This is our first entry in our series on parents. You can find the second entry here.
Look How Happy They Were
by GEORGIA HARDSTARK
For the first few years of my parents' marriage, from about 1970 until 1975, they lived in a small one-bedroom apartment off San Vicente Blvd. behind Pioneer Chicken, in the Miracle Mile district of Los Angeles. My mother had grown up in a duplex a stones' throw from their new apartment, and my parents had met while attending Fairfax High, a mere five minutes drive. In case you were wondering, that Pioneer Chicken on Olympic Blvd. has been a Pioneer Chicken forever...at least for as long as my mother can remember.
When they were both 29 years old, they decided to move to Israel. I'm sure it was more than just deciding to up and move to Israel - but from my perspective, and from the stories I've heard since I was a small child, that's how I always envisioned it.
As it turns out, my father wanted to make an Aliyah, which is basically a return to the 'promised land'...a sort of pilgrimage.
As for my mother, when I asked her why she went, she shrugged and said "I wanted an adventure...and I believed in your father's dream." Did I detect a hint of bitterness in her voice? It's hard to say. While we were flipping through the photo albums last night, trying to find a few good pictures for this story, she was nothing but thoughtful sighs and "look at how happy we were"s.
From their home in Los Angeles, where both their families lived, where they had jobs and friends and lives and history, they moved to the Negev desert and onto a moshav (a cooperative agricultural community) called Sde Nitzan. There, they had a house, as well as their own glasshouse for growing tomatoes, which were combined with those grown by the other community members and sold in the city.
After two years of living in Israel, and a year and a half of trying but failing to get pregnant with their first child, my parents took two steps to increase their chances of reproducing.
The first logical thing was to go to a doctor that came highly recommended by a neighbor on the moshav. The doctor was an Australian woman practicing in Beersheba, and she prescribed them a series of “exercises” aimed at increasing fertility.
As their child, I am forced to conclude that those exercises weren’t anything other than push-ups and some light weight lifting, and not any kind of “exercises” that constituted being naked with each other…shudder.
In the three months between being prescribed these exercises, and becoming pregnant with my brother, my parents made an Aliyah to Jerusalem for Passover.
During the long drive, my mother tells me, my parents spotted a lone stork while driving through the desert. Once in Jerusalem, my father put a prayer in the Wailing Wall (a traditional practice among Jews who visit) asking God for a child.
Enter my brother, Asher (which means “blessing” in Hebrew).
We sat together in her living room last night, looking through old photo albums and periodically peeling a photograph from the pages with the intention of scanning it into the computer later. I had my shoes off with my legs tucked underneath me, and I would occasionally scribble furiously in my notebook when she answered a question that popped into my head. She absentmindedly flipped through an old album whose pictures were yellowing and stuck to the pages with glue that was older than I am.
I asked her if she thought moving to Israel had made her and my father closer. Having been divorced from my father since I was five years old, after 15 years of marriage, I don’t know how I expected her to answer.
Was that question asked by my five year old self, who still hoped her parents would realize how silly they were being, and get back together?
Or was it asked by the somewhat jaded girl I’ve become, who had returned from her own failed pilgrimage (albeit to a much less intimidating location than Israel) only a year before, and now knew that moving somewhere isolated with the man you love is more apt to put strain on the relationship than it is to bring you closer.
She was quiet for a long time. At first I thought she was contemplating the question. She’s always been the type of person to think before she speaks, but enough time had elapsed that I thought maybe she hadn’t heard me, and I was about to ask again when she let out one of her familiar sighs.
Having inherited this trait from her, I knew that she had just conjured up, from the very depths of her psyche, all that she felt those 30 years ago, and was now audibly releasing it before answering my question.
"There were angry moments…and there were especially endearing moments." She was crying just a little.
Her parents came to visit after Asher was born. My mother was the baby of the family, the youngest daughter out of four, and important enough that, although terrified, my grandparents took their first transatlantic flight to meet their new grandchild…the first time either had been overseas since escaping Eastern Europe as children.
What my mother couldn’t know was that this would be the last time she would see her father…my grandfather, the man I’m named after.
A little over two years after moving to living in Israel, my parents decided to go home. According to my mom, they preferred the 'American way of life', and that’s what they wanted to provide to their new son. My mother also missed her family, and after my grandparents' visit, she saw the benefits of having them close by.
From there they drove through Italy, Switzerland, France, the Netherlands, and finally flew to New York out of Belgium.
They stayed with one of my mother’s older sisters (my aunt Heb) in New York. When I was little, my mom told me that late one night, while getting into bed in the guest room of my aunt’s house, my mother heard her father yell out her name. She demonstrated how he sounded, and it gave me chills. This was impossible, of course, as my grandfather was at home in Los Angeles, but she ran to the window anyway and looked onto the street for him. She shrugged it off as her imagination, and went to bed.
My grandpa George died that night in Los Angeles. They returned to Los Angeles for good after that.