By Michele Herenstein

I have horrible insomnia, so sometimes when I’m up at 5 a.m., I fill my time by calling my nieces in Israel to say hello and chat. Given that three of them are married, with eight children between them, they are quite busy. I try to call my brother who learns in yeshiva all day, but when I call, I often get voicemail. I was super-close to my “Israeli family” before they made aliyah, but it’s been a very long time now and we don’t see each other that often. It makes me sad.

Back when I was little, everyone I needed to see lived close enough; my aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents . . .

But things have changed for a few reasons: the increase of people making aliyah, people from Jewish communities leaving New York for other cities due to jobs, marriage, etc.

I never dreamed of leaving New York, as I always wanted to live near my parents. But it’s not easy for me to have 18 family members living in Israel, especially when there are so many I haven’t met.

When I was young, we spent all our chagim together. Of course, once my siblings got married, they took turns at the in-laws, but there were enough holidays to spend together, including Thanksgiving, Mother’s Day, and Father’s Day. Now that those relatives are adults and many live far away, whether in the U.S. or in Israel, holidays are no longer celebrated together by many, and unless those who moved away work hard on keeping the traditions going, families might lose those times together as well.

I’m planning a possible trip to Israel to visit my family. I haven’t been on vacation in several years, but when your family lives 6,000 miles away and you haven’t seen them, a trip like this ceases to be anything like a vacation. It’s a family reunion. The babies who’ve never met me before won’t remember me when I leave, but I’ll get to meet my nieces’ husbands.

I probably won’t have time to wander around Israel as I love to do, visiting my favorite parts of the country and doing some of my favorite things (like rappelling). There will be a lot of talking, eating, holding little people, trying to get these little people to say my name but accepting “Shell” for “Aunt Micheley.”

Trying to see my nieces’ apartments and spend quality time with each individual family, plus visiting my nephew who made aliyah, will be overwhelming. I’m a one-on-one person, and this will be 18 on one. The one being me!

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What about families in my community whose their children live in different communities, such as Chicago, Pennsylvania, Baltimore, Los Angeles, and so on? Who visits whom? On the one hand, it’s hard for the families with kids to travel to see their parents and siblings. On the other hand, it might be tiring for the parents to constantly visit their children in different cities so they don’t miss out. While all their friends are talking about their grandchildren and their milestones, these parents can only talk secondhand about what they’ve heard their grandchildren have done.

One way to ensure families never lose touch is to have an annual family reunion, set in stone. This would be a set time, perhaps when the children finish school at the end of June, and all the adults would make it their business to take some time off so the whole entire family can be together and remain close. I know other families who do this, and although it can be a lot of work, it certainly would be worth it if a family gets to spend that special time together.

There is a website I’ve found for long-distance grandparenting with technology.

It points out, “Technology is a blessing to long-distance grandparents. You can use computers, faxes, or regular (snail) mail to keep in meaningful touch with your grandchild. Lots of kids are computer-literate. Grandparents must become computer-literate, too. Happily, the cost to buy a computer is significantly less than in the past. The opportunities afforded by e-mail, and now videoconferencing (you can talk with your grandchild in real time, face-to-face) are upon us. E‑mail, computer games, and the ability to send notes back and forth (or recipes, jokes, love letters, gossip) can keep your contact loving, interested, vibrant, and relevant. You can even get your own homepage on the Web.”

The site also explains how telephone contact is important, too, as well as the usefulness of cameras and video recorders. But it notes that it is important to be there in person for major events like births, graduations, religious passages, recitals, holidays, and any other events your family values.

So even if nowadays more adults are living far away from family, we have technology that seems to help keep us closer.

And when you ask yourself, should I take myself and my family far away from my parents, siblings, and so many people who matter to me? I would suggest not making a rash decision. Family is special. Birthday parties, holidays, traditions, milestones . . . missing all this is missing what makes up a family’s life. Discuss your decision with pragmatic friends, do pro and con lists, think about what you’ll miss and what you’ll gain, and, if you decide to move, realistically figure out several ways to keep in close touch.

Don’t lose yourselves to distance. Be a close family that just has to go about it a different way. Share photos. Skype a lot. There may be many miles between families, but close the gap. And when the grandfather is on Skype laughing with his granddaughter, helping her blow out her candles on her cake, thank Hashem that He has given us ways to communicate.

We don’t have to walk through deserts like our ancestors; we have airplanes! We don’t have to use old-fashioned phones that cost too much to make daily calls. If we must have long-distance family relationships, let’s use these brains Hashem gave us and keep in touch the best ways we know how.

It’s tough, but not impossible. Remember, we can work on getting our families together. Again, keeping families close is hard work. But for all the families wanting to stay close, isn’t it worth it? I’d say so.

Is it worth an exhausting 12-hour-plus trip with screaming toddlers and no room to breathe and going through customs and having a scare that your luggage was lost in order to see some of your favorite people in the world? Not even a question. Visits in the U.S.? Easy-peasy by comparison.

Keep our families together!

Michele Herenstein is a freelance journalist and can be reached at michelesherenstein@hotmail.com.

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