Back home

to_do_list_returning-home

Give him space: check – Empty backpack and suitcase: check – Laundries (3 or 4): check – Store addresses: check I guess… A long day, that started at 4:00 am to get to JFK and pick-up the returning traveler.

Five weeks: they went so fast. Truth to the matter I certainly never had time to miss him. I told him so, because it does not mean I don’t love him, and that his presence in the family dynamics is not necessary, and that I don’t need to have him around, and that when he is away I miss having the moments we share, and that are priceless.

It just went crazy fast because I am busy with my own life, and because I was especially confident that he was having the adventure of a lifetime. And also, and above all because the organization is so flawless, that every plan was stored, that I could “follow” where he must have been, because the information-control-freak in me had everything in check from tracking the air travels to measuring the time of the day or the night with the time differences, to checking the weather. Not mentioning the scrutinizing each posted picture to decipher whether the proper shoes were on, that there was no sign of a broken limb or dehydrated body in the heat of the desert…

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Reading the multiple blogposts published on NFTY Israel’s blog was also a treat. From what others -adults and teenagers alike- were writing, gave me the proper perspective I needed to follow, to imagine places I have never been to, and to make me dream or think of what it could be like for a sixteen year-old young man to be going through, coming from the relative comfort of a very privileged life in twenty-first century United States, when hitting that stage in life when you really need to confront your idealism to real life far, far away from the parental hovering and sheltering.

It also gave me so many opportunities to remember that I have been sixteen, some decades ago (centuries? oy veyz mir!) and what happened when I left, when I went on other sides of the world, and discovered my self without being a child anymore, how I came back transformed for ever and what a transition it had been, with so many points of no return…

Not anything to calm down any parental anxiety, that is for sure, but just because I could remember, I was so determined to let it happen, for the better and with joyful anticipation: my son is not me, and my experiences are not his, can’t be, but they can still educate me in listening, understanding, and being there for him when he needs it: and I am well aware that the cultural shock of coming back to the sameness that is left in the comfort of his home needs time and patience to set in.

Son back home after 11 hour flight
Back home from NFTY Israel 2013

From Generation to Generation

Auschwitz_2013I knew that sending my son away for a defining journey accross the world was going to be emotional: I was prepared. I was very proud that he had chosen to undertake the pilgrimage to his roots, and to travel through Central Europe prior to his first visit to the Land of Israel. This program, called “NFTY-Israel L’Dor V’Dor”, from generation to generation, is designed to introduce the teens to their heritage, most of them being descendants of Jews coming from this area, Czekoslovakia, Ukraina, Lithuania, Poland… Many of them, too, having heard of the many family members who perished in the Nazi atrocities that took place on the very land they were going to visit seventy years later.

They are discovering how rich the Jewish life was prior to be decimated. The remnants are powerful, and no one can measure on paper how much emotion they carry. Because human life is stronger than just a story, it has a soul and a way to attach itself into symbols, and into the passing of these symbols into the very same rituals that we observe today: you go far away from home, and some of the things you see, names, places, signs, are strangely familiar and known.

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Passage from the prayer R’tzei – mural from the preserved hidden synagogue in Terezin

The teens went to visit the camps, Auschwitz-Birkenau. They grew. They understood something that has no words to describe the experience. Each of them is going to process differently and make what they felt their own in their own way. Some took pictures, some wrote poems and shared, some kept silent and will talk about it later, some will never say anything about it, but still, they are transformed by the experience anyways and they are grown from it, like having received sprinkles of a spiritual shower that has been particularly attached to that place, so that the seeds of life that were planted there for the wrong reasons – hatred, fear, prejudice – grew into love, support, understanding: life.

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This generation of teens is the very last one who will be able to hear the stories from those who were their age at the time: what they lived, what they did, and how they remember it and what happened to them since. Next generations will only hear from those who were told the stories, and decided to pass them on.

But, we Jews, have done that for centuries. We know how to pass stories that stay alive. I am thankful for my community, for my Jewish family to allow this adventure to go on for the better, for life. Whenever something difficult is ahead, we know we can face it and transform it into hope and growth.

To quote one of the groups’chaperones, Rosanne Selfon, “Forever changed, but forever Jewish”.

Those Teens were traveling with NFTY in Israel – an organization providing Summer Israel experiences for teens.

SAM_forever-be
Forever let this place be a cry of despair and a warning for humanity