After a lot of back and forth, a truckload of documentation scanned and several high-pitched conversations with my medical practitioner of the hour, I procured travelers’ insurance for me (rife with exceptions and caveats) despite a recent, not-quite-resolved illness. Praise the Lord–with medication packed and my overnight bag packed, the spouse and I boarded a plane for a five-day, four-night jaunt to England to celebrate his granddaughter’s Bat Mitzvah.
We brought along three additional Israeli granddaughters who had never been overseas. Their mom, heavily pregnant with her sixth, was delighted by the offer and drove us to the airport. Everything about the flight was great; from the rudimentary English lesson I gave to the distribution of left-over Purim snacks. The little girls were excited and anxious about whether or not their party dresses would be suitable for an elegant British soiree.
Aside from the tourist attractions and never-ending rides on the underground train, the only thing for me that truly counted was the time spent with family. Shabbos dinner was a beautiful get-together in a heated backyard tent, attended by forty relatives of my stepson’s wife. (She is the Brit.) Our side of the family was represented by four, not counting the children we brought. Talk and laughter, oodles of Jewish geography, speeches, public accolades and expressions of gratitude were the order of the celebration. It could not have been nicer.
As we left we promised – as always – to visit more often. Looking forward to a bit of accustomed quiet and alone time, we nevertheless reflected about the importance of being with family.
Two weeks later, after the same insurance company tussle, the husband and I boarded another flight for South Africa, via Addis Ababa. We had made the eleventh-hour decision to visit three of my daughters who live in Johannesburg so that I could hold, cuddle and bestow some kisses into the bellies of the two newborn grandsons I had not yet met. Passover seemed the perfect time with nowhere to go except from home to home and playground to playground. I also desperately wanted my daughters, sons-in-law and grandchildren to get to know my husband, Ronney, on a deeper level. They had only met at the wedding three years earlier, and it was time to “cement” that family thing.
Ronney was more excited than anyone, because he is the South African! My American-born children live there as a result of marriage and continuing education. He could not wait to see his childhood home, visit the cemetery where his parents are buried, see some distant cousins and locate some old drinking buddies. Most important, there were some foods that were waiting to be eaten. While I remained at my daughter’s cottage to sleep and recover from the long flight, apparently he and my daughter hit every food shop in the kosher district, and he had tears in his eyes at each stop, conjuring up culinary memories from a distant childhood. When he finally returned to the house carrying four bags of dried meats, sausages and dried biscuits (“It isn’t like spending. It’s Monopoly money!”), he announced, “In 40 minutes I ate breakfast, lunch and dinner.”
Every night he played squash with Talia’s husband, Antonino and I worked out in the gym. I read books to children, sang songs with nine-year-old Shmuel Dovid from the new Schwecky CD I had brought. I gave haircuts. We made both houses kosher-for-Passover, and I cooked some of their childhood foods in order that the grandchildren should know “Grandma’s cooking.” We visited with the in-laws, went to far too many South African “bries” and stayed up several late nights playing board games with the married couples and a few of the older grandchildren.
The busyness of my life leaves little time for reflection, and I have come to believe that this is a good thing. The peace, love and sense of closeness that comes from being with my children and my husband’s children and all of our grandchildren bear witness to the investments of our previous labors. It was not always easy, and good memories are peppered with pain, shame and unresolved issues.
But nothing beats the rapturous joy of taking a nap with a four-year-old girl who, stroking my cheek, says, “I love you, Grandma. Can you stay here forever?”
New York-born Andrea Simantov is a mother of six who moved to Jerusalem in 1995. She frequently lectures on the complexity and magic of life in Jerusalem and can be contacted at email@example.com.