Nature, Nurture and ‘Family’
Leaving the bountiful land of one’s birth and moving to Israel requires conviction. To come without family already here takes a boatload of bravery or naivete.
My late father had been unwavering in his support of my move to Israel and confessed a personal disappointment in not fulfilling the dream himself. This knowledge helped assuage the guilt of not being with him in his final days. Slightly.
When my marriage dissolved after only a few years after moving here, I experienced a seismic shift in life’s road map. Frightened, lost and bereft, I suddenly discovered “my people.” The Anglos.
They’d been there all along but the cocoon of nuclear marriage and child-rearing had kept me unaware that like-minded strangers existed in every corner of Jerusalem. Like me, all were in various stages of personal reinvention, language proficiency, spiritual reflection and a desire to cement healthy, normative lives in the country of our choice. Single, married, straight, gay, formerly religious, newly religious, always observant, Jewish-by-choice; each year my friendship circle widened, deepened, and in short order, a motley-patchwork of family-by-design emerged into a precious, connective organism upon which I’ve learned to rely. My friend, Netanya, cogently stated, “Here, in Israel, we call one-another family, the family I choose for myself. When I was ill, my children were cared for until I got well. Shabbat and holidays wouldn’t be the same without a table filled with friends. They may not be blood related, but they are family in every other sense of the word.”
It is not unusual to become guarantors for one another in order to rent apartments. I personally served as a guarantor for a friend’s son who was in the midst of a difficult divorce. My signature (and salary) ensured that he would continue to support his children. I didn’t have to be asked twice. Sara reminded me that we cry together, hold each other up during difficult days and party like mad. My friend Irene, despite being elderly and alone, opines that her only regret about aliyahis not coming when she was younger.
When I posted the question “What role did friends play in your aliyah?” I was swamped with responses. I’d tapped an emotional dam, bursting with tales of tenderness among strangers that trumped familial relationships by far. In too many cases, the decision to move to Israel was met with derision and anger, causing rifts that never closed. What better poultice for such pain than a community that lovingly picks up the pieces for one-another on sad days?
Most fascinating were the tangential threads that spoke of including a back-and-forth between a mother who still lived in England but has a daughter here who made aliyah on her own and a woman who came on her own 50 years ago! The British mom wanted to thank everyone who was watching over her daughter and ‘adopting’ her as their own while the long time olah shared, “I couldn’t believe that I left behind all of my very close friends and family. In time, friends were my lifeline to feeling human here. This network made me function in a way that I could be happy, raise a family and thrive. What is the definition of “family”? That which offers support and warmth. My friends embody this definition. They are my family. The family I’ve chosen.”
I feel enormously blessed to be part of a forgiving fellowship that is rife with nuance, a commonality of values, expectations, culture and attitudes. Swathed within this compassionate safety net, I needn’t fear tomorrow. There is no “alone” when others have your back.
NEW YORK NATIVE ANDREA SIMANTOV HAS LIVED IN JERUSALEM SINCE 1995. SHE WRITES FOR SEVERAL PUBLICATIONS, APPEARS REGULARLY ON ISRAEL NATIONAL RADIO AND OWNS AN IMAGE CONSULTING FIRM FOR WOMEN.