While the impassioned speeches at the far corner of a secured area at JFK international terminal droned on, I didn’t shed a tear. I was told to bring plenty of tissues, that I’d find it too emotional, perhaps I should rather stay home. Instead I was just irritated, annoyed, angry at the excessive hoopla. All the rhetoric was being preached to the choir. I really just wanted to spend my last moments at the airport quietly, beholding my beautiful daughter’s eager and worried eyes, witnessing her hope, her fears. I wanted so badly to simply squeeze her tightly until the very last second when she was ready, when she’d finally become impatient enough to turn around and walk away, following her heart.
Our daughter left to Israel on the August Nefesh B’Nefesh El Al flight along with hundreds of others, all were wearing aliyah slogan t-shirts depicting their mission; singles, families, seniors with canes, babies in strollers, and teens and twenties, including 75 young idealists headed to the IDF just like her.
She had joined a “garin,’” a seed, a group of 25 women and men, ages 18-23, leaving their family, the comforts of their city and suburban homes, to a two- to three-year commitment to the IDF, preceded by intensive ulpan and adjustment to their new home on a kibbutz.
Garin Tzabar had weeded out plenty of prospective members, kids who’d been hopeful to join this group of activists, doers, these people who were not content to simply continue on in the place where they were from. These unusual millennials were eager, but also nervous about trying a new lifestyle in another land that they call a second home. They wanted to make it their primary home, to change their physical residence to where their heart already lives.
I didn’t cry that morning because i’d already spent the winter, spring and summer shedding quiet tears of separation. In fact, since she is our youngest child, I’d already felt the negative effects of empty nest syndrome four years before, when she spent her gap year in Israel on Young Judaea Year Course Shalem program. Our two older kids had the same day school education as our daughter and participated in the same Zionist program. They’ve both settled into their lives here.
I had anticipated this difficult moment during the summer while I was clinging to the beauty of the present moment, and that time disappeared too soon, and now my daughter actually made the move. I’d held back from openly weeping in order to be supportive of my daughter’s passion, ambitions, to allow her freedom to fly to her destiny.
I’d once craved a similar adventure. I’d left my home to pursue time in Israel, an adventure and a regular life of work and play. I thought my ordinary routine here, would feel extraordinary there, simply by a shift of location, a change in my foundation, heart winning over the head, trading my glittering city’s asphalt against my sneakers for ancient biblical ground beneath my sandaled feet.
My dream didn’t include army service. It wasn’t the fashion then for a young woman to seek that. It was more than enough for me to pursue my career there rather than here. It was sufficient for me to adapt to a foreign culture in an acquired guttural language. It was challenge enough for me to leave home indefinitely, to find work, support myself, pave my way to what i believed would surely be a more enriching meaningful life than the fullness of what I was experiencing.
My path was diverted, by romance, love, a compromise to return back to Brooklyn. To follow my beloved to a shared life back in NYC. I felt uprooted twice, once in my fearless attempt to leave, and then again in my thwarted progress in my new place that felt so right, but so difficult. I admit I was somewhat relieved. In my heart, I’d felt torn, a creature of two homes who had to choose between two good choices, who voted for love of a good man, a different type of adventure, another destiny, over love of a land and its people.
Now my daughter is following that same path I once embarked upon, stepping her own footsteps to a future that I could not complete. Paving her way the only way she can, in the present, on her road, with her signposts, her lonely struggles, fears of the unknown, anxiety of the hardships, hopes for success, dreams of happiness and satisfaction and fulfillment.
People ask me why, how, what the hell. Why leave behind her loving home for strangers, her comfortable lofted bed for a narrow bunk, her beloved friends and knowingness for newness and the unknown. Was she brainwashed, is she unhappy, delusional, confused? Is she running away? No, no, and no again. She is clear-eyed, realistic, strong and determined. Today, she is sure; sometimes she questions.
She would do the same here, don’t we all wonder why, how, what the hell? Don’t we all want to know what’s next, but would also really rather be surprised? Her assignment will begin in January. Her friends are being called up one by one each day. I am ferklempt.
I salute my adventurer, my soldier, my pioneer, my daughter. Go forth, experience, and figure it out.
I’m right behind you, shedding my tears, of joy, of hope of amazement.
Go from whence you came to the land we both call home, our second home, our first home.
Come back sometimes and tell me about it. Or I will come visit. I may even join you there soon.