Devorah Lifshutz is an American writer living in Jerusalem. In “Promises to Myself,” her contribution to my hot-off-the-press anthology Call Me Okaasan: Adventures in Multicultural Mothering, she writes about her attempt to bring up her first-born child in English. Here, she shares a slice of life in Israel:
“It’s the last week of spring break for yeshiva students, that is, and three of my sons have gone North, joining the annual exodus of young men to the resort spots in Northern Israel (the site of the second Lebanon war, if you remember that) and I’m filled with trepidation. They are good boys, rising at dawn and and going to bed close to midnight, spending their days and nights in the study hall, thrashing out the ancient battles of the Talmud.
“It’s tough and exciting–a Bais Medrash is noisy, full of life. It is a place where people talk and occasionally yell at each other–that is the stuff of Talmudic learning. The Talmud is , as expected, complex, even convoluted and occassionally poetic, even whimsical and as the Jews have known for centuries, it sharpens the brain. This is what I wanted for them, a classical education with the Talmud as the ultimate classic text.
“I can see that in my boys, in the way that they think, they speak, in their finely honed analytic skills, rare in our restless, high speed culture.
“I’m intensely proud of them, especially my oldest who has overcome his learning disability to take first prize in a Talmudical essay competition, but I’m nervous. Spring break, especially the week following the Passover holiday, which is now, is a time to cut lose and these are boys who don’t cut loose very much. This is their time to swim, ride bikes, have cook-outs and play. And as is the case with all young men, that can mean driving too fast, and taking other unnecessary and unwarranted risks,with potentially disastrous results. So I’m holding my breath and praying. Isn’t that our job as mothers–to give them roots and wings? I’ve spent years of my life making sure that they didn’t crawl down the stairs or ingest the Lego block or ride their bikes without wearing helmets.. .and now they are grown, the oldest one’s face covered with the stubble of his brand-new beard—grown during this period when Jewish law forbids shaving. I don’t know their exact plans, just something about kayaking near the base of the Jordan river, and sleeping in tents on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. I’m just waiting, waiting for them to come home and whispering a prayer that they return as they left, safe and sound. “