Home again // Fitting in after being away

By Chana Harris

As soon as we put away our Pesach keilim, the boys start collecting. After Yom Hazikaron, no piece of wood is safe: tables, chairs, pallets, trees ripped out of the ground. The boys are collecting wood for their Lag BaOmer bonfires. It is a coming-of-age tradition in Israel. This past year, all traditions were up for negotiation.

My son called me from school this week. When I saw the number appear on my phone, I thought the worst. That teacher again? Forgot his homework? Detention? Then I heard his voice tentatively on the other line: “Ma? Some boys are collecting wood after school. Can I go with them?”

When COVID-19 started to rear its ugly head, we were living in America temporarily for my husband’s work. We had been settled for over a year when they closed the schools. There were rumors that stores might run out of food. On Shabbos, my husband looked at me and said, “I think we need to go home.”

So that Sunday we packed some suitcases and left our house behind. (By an absolute miracle, we found angels to pack up or sell our belongings, and we even sold our house remotely.) When we told our kids we were going home to Israel, they didn’t skip a beat. “Okay, Mommy,” my daughter said. “How many stuffed animals do you think I can fit in my suitcase?”

The trip was apocalyptic, as stay-at-home orders were put into effect in the middle of our travels. Our home in Israel was occupied by tenants, so we didn’t have a lot of options. We ended up living on the Conservative kibbutz where my husband grew up, in my mother-in-law’s house, for six months.

What exactly is there to do on a kibbutz in the middle of nowhere for a family of religious kids? We played with animals, hiked, and built bonfires—our family and a bag of marshmallows crowded together in the cold desert night.

My four kids ran wild without shoes or school. I got the opportunity to watch them all day, every day. I saw how resilient they were, and how they learned to cope with new situations. But my son started to worry me.

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