The parent-child connection is the most complex of all relationships. The husband-wife relationship commences with two strangers coming together and growing closer and closer. Parents and children, however, are different. The relationship commences with oneness and eventually leads to separation, which can be bittersweet and even painful.
Yes, parents are overjoyed to see their offspring establish their own homes and build their own families. But it can be quite hurtful when they feel shut out from their children’s lives. (I’m referring to normal, loving homes where mothers and fathers yearn for closeness with their adult children and their families.)
When I was a little girl in Hungry prior to the Holocaust it was a different world. Parents were revered. Children felt privileged to have a bubbie or a zaidie living in close proximity – even residing in the same house with them. But elderly parents in our culture are often regarded as burdens. There is no time for them. Everyone is just too busy. And parents often are afraid to express their opinions lest they antagonize their sons and daughters.
So I understand when you visit your son’s home and feel a sense of loneliness. But I think you should make a real effort to dismiss such thoughts from your mind and such feelings from your heart. Give love unconditionally — which I’m sure you do, but give even more and try not to take into account the reserve and the distance you feel from them. I know that’s easier said than done, but the alternative is alienation.
As I grew up I was often privy to the guidance and advice my saintly father, HaRav HaGaon HaTzaddik Avraham HaLevi Jungreis, zt”l, would offer to people who came to consult him. When widowed grandparents came and spoke of the loneliness in their hearts – of the pain they felt when ignored or left out – my father would always say, “You don’t have to see everything and you don’t have to hear everything. G-d gave us two eyes and there are times when you have to shut one of them; two ears and there are times when you have to allow words to enter one ear and escape from the other.”
In other words, it is wise not to react to everything you see or hear. In such situations, pretend you are not aware. So while I understand you feel left out in your son’s home, I would advise you not to make a fuss about it.
Now we’ll turn to your question about whether you should relocate to Israel to live near your daughter in Jerusalem. On paper, the move to Jerusalem sounds like the perfect solution. To live in the Holy City near your daughter and her family; to see your grandchildren on a daily basis; to walk the ancient streets of Jerusalem and have the opportunity to visit the Kotel and pray there on a regular basis — what could be better than that?
But human beings are complex and things don’t always work out as we imagined. It’s not so easy to relocate, especially as one gets older. You get used to a certain environment – a certain house, a certain shul, certain friends – and it’s difficult to give all that up in the hope of finding a new, meaningful life. Therefore, I don’t think it’s advisable for you to sell your house or apartment here in the U.S. and move to Jerusalem. Yes, go to Jerusalem and plan to stay for a few months, but don’t sever your ties here. You never know how things will work out and you might find you want to return to America, so leave that option open.
Having said that, I believe life in Jerusalem would be wonderful for you. There are many American women of your age and background who reside there. You could join their organizations and become part of their circle. Best of all, you would have your daughter and her family nearby.
As I said earlier, however, even if everything checks out on paper it doesn’t mean it will work in real time, so plan on moving to Jerusalem for a short period at first. Ask your daughter to find a small apartment for you. Do not move in with her even if she insists you should. Visit her even every day but always return home. I share again with you wisdom from my father: “No mother or father should have to depend on the mercy of the children.”
You asked in your letter whether anyone would bother reading it since it was written in longhand rather than sent via e-mail and people would assume it was written by an elderly person who didn’t know how to use a computer. You bemoaned the “mindset of our culture” that marginalizes those who don’t use all the latest gadgets.
I wish I could disagree with you, but the reality is that most elderly people are computer illiterate and are unable to text, Skype or use an iPhone. As a result they tend to be invisible, lost in the shuffle of modern communications.
In the Torah world, by sharp contrast, elders are revered pillars of the community. We are commanded to stand in their honor. They are our guides and teachers.
An elderly Torah sage was traveling to Eretz Yisrael accompanied by his son. A secular fellow traveler sitting in the next row marveled at the constant love and care the son showered on his father. “How is it,” he asked the son, “that in my world the elderly are regarded with condescension while among Orthodox Jews it is so different?”
The son of the sage explained, “It all has to do with our worldview. We go back to our father Abraham. We journey with him through the centuries and we reach our zenith at Sinai – an experience cannot be exceeded or duplicated. In our Torah are aware that the farther you trace your way back, the greater the wisdom you will discover. We never had dark ages but we did have prophets and sages.
“Unfortunately, with every generation some of that wisdom is lost, but in your world it’s just the opposite. Every generation is more advanced and the young are always smarter and sharper, and so the elderly look to the young for leadership. They stand in awe of their sons and daughters, convinced they know more because they are ‘newer.’ In the Torah world, none of that exists. When we pray we ask Hashem to renew our days and return us to times of yore –‘chadeish yameinu k’kedem.’ ”
Your letter to me was given priority precisely because you are older and one step closer to Sinai. You are a bubbie, and for no other reason than that we honor you and stand up for you. You may not be computer savvy but you are life savvy. You may not know how to e-mail but you know how to write. You may not be familiar with the smartphone but you are smart in the things that count.
So, yes, we stand in reverence of you.
I’m sure Hashem will guide your path in making the right decision.Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis
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