In the height of a dreary UK summer, 32 years ago, I stood in the departure lounge at Heathrow airport, lined our children up and went from child to child, stroller to stroller, pinning badges on their clothes as the Jewish Agency shlichim had instructed.
“WE’RE GOING HOME” the badges proudly proclaimed as we waited to board the El Al plane that would take me, my husband, and our five children, including twins of 6 months, to our new home in Jerusalem.
Selfishly, I had little thought of the effect the sight of those badges would have on my mother who had bravely come with her new husband to say goodbye. I didn’t even appreciate how hard she tried to hold back the tears until we were out of sight.
Did I have to smile so happily as I pinned my own badge on my jacket – the badge which allowed us virtually unlimited luggage allowance in those days on El Al, and unhindered pass through baggage security checks and all the other checks and passes controlled by the Israeli part of the system.
When my widowed mother had remarried less than a year before, I had breathed a sigh of happiness. But I have to admit it: my happiness was also tinged with relief, as I knew that we could now continue with our aliyah plans unhindered by the guilt I inevitably felt at leaving her and taking her only five grandchildren, whom she adored, with us. I hoped that life with her new husband would take her mind off the grandchildren whom she would no longer see regularly at least once during the week and often on Shabbos. My three sisters also still lived in England. But grandchildren are different, and I knew she would miss them, although we had already planned for her to visit us the next summer.
My husband and I had both lived and studied in Israel before our marriage and we knew that one day in the not too distant future we would make our home there. Both my parents and my parents-in-law had been aware of this, but inevitably as the years went by and the number of children grew, both sides thought/hoped we’d forgotten our idea. We hadn’t. It was just a question of finding the right time.
As we were a larger than average family, the Jewish Agency had offered us to be part of a plan whereby we would be offered an apartment in a new area of Jerusalem on condition that we moved in within one month of the apartment being built. We happily agreed as living in Jerusalem was a dream, and as our minds were already made up we felt capable of making the physical arrangements in a hurry.
As we said our goodbyes we promised to take lots of photos to chart the children’s growth and our new life, and we would make tape recordings of the children talking and singing (these were the days before computers, let alone Skype and even several years before home videos). Our contact was maintained through frequent letters and tape recordings the children made of them singing their newly learned Shabbos and Yom Tov songs in Hebrew, which were sent regularly by snail mail.
Of course my husband’s parents would also miss us but they had a daughter and grandchildren who lived near them and another daughter living in Israel with her family, so the situation wasn’t new to them.
I had imagined it was my mother who would probably miss us the most. But what do we really know about what is happening?