When I backpacking around Europe and Asia, some 25 years ago, I felt a mix of disdain and sadness for the many tourists I’d encounter ensconced in their oversized, air conditioned tour buses, being ferried around from site to site, taking in the highlights through tinted windows which they’d abandon only at carefully selected cafes and for quick museum jaunts. They’d never get a chance to really know a city, I thought to myself, by walking it block by block, riding the trams and soaking in the local atmosphere.
But when my mother recently came to Israel, an organized tour was just the ticket. Despite our having lived in Israel for 17 years, this was my mom’s first ever visit to Israel and, at nearly 80-years-old, she wanted to see everything.
The two-week tour, run by the Margaret Morse travel agency, was as challenging as it was comprehensive. The 100-person, three bus “adults only” group started in Tel Aviv, headed up the coast via Caesarea to Haifa, cut across the Galilee to Kibbutz Goshrim with a stop in Safed, climbed up to the top of the Golan Heights, danced on a boat in the Sea of Galilee, drove down the Jordan Valley to Jerusalem (where they spent 5 days touring the capital’s extensive offerings) before plunging even further south to the Dead Sea, Masada and Eilat.
The tour guide on my mom’s bus was a staunch Zionist and peppered his exhaustive descriptions of antiquities and modern Israeli innovations with an hefty dose of idealism. The 2,000-year-old longing of the Jews for the land of Israel, why all Jews should move here, our tragic history and inspiring renewal in the modern state – it was all there in spades.
Now, since we moved to Israel, my mother has never really commented on our decision. Not visiting was less out of a philosophical stance than the fact that my father was disabled and never could have handled all the climbing, steps and stairs (which my mother pointed out were ever present). After he died two years ago, she began thinking seriously about visiting her children and grandchildren here.
While it’s true we never heard any outright cries of protest about our living so far from California, where I grew up and where my parents still were, we also didn’t receive any emotional support towards such a life-defining choice. Until now.
It was over a sushi lunch (these days becoming more the classic blue and white staple than the staid falafel) that my mom turned to us and mustered a few words that were as transformative for her as they were affirming for us. “I understand now why you’re here,” she said as a single tear ran down her face. “This is where you belong.” And then for emphasis: “I’m glad that you are here.”
After so many years of assuming (perhaps incorrectly) that our move here had dealt a mortal blow to my parents, a rejection of everything we’d been raised with that, in parallel, ripped their grandchildren away from the warm multi-generational embrace they had undoubtedly anticipated, these words of validation brought tears to our eyes too. We didn’t require it per se – we’re middle-aged adults ourselves and supposedly long past the need for our parents’ approval. But it’s never too late for a mother to tell her son “you done good, kid.”
Mom flew back to California Saturday night. Will the enthusiasm for our adopted home and her newfound Zionism remain, once the cheerleading of her tour guide has abated and the comforts of routine and sanitary bathrooms return? That’s not clear, though I hope a remnant at least will remain. But for a moment, we were all on the same page. And that was a happy enough conclusion to a novel that has been a long time in the writing.