Family & Education

My boy’s gone home, a long way from me

How does it feel when your child makes aliyah?


It’s a dull, overcast day as we pull up outside Heathrow. Quite appropriate really, since the weather seems to reflect the subdued atmosphere of the departure hall: travellers, muted by face coverings, navigate their way around an airport now stripped of its reality TV bustle.

Not that this impacts on our youngest son, Aaron. With practical determination he scans the departure board for the Tel Aviv check-in desk. “Just follow the Jews,” I offer with a weak stab at humour, as we tailgate a cluster of charedim ahead. (It’s a pointless strategy — I think they’re on BA to Geneva.)

Soon we find our place and a young woman from El Al ground staff begins the routine security protocol. I bite my lip furiously when we reach the question about the purpose of my son’s visit to Israel. It’s not a visit. He’s going home — as he’s told me many times . He’s making aliyah at the age of 22 .

At this time of year when parents of all faiths and sizes grapple with prospective empty nests, such partings are hardly unusual. The graduate scheme in Plymouth. The six month volunteer programme somewhere unpronounceable (the antidote to three years studying Keats). And of course the fabled gap year — succour for the pandemic-led devastation of the past two years at school.

Saying goodbye is not something I’m unused to either, since Aaron’s two older brothers have enjoyed various send offs and now live and work in London, 200 miles from our Manchester home. But this is a first. My son is moving to a different country. And thanks to his inspirational positivity, unshakable determination and absolute faith in the Almighty, he has no intention of returning to the UK, other than to visit.

But how do I — or any parent — prepare themselves for such a landmark move?

The most important thing to focus on is that it’s what your ‘baby’ wants. Days before departure, Aaron told me he was “crazily excited”. Already he has started a blog — In the Land of Shpilk and Honey — documenting the euphoria and craziness of his move. All of which is forensically assessed with his usual cheery, no-nonsense northern humour (boy, I’ll miss that).

Aliyah has been Aaron’s dream since the age of 16 — thanks perhaps to his passage through Bnei Akiva, his education at Yavneh Boys’ in Manchester and a deeper — what? — spirituality. A connection to the land. Now he can wear his kippa without flinching, and talk about Israel without fear of judgement . When we went shopping for trainers at the height of the recent troubles and Aaron mentioned he needed running shoes for a hot country, we both stumbled when the shop assistant asked where he was going. My son pretended not to hear when I said Spain (no, me neither). Finally he can embrace his Judaism in our ancient homeland.

But what of the parents left behind? In some ways the pandemic eases the passage yet deepens thepain. Aaron was halfway through his second year at university in London when the first lockdown struck, and decamped home. With this unexpected return, I got used to our long chats, the joy of feeding another mouth. The way he would come and visit me in my study mid morning — a proffered cup of tea in hand — for a schmooze as a break from our respective work (his university finals, my 1,000 word newspaper rant on one subject or another) .

Now, thousands of miles lie between parent and child. We speak, of course, on WhatsApp, or Facetime.More so perhaps than we did before since the gulf of space and the inability to just hop on a train makes for a more determined connectivity. Meanwhile, I’ve been advised by others in this situation to make sure “to always have the next flight booked”(I have).

Yet as any parent can testify when a child flees the nest, much time is spent thinking “When did this happen?”. Only a minute ago he arrived after an especially long labour, the third of our four children. The intervening years have flown like a thunderbolt.

It’s wrong to say I feel sad. You just miss ’em. That said, I’m deeply proud of the decision Aaron has made.

As parents we love the bones of our children. When they make such a move we can only love them all the more.


Share via

Want more from the JC?

To continue reading, we just need a few details...

Want more from
the JC?

To continue reading, we just
need a few details...

Get the best news and views from across the Jewish world Get subscriber-only offers from our partners Subscribe to get access to our e-paper and archive