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Turning Tides: Mirror, Mirror...

As told to Leah Gebber

My son tried on a pair of dark plastic frames. Trendy frames. “What do you think, Ma?” Sarale, my daughter, looked at him carefully. “Don’t ask Mommy … she’ll hate them.” I ignored her. “I don’t think the school will like them.” It was my standard refrain, my way of deflecting the blame from myself — I’m still a good mommy — to the school.

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

We moved to Eretz Yisrael when our eldest was eight — we’d been vacillating for years and were told that the window of opportunity would soon close. The kids would be too old to become truly comfortable with the language and the school system. Perhaps I wasn’t quite ready, perhaps it wasn’t the best time for me — I had lost both my parents the year before and was feeling exceptionally fragile — but we found a shipping company, held a yard sale, and bought one-way tickets.

Looking back, I think the move helped my bereavement — I was forced to put aside the earthquake that had rumbled through my heart and mind, and deal with a tsunami of practical concerns. On the other hand, it didn’t help my integration. I arrived inIsraelfeeling vulnerable, defensive, and brittle, scared that the slightest comment would break me. I dusted off my armor and climbed inside.

I’ve always been intensely focused, and I was proud of that trait. A wide beam can light up a large area, but the place is still left dim and blurred. A tiny focused beam enables you to see everything in piercing detail. That’s kind of been the symbol of my life — ready, set, focus. My husband, Daniel, on the other hand, tells me that by doing this I’m missing out on a lot of areas that my beam doesn’t reach.

I had identified two goals for our move, goals I felt would make our children into successful and happy adults: integrate and shine. I’d do anything to make that happen. The week before we left, our community made us a farewell kiddush. We were the frummest family in our religiously varied neighborhood and had enjoyed the chance to be mashpia. Our kids also knew that we did things differently from others — and were proud of it.

Ironically, as soon as we landed, we sloughed off the skin of “being different and proud of it” and instead aimed to figure out how we could fit in with everyone else. Our neighborhood was on a very high frum standard and by looking around, I realized that if I wanted to integrate, I’d better put my three-year-old daughter in stockings, buy shirts with collars for my boys, get rid of my longer skirts, and cut my sheitel. No problem.

It really wasn’t a problem. I’m not particularly attached to my appearance, and it felt better to mirror the neighbors than to dress differently.


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