It is hard to be away from the people you love; not to look into their eyes and have access to all the undercurrents that flow under their words. It’s tough to have family spread out, to have to wait for an occasion just to spend some time together. That is true for everyone, but it is certainly a main issue for those of us living out-of-town. Out-of-town means not being in the same city as many other frum people, and it also means living at a distance from one’s family.
It is also hard to be at a distance from friends – the friends you started your marriages with, and had babies with. Now you find yourselves separated by many miles. It’s hard to keep up with a friend when you aren’t nearby to share day-to-day concerns. Yes, it is easier to call now, as long-distance calls are no longer a big expense. But even the best relationships start to unravel when you are unable to share a smile or soothe a friend close by.
Living at a distance from your parents poses even bigger challenges, especially as they age. There was a time when my mother would join us for most of the holidays. She would fly to visit us wherever we lived, bringing trinkets from the local Jewish bookstore, and novel kosher delicacies. Once, she even joined us for a bris – spending a small fortune at the last minute to join us in Canada – of the grandson who would be named for her father. But that was a long time ago. Before we had a chance to notice, she could no longer travel. Now, we have to go to her and we can never manage it frequently enough. Sadly, it is not always possible to have my mother join us for our simchas.
And before you know it, before you will think it can happen, you may even live far from your own children. They may be studying or working in another city, state or country. You will not know their friends, or be able to keep up with their schedules, or know who they eat with over Shabbos. You will even have to sit in the backseat if they begin dating…and may only get to know the newest addition to your family when it is close to being official.
You hope that your children will be able to come home for Yom Tov. And even then, how will they come? Will it be by catching a ride, by taking a bus, a train, or a plane? Will they know enough of their schedule in advance to get the best deal or will the price of travel be prohibitive? And when they do finally walk through your door, it will not be the same as your kids who live with you or near you. Each moment is much more precious, for their visits are infrequent. You will rush to cook their favorite food, and sit back to enjoy the stories they tell and drink in the laughter. It will seem as though they are home for a whiff and before you know it, their seats will be empty.
Many of us share the mixed-blessing of having children who live over the ocean in Israel. We are proud to have children who have settled there, who are married with families in the Holy Land. We hear about grandchildren we rarely see. We listen to tales of their antics, without being able to hold them. Our hearts are always yearning to see them, to be a part of their lives. But if you are a teacher, you must live on a teacher’s salary and the only times available for you to travel are when there is vacation from school, during your school’s winter or summer break. And these are the only times when there is never a break on the exorbitant price of tickets to Israel. So you try to collect things to send over to Israel, if anyone could spare room in their suitcases, just so your grandchildren will think of you.
Distances can feel even farther with differing time zones. It must be early in the morning to wish them a good Shabbos or Yom Tov, no matter how busy either of you are just then. And you can’t wake up your son who may live on the West Coast too early with any news. You must wait three hours for that!
My first cell phone was given to me by a son who doesn’t live near us. He was tired of trying to reach me on our landline. He felt it was wrong for me not to be able to be accessible to my family, and I must admit that he was right. Not long after this, I discovered the joys of texting. Finally I found an effective way to stay in touch with busy children, though it could never replace phone calls.
Perhaps I ought to join the information super-highway, and reach out to those at a distance on Facebook. I probably would find friends to greet me in this virtual land. There are some children with whom I could keep up with even better – with the added bonus of pictures of grandchildren – if I would only sign on. I have been told that it’s reckless of me not to be online, because I could have the wonderful benefit of Skyping with my grandchildren in Jerusalem and other cities. I am warned that I am sacrificing my relationship with all of them by not doing so. But my husband and I choose not to be fervent Net-surfers, and we spend all of our time offline. I find that it is enough of a challenge to care for real people in real time, and am uncomfortable with the invasion of privacy that may be the price of this connection. I am a product of my times, and vividly remember the fear of Big Brother knowing all about everyone’s lives. I know that there are others like me, who choose to remain Face-Less.
When my children were younger, they would gasp whenever they spotted frum-looking people on our visits to New York. “Look Mommy, there is someone religious!” They would gape at the yarmulkas, they would stare at the tichels, and snoods. They could not believe the numbers of observant people swarming in the streets. We tried to explain that now we were in a larger community, and it’s normal to see so many observant Jews there.
Those of us who live out-of-town have no trouble conjuring up the longing to be reunited in our own land. We fervently pray for the day when we will all be united with our families, in Jerusalem, may it be very soon!
About the Author: Penina Scheiner is a kindergarten teacher, writer, and busy wife and mom who lives over the rainbow with her husband and kids.
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