I have reached a milestone of sorts.
I am a very, very fortunate person. Please God in February I will be celebrating my 62nd birthday. In the United States, you are entitled to receive your Social Security retirement benefits at that age, if you so choose.
Retirement will probably never be an option for me. And that’s part of the reason why I consider myself so blessed.
You see, I still have children living at home; my youngest child Menucha, a 13-year-old who is in 8th grade, and Nechama, my 17-year-old daughter who will be graduating from High School this year.
The milestone I am referring to has nothing to do with Social Security. It has to do with my daughter Nechama.
A great blessing that I have is the wonderful relationship I enjoy with each of my 12 children. Nechama is no different.
Nechama was our first child born in Israel, born just a few short months after we made Aliyah back in 2003. She was named after my mother in law who had died only a few weeks before Nechama’s birth.
One thing that you need to know about Nechama is that she very much suffers from Type A personality behavior. A score of 99 on an exam for her will just not do. And you definitely don’t want to be around her if she God forbid fails an exam (like her first driving test).
Nechama and I get to spend a lot of “quality” time with each other. Of course, there is all of the typical carpool stuff (She’s involved with many extracurricular activities; piano lessons, personal trainer, after school programs, running, cleaning homes for people, getting her nails done, volunteering at the hospital, driving lessons, getting tutored for exams, babysitting, working at the Daycare Center, tutoring her nephew, helping out around the house, to name just a few …). We also enjoy hiking together. We’ve done part of the Sea of Galilee trail, Mount Tzfachot in Eilat, Wadi Og, and Nahal Arugot.
An impressive amount of our “together” time over the past few years has involved her study of English literature. You see, although we are what would be considered in Israel to be an “English speaking” home, the fact is that Hebrew is my daughter’s mother tongue. Not surprisingly, The English she speaks has a distinct Israeli accent to it, despite being raised in a home where English is mostly spoken. English is probably her most challenging subject in school.
And so, throughout High School, I have been Nechama’s go-to person whenever she has had an English assignment.
We have spent countless hours together studying works involving the Japanese during World War II, and how typical Americans related to Nazism (The Wave). We’ve studied the writings of Langston Hughes (As I Grew Older), a narrative about the struggle and empowerment of African Americans, and now lastly, the famous poem of Robert Frost “The Road Not Taken”.
Keep in mind, my daughter is studying in an Israeli High School where English is being taught as a second language. Although English is a required course, much of spoken English in Israel is picked up from the general media (movies, songs, etc.) as you would expect.
In Israel, there is a very broad choice of Public High Schools available. It’s a small country, and so living away from home during the week at your High School dorm is not uncommon. Some High schools are exclusively secular. As far as Public Religious High Schools are concerned there are countless options. Nechama is bussed to school daily, back and forth from home, on a half-hour ride. ( Today, of course, a mask is worn at all times by all, both on the bus and at school).
For the past 6 years, Nechama has studied at what would be considered to be a more conservative religious school, meaning a school with a very strict dress code and very strict rules. Two years ago, for example, the school confiscated my daughter’s smartphone when she brought it into the school. In order to have her phone returned to her, I needed to personally come to the school and be lectured to by the principal together with my daughter. More quality time together! Fortunately, it’s the one and only time in 6 years that I’ve been called down to the school.
And so when a religious, Israeli school is delving deeply into issues such as the struggles of African Americans, I’m impressed.
With Nechama’s graduation coming up in a few short months, her final English exam is fast approaching. It’s a biggie.
Which brings me to the milestone I am celebrating. Nechama and I are studying her final piece of literature required for her English course; Robert Frost’s poem “The Road Not Taken”.
It’s been forever since I’ve read this poem. When I read the poem out loud for the first time to my daughter, I had to choke back the tears as I read the final lines. Man, can that guy write!
As part of her assignment, Nechama is required to give an oral presentation, tying in the theme of the poem with a personal choice she herself has had to make in her life.
And what personal decision did my 17-year-old Israeli, teenage daughter decide to address? She decided to explain the challenge she personally had deciding whether, on one hand, to enlist in the Army next year, or to instead fulfill her responsibility of being an Israeli citizen by volunteering her time, full-time next year, by doing National Service.
She connected her own personal decision process to the traveler in the poem, who when faced with the choice of two very different roads, needs to decide upon which road to take. The poem spoke to her. She interpreted the traveler’s sigh mentioned at the end of the poem as an expression of relief, the traveler expressing his feeling of being “whole” with himself with the decision eventually made. There are no regrets. These are my daughter’s words.
Ironically, the very choices she faced came about because of my very own choices that I had made. Had I not chosen to make Aliyah, her choices as a 17-year-old Jewish, American girl would be different.
For me personally, the traveler in the poem, looking at the two roads ahead of him, understands that both roads ultimately end up at the same place. The question is all about the journey in life we make; whether or not to take possibly the easier road, or to instead to choose a road filled with challenges and struggles, that along the way will make you a better person for it.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
Next year my 13-year-old daughter Menucha begins High School.