Join The Conversation With Mishpacha's Weekly Newsletter



Letting Go

As told to Miriam Klein Adelman

By the time summer came around, I knew I wanted to stay for a second year. I wrote to my mother with my request

Thursday, October 06, 2016

 Mishpacha image

Photo: Shutterstock

All these years later, I knew I had done the right thing. I had followed the guidance of my mentors. Still, sitting in a shiur, hearing Rabbi Mellin explain how we have an obligation to ask for forgiveness — even when we believe we’re in the right — gave me pause.

Twenty-five years had passed since I made that decision. And in twenty-five years, my mother and I had never once discussed it.

Twenty-five years since I had left home for the first time, stepped onto a plane for the first time, on my way to seminary. I was sure it would be one long year of camp. Best of all, I’d be on my own. Away from overbearing mom. The weeks before I left were filled with her stifling care. “I bought you ten rolls of film, that should be enough for the year.”

“I hear winters are cold in Jerusalem. I bought you a pair of hot-pink slippers.” “Don’t forget the lining to your raincoat.” “I’ve packed you 20 cans of tuna fish. They don’t have StarKist over there.” The night before my flight, Mom made me sit and check off the list. “Winter skirts?”

“Check.”

“Summer skirts?”

“Check.”

“Woolen blanket?” 
 
“Check.”  
“Down jacket?”  
“Check. No, wait — where’s my down jacket?”  
“You don’t have it? Why don’t you have it? I told you to put it in this morning!” 
 
Mom started pulling everything out of the suitcase. “It must be in here somewhere. You can’t go to Israel without your down jacket.” 
 
The jacket was still in my closet. I’d forgotten to put it in my suitcase. 
 
“What if you had gone to Israel without your coat? You would have frozen in the cold winter on those mountaintops. You would have gotten pneumonia and probably ended up in the hospital.” She was up to my deathbed when I put up my hand and said, “Mom, I’m not dying. I just forgot to pack my jacket.” 
When I touched down, 6,000 miles from home, I thought I would be free. My mother’s voice, though, followed me, worrying and criticizing. Did I put on enough sunscreen? I would obsess on a trip down south. Oh no, where is my sunhat? I would anxiously think. I had heard of someone who got sunstroke because she didn’t cover her head in the hot sun. And if I didn’t succumb to sunstroke, maybe I’d develop skin cancer. 
Still, I grew that year. By the time summer came around, I knew I wanted to stay for a second year. I wrote to my mother with my request. 
I don’t think it’s a good idea, Mom wrote back. It’s time to get on with your life. How do you plan on marrying a kollel boy if you don’t go to college, get your education, and get a good job? If you don’t come home now, all the good boys will be gone and maybe you won’t get married at all. Remember Myra? Well, her daughter stayed in Israel for four years after seminary. She’s 28 and still not married. You don’t want to be like her, do you?
“Mom, I’m only 18 and I can date from here and start going for a degree too.”

Mom wasn’t happy. Daddy and I want to meet the boys you date, checking them out is not enough, she wrote. And we need to be there to make sure you take your college classes seriously. Mom often used the plural when trying to emphasize a point but truthfully, my dad was the most passive guy you could meet; whatever Mom said was always fine with him. Ultimately, she relented and I got to stay my second year.

By the time the third year approached, I realized I wasn’t ready to return home. My mentors agreed that another year on my own would be healthy. But how to broach the topic with my mother? I took the coward’s path and sent a letter.

I received a sharp reply; Mom forbade me to stay. I would be wasting my life, she wrote. It was time to come home and attend university (like a normal person) and time to come home and date (like a normal person).

What should I do? To stay or to go? I agonized night and day. When I thought about returning home to live under my mother’s obsessive, possessive thumb I panicked. On the other hand, refusing to obey was bringing on anxiety attacks. I clarified my halachic obligation. My rabbi and mentors and therapist were clear: “It’s not time for you to go back. Remain respectful always, but let your mother know that you’re going to follow through on your determination to stay in Israel.”

