They say “Home is where the heart is,” and I guess claiming several sites as home makes my heart that much larger. Brooklyn, for which I wax nostalgic, will always be “home,” despite no Solomon relative living there in over a decade. Israel is my actual home for both body and soul. And then there’s my “third” home, which is wherever my parents find themselves, for to them I will always be their “little boy” despite outweighing them combined (they are small; I’m not). Today their address is northern New Hampshire; tomorrow I hope it will be with my family in Alon Shvut. Convincing them to make this bold move was the purpose of this year’s visit to the States last week.
The trip started auspiciously, with words of Torah and chizuk, always a good thing when leaving Israel, from a most surprising source — the clerk at Israeli passport control. He rhetorically asked, “You’re from Alon Shvut?” Usually this question precedes a short diatribe against living in “the territories,” but he wore a kippah so none came. He proceeded to eulogize and commiserate with me on the recent passing of Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein, arguably the giant of the religious-Zionist sphere. It’s these encounters where strangers share “Jewish moments” that help sustain us against the bureaucracy and rudeness here in Israel.
A day later I arrived in Bethlehem, not the conveniently located Biblical town an easy five miles north of our home; rather its namesake, an even smaller town, some 5,500 miles west. Leaving the airport, I made my annual “pit stop” in Manchester, N.H., for Chabad and Chanchie’s home cooking. Readers might remember the praise I heaped on Rabbi Krinsky and his Chabad outpost after last year’s visit to my folks and the gratitude I expressed to his wonderful daughter Chanchie, whose chessed, generosity and delicious food sustains me and my family with the best kosher food in all N.H.
While Chabad was feeding me in N.H., Chabad in Nepal, some 7,200 miles away, was fulfilling the Haggadah’s dictum read a few weeks earlier as they hosted the world’s largest Seder: “All who are hungry, come and eat; all who are in need, come…” Not halfway through Sefirah, the world collapsed around them yet they were not shaken, serving some 2,000 meals a day to Jewish/Israeli trekkers, Nepalese refugees and everyone in need. I am not a Chabadnik, but I marvel at their universal chessed, helping the multitudes in Nepal. The chessed I experienced in N.H. was played large in Nepal for the world to witness real tikkun olam and the honoring of Torah.
Arriving in Bethlehem, I learned that Mom had not informed Pop that I was coming, thinking it would make a wonderful surprise, which may not be the best idea when you are talking about my 87-year-old father with a heart condition. My thoughts turned to Serach softly singing to Yaakov (coincidentally, my father’s name) that his son was still alive, so I had Mom “sing” the alert, and it worked.
It was good, though not always easy, to be with them, in the distant Bethlehem. As I am forever their “little boy,” they are forever the “perfectly imperfect but robust and healthy parents” of my youth. Just as I am no longer “little,” their health is not what I remember, deteriorating from last year’s visit. I put no faith in Obama’s medical plan for the elderly, or any of his schemes for that matter. I prefer Jenny’s (my wife’s) watchful, doting eyes caring for my folks as she does for her own parents, who live with us in Israel. (In addition, she’s a brilliant doctor!)
A week passed quickly, with short but frequent “pitches” from me advocating their move. Mom has visited Israel numerous times, loves it and wants to come, absolutely. Pop, on the other hand, has never been to Israel. I wondered in moments of stress if it was “nuts” for me to hope my irascible father would leave the idylls of N.H., with his porch-views of “purple mountain majesties,” for the brown, undulating hillocks of Judea.
In the balance, for every instant of irritation, there was a minute of marvel at how sharp Pop remains and how much he and Mom would add to our lives and, more importantly, to our children’s — because there is arguably no sweeter and less complicated love than between a bubby and zeide and their grandkids; no better tonic for declining health and irascibility than a grandchild’s hug. I am not sure if my folks will come, and if they do, I have no doubt it means challenging work for us all. But I will take inspiration yet again from Chabad and how it dealt with a massive earthquake, knowing at worst all I’ll get is the occasional tremor.
Meir Solomon is a writer, analyst, and commentator living in Alon Shvut, Israel, with his amazing wife and two wonderful children. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.