It was about a week before Chanukah last year when I traveled to Israel to spend some time with my son, who was learning in Yeshiva there. It was a difficult time in my life, as I had made the decision to get out of an abusive marriage and was in the midst of a bitter divorce. At the time, my husband was seeking revenge and trying to do everything in his power to make my life miserable, including trying to sever my relationship with our children. He showed utter contempt for me, the mother, as he played the “victim” and tried to poison our grown children against me.
I was grateful that my youngest son had the opportunity to spend the year in Israel and “be away” from all the chaos going on here. However, as I regularly kept in touch with him and his teachers, it became apparent that my son – even from his yeshiva in Jerusalem – was still grieving the breakup of his family. He was homesick, anxious and depressed. Finally, my sister and parents said that they were sending me to Israel for a week to spend some quality time with my son and give him some TLC.
I was most appreciative and looked forward to the trip. I wanted it to be special, meaningful and stress-free to my son. I also looked forward to spending a week in Jerusalem. I had not been there for several years and my heart longed to be able to walk the Holy City’s streets once again. When I arrived at the hotel in Jerusalem, I immediately felt as if I was truly home. I had always wanted to live in Israel, and was so grateful whenever I had the chance to visit.
Having lived with an abusive and controlling man for so long and having kept the secret of abuse from my friends and community for many years, I had, to a certain extent, “lost” my own identity. Thus it felt great to be on my own and away – be it ever so briefly – from the chaos of the divorce. Looking forward to a week of peace and serenity with my son, I was not going to let anything interfere with that.
On my first day, I went to visit the head of my son’s yeshiva program. He told me that he usually encourages visiting family members to take their kids out only after the school day ends. This way the students do not miss class. However, he had given my son specific instructions to spend as much time as possible with his mother and not to worry about missing class during my visit. He felt that my son needed this time with his mother to help him heal. But the rabbi gave me one bit of advice: please do not talk about the divorce. I agreed. It was a productive and healing week, and my son and I had a beautiful time together.
Toward the end of the week I found myself walking the streets of my favorite place, the Old City, looking for gifts to bring back home to my other children, relatives and colleagues. As I wandered into one of the shops there, I recognized the owner from previous visits. He was a kind and friendly man who had made aliyah many years before. He enjoyed talking with his customers in his shop, and always had a kind word to say to everyone who stopped by.
As I started browsing through the aisles, I began to ponder what kind of gift to bring back to my oldest son. He had also been terribly affected by the divorce, and at this point was hardly having any contact with me due to his father’s pernicious influences. This son was also going through a spiritual crisis, causing me much worry. I wanted to get him a meaningful gift that would perhaps create an opening and a renewed bond in our relationship. As I contemplated what to get him, I fought back tears as I thought of everything my family had been through during the past two years. I was truly worried about this son and wanted the best for him.
As I headed to the counter, I was warmly greeted by the shop’s owner. “Shalom, is there anything I can help you with?” I hesitated and seeing that no one else was in the store, I asked, “What do you get a young man whose parents are going through a divorce because the father was abusive? And now this young man is going through a lot of anger and trauma of his own, won’t talk to his mother and is in a spiritual crisis – including hanging around with a really bad crowd.”
The owner was sympathetic and began to suggest different items in his store. He suggested that the gift have a subtle but loving message. I finally settled on a necklace with Hebrew words inscribed about God’s Angels protecting mankind. I always had a special affinity for angels. My favorite prayer in the “Kriat Sh’ma al HaMitah” is the one about the Angels – including Michael, Gavriel, Uriel, and Raphael – protecting one from harm. In fact, when my two older sons had spent time in Israel during the height of the unfortunate suicide bombings, I spent many a night visualizing God’s Angels surrounding them with love and protection.
As the owner packed up the gift, he bade me farewell and said, “Don’t ever give up hope. You have been through a lot. However, the truth always comes out and your son will see and will eventually come back to you and to the right path.” I thanked him and went on my way.
About 10 months later, around Rosh Hashanah time, I got a call from this son. He asked to return home in order to renew his relationship with me. Apparently things were not going so well between him and his father. I welcomed him back in my life, but told him that I would not engage in any psychological drama regarding the divorce or anything else. I told him I looked forward to establishing a healthy relationship with him based on love, truth, kindness, and integrity. I encouraged him to have a healthy relationship with both his parents, and let him know how glad I was to have him back in my life.
It is now the first night of Chanukah. As I gaze into the flames of the Chanukah candles, I think about how far I have come with the help of Hashem. For whatever reasons, I had to go through an abusive marriage. However, I have come out stronger in the long run. I went back to school, have a successful career, got my divorce and am finally re-establishing a healthy relationship with all of my children. I thank God for all the miracles that he has given me as I sit in my warm home on this cold winter night, staring into the flames and reminiscing about the triumph of the Maccabees that took place so long ago.