I Never Wanted to go to Israel
By Karen Mackler, Participant from Long Island, NY
I never wanted to go to Israel. I actually had no attachment to the place at all. I did not attend Hebrew School, and have told people along the way that my parents couldn’t afford to send me, and anyway, I was a girl. After marriage, my husband and I moved to a “Jewish neighborhood”, and sent the girls to a nursery school at a Temple, and subsequently to Hebrew school, choosing the program attended by the next door neighbors, to make carpooling easier. As my daughters’ sang, “I’m a Jewish child and I’m proud”, my parents commented on how interested my kids were in their religion. Me, not so much.
I am a psychologist in a district that has more children attending Yeshiva than the public school. The school board has been predominantly Orthodox for years. I have worked alongside many Orthodox colleagues, and have befriended many families during my 25+ years in the district. I have had intimate conversations with my friends about the role of women, parenting, guilt, and yes, even sex. I have been fascinated by our different beliefs, but I am also quite aware of our similarities. One woman taught me a body roll to use in zumba class, and if I thought Orthodox women weren’t sexual, was I wrong!!
My girls went off to college, and each visited Israel on Birthright. Each daughter was changed when they returned, in the way they view the world. I thought I was in the clear, ensuring that my daughters would now date and marry appropriate Jewish men. What an easy job I had, I thought to myself, “send the girls to a Jewish nursery school, Hebrew lessons, host beautiful Bat Mitzvahs, invite the relatives and friends to a couple of Passover seders, and there you go!” Unfortunately, despite my smugness, my older daughter called home and informed us that she was dating Steven. How wonderful, I thought. Wrong again! Stephen was a southern Baptist, and his mother goes to church twice weekly. They had never met a Jew before.
Lesson learned. Parenting does not end when your children turn 18. Parenting, in some ways, begins then. I did all the right things for my children, but I had not done right by them. I was not practicing what I preach. How could I expect my daughters to continue in the religion if I was not willing to learn and grow myself? How proud I was as they recited their Haftorahs… but I had no idea what they were saying.
As educated as I am, both formally with a Ph.D., and informally as I amass huge quantities of information from the people I’ve met along the way, I am uneducated in what matters. I asked to go to Israel so that I, too, can experience the journey that I so need. I have helped so many people self-actualize along the way, and now I feel that it is my turn to be the recipient instead of the giver. When I am able to leave my students and attend Parsha class, it is I who am the taker. It is not an easy role for me, but I am embracing it and am finding out who I am. I, in turn, go back and discuss my new knowledge with my family and my friends. My Orthodox girlfriends delight in my excitement about learning. My family is worried I will not return from Israel. I never wanted to go to Israel. Now, I can’t wait.