After I told Mom my decision, she cut off all communication. She even forbade my brother, who was coming to Israel the following year, to have any contact with me. I continued to write, but the letters were returned, with a red stamp: Return to Sender. I worked two jobs to support myself, and gained tremendously, emotionally and spiritually. But still, the rift with my mother took a huge emotional toll and at the end of the year I decided to return home.

My mother was waiting for me at the airport. She held out her arms, hugged me tightly, not wanting to let go. Neither of us said a word about what had transpired the previous year. The silence about those long months in Israel lasted for 25 years.

My mother and I, if not deep and intimate, enjoyed a friendly and cordial relationship. She must have learned something during the years I was away, because she rarely interfered in my life once I was married and  raising my own children. That’s when I realized that, if you weren’t her youngest daughter, she was actually fun to talk to. She had interesting stories to relate and was a great listener.

Privately, I thought about the third-year episode off and on, especially as my children grew older. When my daughter informed me she wanted to remain for the second-year program in her seminary, sharp images of that painful time sprang to mind. I gave her my blessing and the space she needed.

Therefore, it was with mixed feelings and some trepidation that I walked into my mother’s kitchen to bring up this past history. “Mom,” I said, rushing into the subject before I lost courage. “What I want to talk about happened years ago, but I just finished a course on asking forgiveness even for long-past events. It occurred to me that although everything between us has been fine since, I never apologized for what happened the year I remained in Israel against your wishes.”

For a full minute, my mother stared at me. Then she began to cry. She cried for a long time. “Mom,” I muttered awkwardly. I reached out to pat her shoulder, “Mom, are you okay? Mom?” Finally, she composed herself, looked straight at me, and said quietly, “I was devastated. I thought once you stayed that third year, you would never come home. I thought I would never see you again.”

I stood, numb, shocked. Then I began to shake. I never had a clue of the depth of hurt and anger my mother harbored. I never dreamed that she hadn’t ever forgiven me.

“Mom,” I said, “I’m so sorry. I had no idea, I’m so, so sorry.” We hugged. I left a half hour later, my mother smiling as she waved goodbye from the porch. Inside, I was still shaken, but I was smiling, too, grateful that this ancient grudge had been released and forgiven. 

Related Stories

Shame On Me

Miri Hecht

I didn’t share it. It was hard enough for me to live with the recollection. I couldn’t stand the tho...

Finish Line

Tehilla Shapiro

No matter how hard I tried, though, I never seemed to make it to candlelighting on time

Prayers Aloft

Libi Astaire

There’s something special about the ezras nashim on Yom Kippur — the feelings of camaraderie and com...

Share this page with a friend. Fill in the information below, and we'll email your friend a link to this page on your behalf.

Your name
Your email address
You friend's name
Your friend's email address
Please type the characters you see in the image into the box provided.
CAPTCHA
Message


MM217
 
The Fortunes of War
Rabbi Moshe Grylak We’re still feeling the fallout of the First World War
Some Lessons, But Few Portents
Yonoson Rosenblum What the midterms tell us about 2020
Vote of Confidence
Eyan Kobre Why I tuned in to the liberal radio station
5 out of 10
Rabbi Dovid Bashevkin Top 5 Moments of the Kinus
Day in the Life
Rachel Bachrach Chaim White of KC Kosher Co-op
When Less is More
Rabbi Ron Yitzchok Eisenman How a good edit enhances a manuscript
It’s My Job
Jacob L. Freedman “Will you force me to take meds?”
They’re Still Playing My Song?
Riki Goldstein Yitzy Bald’s Yerav Na
Yisroel Werdyger Can’t Stop Singing
Riki Goldstein Ahrele Samet’s Loi Luni
Double Chords of Hope
Riki Goldstein You never know how far your music can go
Will Dedi Have the Last Laugh?
Dovid N. Golding Dedi and Ding go way back
Battle of the Budge
Faigy Peritzman Using stubbornness to grow in ruchniyus
The Challenging Child
Sarah Chana Radcliffe Strategies for raising the difficult child
Bucking the Trend
Sara Eisemann If I skip sem, will I get a good shidduch?
The Musician: Part 1
D. Himy, M.S. CCC-SLP and Zivia Reischer "If she can't read she'll be handicapped for life!"