(Kveller via JTA) — I have three children. Three healthy, wonderful, grown-up children. I have a wonderful husband. And I have a father, a brother and sister-in-law, and other friends and relatives whom I love. Sounds good, no? It is good. It’s very good.
Yet I often say that I live between a rock and a hard place. Here’s why.
My husband and I live in New Jersey, where we settled when we married 28 years ago and raised our children. We raised them with a love of family, a love of God and Torah, a love of humankind and a love of Israel. All three have embraced those loves and express them in their own individual ways.
Our oldest daughter, who is 25, lives a few hours away and teaches at a Jewish day school. She is known as a tough and loving teacher, a loyal friend and an integral part of her community. We see her every few months. She is far away, but not too far.
Our second daughter lives in Jerusalem. At 19, she moved to Israel and joined the Israel Defense Forces. Other caring adults — relatives, friends, and members of a support network for foreigners serving in the Israeli army — parented her in our absence. Now 22, she has finished her army service and is in college, spending Shabbat with friends, working in a bookstore and living her dream.
Our third child, a son, lives in Israel as well. At 19, he also made aliyah recently and will enter the IDF in the spring. He, too, has caring adults in his life, some of those same relatives and friends, and his yeshiva community who have their eyes on him.
When I was their age, I was sure that I would spend the bulk of my life in Israel. But I didn’t. I found life, love and employment here in the U.S. — and then I stayed. In fact, the topic of living in Israel barely came up again, as my husband, an only child, was not free to leave his parents.
But now, everything is different. My in-laws have passed away. My nest is empty. My father is still relatively healthy. And my kids span the ocean.
My kids call every Friday. During these weekly conversations, I ask them for a snippet, something I can have at the ready when people ask me, “How are the kids doing?” Something along the lines of, “She’s loving her job” or “He went on a hike in the Judaean hills.” Something easy, so I don’t have to scramble, so I don’t have to sort through the feelings of worry, pride and longing every time someone wants an update.
Lately, however, no one asks for snippets. They just ask, “So when are you going?” They mean to Israel — and they don’t mean a visit. They mean, “When are you moving to Israel?”
Everyone asks: Israelis, Americans, my colleagues at work, people I barely know. I know I need a snippet for this, too. But I find the question deeply troubling — hence the rock and the hard place.
I have always wanted to live in Israel — and at the same time, I’ve always wanted to live right here in the U.S. I want to be near ALL my kids. And, in the future, please God, I’ll want to be near all my grandchildren. I want to be near my father and his wife, to be close when they will inevitably need me. I want to be near my family, the ones here and in Israel, and near the friends who have become like family, in both countries.
My husband and I just returned from a long trip to Israel, where we spent quality time with both kids, dear cousins and old friends. We also spent a few days looking around at communities to see where we’d feel at home. Even though that part was my idea — and I’m glad we did it — I was very nervous about this aspect of the trip because it made me confront the question of moving yet again. And there is no good answer.
I have a good job in the U.S., with a salary and health insurance. My husband has a good job, too. We are comfortable. We might be able to get jobs in Israel; we might not. As we get a little older every year, those transitions become more difficult.
But recently, I’ve been thinking about Tzur Yisrael, which means “Rock of Israel” — or God. Rocks are a recurring theme in the Bible: In the book of Genesis, Jacob puts his head down on a stone and has a prophetic dream of the protective angels ascending and descending a ladder between heaven and earth. The Ten Commandments were created of stone. Rocks can be hard and uncomfortable, but like God, they are steady, reliable and persistent. Gems are made of stone. And as the book of Psalms reminds us, “The stone that was spurned by the builders turned out to be the cornerstone.”
What I’ve realized is when I say I’m between a rock and a hard place, what I really mean is that I’m squeezed between two good things. So, for now, I will continue to live between my precious rock and my steady hard place.
Both my rock and my hard place are very good, even when they leave me a little bumped and bruised. And I need be comfortable, living here in the middle, and I need to have confidence that the balance will sort itself out. I need to be able to answer, “We’ll see,” and believe it. And if I can create a space for myself between the rock and the hard place, the answers might have room to become clear.
(Susan Hornstein is an Orthodox Jewish Zionist feminist living in Highland Park, New Jersey. She holds a doctorate in cognitive psychology and works as an information architect and website designer. She is the director of the Central Jersey Chapter of HaZamir, the International Jewish teen choir, and sings and gives divrei Torah around New Jersey.)