We drove my son four hours to the airport this past August, even though for months I’d tried to find another way. Maybe he could fly or take a train? Maybe one parent in the car would be enough? But in the end, I consented to eight-plus hours in the car in a single day, simply because he asked me to. At 18, he had stopped asking me for much.
I thought I was prepared. We spent all last year planning for him to leave for a year in Israel. Last fall, we went together to see yeshivahs. I followed him down winding streets with half-broken sidewalks to find the stop with the bus he said was coming soonest and told myself he was ready.
I also told myself that I understood there might be some risk involved. At the airport, before I left him with his duffel bags, I gave him a keychain with a traveler’s prayer that had belonged to my mother. I guess I had the thought he might need something to hold on to.
But, of course, it was impossible to expect that barely six weeks after he arrived, Hamas invaded the southern border with Israel, killing more than 1,400 people and wounding thousands. Those numbers are unthinkable. Now, as the reality begins to sink in, I’m left with a piece of my heart thousands of miles away and a lot closer to war than I’d ever imagined.
My mother didn’t like it when I went to Israel. When I left for my first 10-day trip at 17, my parents consulted other trusted adults before deciding to let me go. They forbade me to ride the bus and—before the time of cell phones—begged me to call whenever I saw a phone. And yet, after that first magical trip, I went back again and again—if not ignoring, certainly discounting their fears.
Now I am the mother who sends WhatsApp messages and waits for the checkmarks to turn blue as an indication that my son is typing a response. I am the mother who fears when there is a siren, who keeps her eyes peeled on the news, even though I know I would likely hear anything relevant from him first. Other times, I restrain myself from yet another text so he can stop talking to me and go back to his life.
This past summer before he left home, an ocean of love for him seemed to rise up inside of me. I wanted to hug him every time I saw him. I wanted to ask, “Did I do enough?” and at the same time to promise him, “You are enough.” But I didn’t give him all the love I had because I knew he couldn’t really receive it. It would only have smothered him or pushed him away.
I remember holding him when he was just a few weeks old, pleasantly wide awake in the middle of the night. Helping him with homework in elementary school. At his bar mitzvah, I hung on every word of the speech we crafted together. We practiced turns in the nearby parking lots as he began learning to drive.
Now, I ask him: “Do you want to come home?” No, he says. At least for now, he wants to stay. Even though it would be infinitely easier for me if he were here, I get it. I feel pride as I watch him figure out ways to make the best of the situation—pride and terror at the exact same time.
The mystics teach that in the process of creating the world, God withdrew some of His Essence to make an empty space for us. Were it not for that contraction, there would be no room for us to exist. I have understood this viscerally over the last several months, as I hold back my love for this young man so he can find his own way.
When God withdrew and created a space for us in the universe, He didn’t leave us all alone. Jewish tradition teaches that He emanated a single beam of light back in: the soul content animating everything in our world. It is the source of the light connecting all of us with each other and with the Divine.
That single beam of light is what I picture now in my relationship with my son. Even in these heartbreaking times, it stretches across thousands of miles, sometimes very thin, but infinitely strong.
It is love.