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The Trip of a Lifetime: Why My Son is Staying in Israel

The Trip of a Lifetime: Why My Son is Staying in Israel

Years ago, before I had children, I sat in a meeting with a colleague who casually mentioned that her young son was not feeling well but was in good hands with his nanny, whom she completely trusted. At the time, I marveled at how this woman could remain so calm, not rushing home to be with her sick child. I predicted that someday, when I was a parent, I would be incapable of putting on such a brave face. At the first sign of trouble, I thought, I would be there by my hypothetical child’s side, keeping him or her safe, healthy, and feeling loved.

I’ve learned a few things since then.

Right now, my husband Dave and I – along with many other parents who sent their children to Israel on “the trip of a lifetime” this summer – find ourselves in a situation that the entire world is observing.

Our son Noah has been in Israel for three weeks, with two more to go. Before he left, I was worried about him making his way without me, growing up so fast, and handling the minor mishaps of travel. I had no idea what was about to come. Now, I wish I had the luxury of fretting over clean underwear. Instead, I wait for daily updates on his itinerary, which change regularly to keep our children out of harm’s way.

As of this writing, most of us parents have decided to allow our children to stay in Israel, which is now under attack – but for me, the buzz of self-doubt has been constant since the rockets started firing, with the decibel level rising and falling daily based on the news.

One night, two rockets were launched at the town where our children were sleeping. They missed their targets, as have the hundreds of missiles fired at Israel in the last week. The next day, the group simply continued with their journey.

Suddenly, I am the parent with the brave face – times 10.

I have spoken with Noah several times. He is happy and enjoying the trip immensely saying all this talk of war is “completely exaggerated.” He and his group have yet to take part in a Code Red, and he feels safe. Though his demeanor is an elixir on my troubled heart, I know that what is happening in Israel is very real. I hope he understands the gravity of the situation and told him that if he does hear a siren to move fast.

I have spoken to other parents whose children are on the trip, a group with whom I am most impressed. You would think that joining a bunch of Jewish parents together on a Facebook page would deteriorate quickly into a cauldron of anxiety, judgment, and alarm. Quite the contrary, I’ve found these parents to be thoughtful, respectful, and patient, both with the tour group and with one another. The range of emotions runs the spectrum, with some parents choosing to bring their children home, others teetering on the fence, and others committed to finishing the trip; perhaps surprisingly, most are in the latter camp. The surreal nature of our predicament has doused us all in a tremendous amount of tolerance, so there has been widespread support for all opinions and actions.  For this, I am truly grateful.

I have spoken to trip organizers, who advise us to keep our kids in Israel. Every day, they speak to the Israeli government to review itineraries, bus routes, and venues, making changes when necessary. Their message is, “You can trust us to keep your children safe. If we cannot keep them safe, we will get them out fast.” This is both comforting and horrifying, but it has been the overriding fact in letting Noah remain.

I have spoken to my rabbi, whose guidance I value above all others. He knows Israel and the tour group. More importantly, he knows my son, and he knows me. He believes we should keep Noah there but recognizes the need to assess that decision daily. Though no one knows what will happen over there, my rabbi’s best guess – and what he would do if it were his child over there – is my current North Star.

I have talked with my husband, who has, for 20 years, pulled me back from the various ledges I have approached with the threat of going over. He continues to be the rock in this relationship, even when he is close to the ledge himself.

Most of all, I have talked to myself. A lot. Conversations go from the practical (“What are the odds this war will escalate further?”) to the logistical (“If I wanted to bring Noah home, is getting him to the airport more dangerous than staying with the group?”) to the prescriptive (“Just stay busy! What are the odds? He will be fine, and you’ll laugh about this someday”). I have become my own best friend, agreeing wholeheartedly with each side of my various arguments. It’s not particularly productive, but it is therapeutic.

All of these conversations have kept my son in Israel. Even though it is the scariest decision I have ever made, it feels like the better of the two options today.

There is one conversation I have not had yet – and that is the one with God. That sums up how frightened I actually am. It would be largest request I have ever made, and I can’t bear to ask for something as specific as our children’s safety, for fear it will go unheard amidst the explosions and suffering. So I am joining those praying for peace, and strength, and guidance – for my family and all those impacted by the violence now taking place.

And with that, this brave face crumples.

Emily Mendell, a member of Temple Sholom in Broomall, PA, lives in suburban Philadelphia with her husband and two teenage sons. A graduate of The Wharton School, Emily spends her weekdays working for the US venture capital industry and her nights and weekends writing and blogging at Mothers of Brothers, the website she co-founded in 2008. She is a frequent contributor to The Philadelphia Inquirer, as well as numerous parenting websites and anthologies.

Emily Mendell
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