.
Indeed, there are already so many decisions that my children are making that are not my decisions. And while I do understand the urge to cling, experience has taught me the strategic wisdom of learning to let go both in my dealings with the past generation as well as in my dealings with the next one.