It’s 5,713 miles from New York to Israel, and while jet travel might offer the illusion of proximity, and technologies like FaceTime and Skype can foster intimate connections, for a mother or grandmother, there is no substitute for being face to face with one’s offspring.
Mothers and grandmothers of those who have moved to Israel have had a place to share their concerns and fears since February 2016, in the Marion & Aaron Gural JCC group Our Kids Abroad in Yisrael, or OKAY.
Founded by the center’s cultural arts and education director, Rachayle Deutsch, herself a mother and grandmother of transplants, the group has more than 20 members who are connected by a mailing list, and as many as 10 women from the Five Towns, Baldwin, Far Rockaway, Merrick and Brooklyn attend monthly meetings.
“My daughter, son-in-law and [their] two children had moved to Israel several years before ,” Deutsch said, “and as proud as I was of their decision, I was finding it a difficult, bittersweet situation and not getting any easier as the years passed and their family grew.”
Contacting women she knew whose children also lived in Israel and using the JCC’s cultural arts mailing list, she began putting together the group. Word of mouth helped, as did an item in the center’s guide and an email blast that is sent before each meeting.
“The purpose of the group is not to sit and complain, but to share useful tips and advice gleaned from the experience, and to network,” Deutsch said. “We share stories that are often funny, if at times sad or disappointing or frustrating.”
According to Nfesh B’Nefesh, an organization founded in 2002 that helps Jews in Canada, the U.S. and the U.K. make aliyah — move to Israel — 3,633 Americans did so in 2017, compared with 3,676 in 2016 and 3,782 in 2015. The majority come from New York, California, New Jersey, Florida, Maryland, Illinois, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania, as well as Quebec and Ontario. Moving to Israel is one of the basic tenets of Zionism, a movement that promotes the development and protection of the Jewish state.
Gural JCC board member Sharon Fogel is part of OKAY and helped Deutsch get the group started. Fogel’s daughter Jaimie moved to Israel more than 10 years ago, and got married there seven years ago. Fogel said that it’s sad when her daughter isn’t here for events such as births and brises, and noted the cost and distance involved in traveling to Israel. The average round-trip airfare is more than $1,000, and can climb to more than $1,500.
“My daughter moved to the desert, and schlepping out there is exhausting,” said Fogel, adding that with elderly parents, she and her husband have to weigh the pros and cons of visiting.
Lawrence resident Judy Henner said she joined OKAY a year and a half ago. Her son lives in Jerusalem and works in Tel Aviv. He is married, and has eight children ranging in age from 16 to 2. “Both my parents died in the last 10 years, and being that it’s far away, you aren’t there for good times or bad times,” Henner said. “You can’t be there for the births, and sometimes you can’t stay for the bris. When you’re older, you can’t always travel. The trip home gets to you. I’m grateful to go a couple of times a year.”
Deutsch said — and Henner and Fogel agreed — that OKAY is more of a networking group than a traditional support group, because the women not only share their concerns but also work together to assuage their fears and try to solve the problems created by separation.
“Going through this for over 10 years, I love the camaraderie, I love hearing other people’s ideas,” said Fogel, adding that she would continue being part of the group. “Absolutely, it’s a great idea. A friend’s daughter just moved to Israel, and I’m encouraging her to attend.”
Proud of her son’s decision to move to Israel — this from a teenager who once eschewed the Salute to Israel Parade in favor of a basketball tournament at North Woodmere Park (which his team won) — Henner said that FaceTime and Skype are “not really helpful” in connecting with her family, especially because the “kids get bored in five minutes.”
“This is more like a networking group,” she said. “It’s interesting to see how other people manage the separation. I’ll be a member indefinitely, as it’s useful and gives support in a nontraditional way. There is strength in numbers.”
The next meeting is scheduled for Monday, Oct. 8, from 7 to 8:30 p.m. at 207 Grove Ave. in Cedarhurst. To learn more, contact Deutsch at firstname.lastname@example.org or (516) 569-6733 ext. 222.