Therapy in the Holy City: Found in Translation

The Meuhedet person had planted the seeds of doubt in my head.  Was I sure that Ronit could conduct therapy in English? Had she said she could? When I got home I left a message on her voicemail asking her to call me back if she felt the English would be a problem.  But she didn’t call me back and I took that as a good sign.  In our original phone conversation she had flipped through her calendar and asked me if the matter were urgent (she didn’t yet know that I had been waiting 17 years and could probably hold on for another week).  But I remember thinking, Hmm, urgent, not a bad word, not bad at all, kind of sophisticated actually.  Would I have been able to think of the equivalent in Hebrew at a second’s notice?  She had a heavy Israeli accent, however, and I was ambivalent, debating with myself whether I should cancel the appointment and find someone else.  The Meuhedet person had made it sound as if she had an entire stable of native English-speaking therapists at her disposal – why not make my life easier and go see one of them?

But I didn’t.  Was I just being typically me, taking the path of least resistance?  Or was I committed to the referral idea, the fact that I had gotten Ronit’s name from someone I trusted?  Or was it possible that I actually wanted to forge a therapeutic relationship with a person who was born and bred in this place – as if by sitting in a room with her for fifty minutes I could absorb some of her Israeliness and rid myself of my immigrant outsider status?  I also harbored a mild distrust of my fellow aliyah-makers.  It sounds bad, but I’m not the only one who feels that those of us who left America to move to Israel might have a screw loose.  Why would I want to put my mental health in the hands of someone else with a loose screw?

Anyway I wasn’t really planning to be in long-term therapy this time.  I had gotten Ronit’s name for a specific reason and in fact at the bottom of the Meuhedet referral letter it said “Avchanut: Parent-Child Problem, Unspecified.”  My plan was to go to Ronit a few times, hammer out this one parenting issue, and put her psychological wisdom into practice at home.  But when I handed Ronit the letter at our first session, she didn’t even open it; she just set it down on the table next to her and indicated that I should start talking.  She exuded the calm and reserve of someone who had been doing this kind of work for a long time: someone who – appearing to be in her 60’s – had spent many hours sitting in that chair across from me.  Her soft-spoken voice and understated manner inspired confidence.

But I was still wavering after our first few meetings – I wasn’t totally sure we understood each other – and I even asked a therapist friend of mine in New York what she thought.  “Given the reason you went to see her,” she said, “I think the language issues are less important than whether she has children.”  Well, that was a no-brainer.  This wasn’t New York.  Everyone in Israel had children, didn’t they?  And even if Ronit didn’t, I could tell she knew a thing or two about them, and about parents as well.  When I told her I was irritated with my teenagers’ messy rooms, she didn’t say, “Yes, it’s very difficult, isn’t it?”  Rather, she said, “What are you doing in their rooms?”  I remember feeling taken aback by her question, defensive, definitely at full attention.  Was she trying to say that I was the problem? Another time, when I told her about the daily email correspondence I had with my mother, she said, “At your age?” and I bristled.  Plenty of women my age were in daily touch with their mothers!  And if she wasn’t, then maybe there was something wrong with her!  But eventually, when I had finally finished arguing with Ronit in my head (at my age? what did my age have to do with anything? what about my mother’s age?), I realized that her little question had been the impetus for change: it was the thing that was finally getting me to move, to leave my kitchen counter where I had for so many years been peeling and slicing apples to hand to my children as they walked by.  Soon I was enrolling in an ulpan class, joining a book club, volunteering at a soup kitchen.  In short, I was starting to take baby steps away from my house.  Ronit had given me a little push out of the nursery.  I didn’t like it, but I needed it.  Thus our work began.

About the Author
Eve Horowitz is a freelance editor and writer living in Jerusalem. Her novel Plain Jane was published by Random House, New York, in 1992.