Dear Dr. Chani,
The many shifts in current events over the past year have really left me feeling unsettled. The economy seems unstable and the political situation is nerve-racking to me as well. I have always been somewhat considering the idea of making aliyah, but I have never been ready before. Now I feel a sense of urgency to make the leap across the ocean. Yet, a persistent concern that holds me back is a feeling of guilt about abandoning my parents.
I am concerned about how my move to Israel will affect my parents. I am single and am in my late thirties. I had always hoped to get married and raise a family for a few years before moving to Israel. I looked forward to giving my parents nachas (pride and joy). I worry that if I move to Israel now, my parents will not enjoy the privilege of seeing me and my family on a regular basis. Do I have the right to deprive them of this?
Another aspect that worries me about leaving my parents is that they are getting older. My parents are both in their seventies. My father has had some health issues in the past few years. I feel fortunate that I was living close enough to help them out in their time of need. I would like to believe that if they ever need me when I live in Israel, I will be able to hop on a plane and stay by their side. But since I hope to have a family, I am not sure that will be practical.
How can I make this decision when I may be hurting my parents in the process? What should I do?
You are understandably overwhelmed with the prospect of making aliya, specifically about leaving your parents. When it comes to making a decision of this magnitude there is a lot to consider. There are many facts and feelings involved with making this move. Making aliyah means changing many aspects of your life as you know it. These include altering your social network, means of making a living, and entering a new culture. These changes can be difficult for most people. You mention in your question that you have thought about making aliyah for a long time, but you were never, “ready before.” I am guessing that your concerns about some of these changes were on your mind when you felt reluctant to make aliyah in the past.
Now that you feel a sense of urgency to move to Israel, your previous hesitancies do not simply disappear. They are formidable and rational, and they can still be on your mind. The concern for your parents might be another way of expressing your understandable general reluctance to make this major change.
It is hard to know that definitively. What points to this possibility is a combination of the previous lack of readiness that you mention, and the very recent urge that you want to move to Israel because of current uncertainties. It sounds like you are ambivalent about this decision. You see reasons on both sides – to move and not to move. There are pros and cons to both options.
When you are not sure how to make a decision, it can be helpful to pay attention to your feelings more than the specific facts. Of course, your concerns about your parents are valid and realistic. The facts are that you will be physically separated and unable to visit them. You will also not be able to care for your parents in some practical ways. At the same time, in light of your previous ambivalence, the amount of emphasis you are currently placing on fulfilling your parents’ needs suggests that your general hesitations are still there. They are now chiefly being expressed through your concerns about your parents.
It also might be interesting to think about why you are framing your worry as being about your parents’ needs and feelings. Why do you not express that you worry that you will miss out on experiencing your own joy of sharing your family with your parents and that you will miss them? Is it possible that your concern for your parents is a way of diverting your attention from your other fears about making aliyah that you would like to ignore? There are many possible alternative worries that may be masked by your main focus on your parents’ needs. It can be valuable to explore your concern about your parents, along with what else may be holding you back.
There might be something deeper going on as well. When children are born, a large part of their “first job” is to give nachas to their parents. Children want to please their parents and find gratification when they do that. When children do what they are supposed to, they get rewarded. Essentially, they are being rewarded for pleasing their parents. This is reinforced by common phrases that parents use, such as: “I am so proud of you!” “You give me a lot of nachas!” and “You make me so happy!” It is also strengthened by the messages of chumash presentations, graduations, and school events. The word “nachas” is a central theme as children perform for their parents. The life of a child is necessarily parent-centered. It is a central part of learning, discipline, and of growing up.
Yet, as children mature into adults, it is healthy for them to become independent and modify their raison d’etre of giving nachas to their parents. As people transition to adulthood, it becomes increasingly important for them to temper their desire to please their parents and to focus more on actualizing themselves. These two goals are often in harmony. In a healthy child and parent relationship, the goals that a young adult has for himself are often consistent with what his parents will approve of as well. There are exceptions. Sometimes what an adult feels is the best way to actualize himself is not necessarily consonant with his parents wishes.
As you think about making aliyah, ask yourself how much of you feels a healthy responsibility to your parents and how much of you sees yourself as a “nachas machine” whose greatest satisfaction still comes from giving pride to your parents. It can be a hard question to answer by yourself, but it can be food for thought to digest behind the dynamics of this significant change.
These are difficult conversations to have with yourself. They might be best had with a professional who can help you get a deeper understanding of yourself and your situation. Try to clarify your own values, goals and dreams, and to prioritize them. This will enable you to be more in touch with your personal vision and the capabilities you have to reach your full potential. Conversations with your parents can also help you to figure out your worries about aliyah that relate to them. As you proceed to weigh the pros and cons of making aliyah, you can grow to know yourself more. This can be a tremendous advantage, wherever you ultimately decide to live.
Wishing you much success,