Shapira is near the central bus station, about a mile from the boardwalk, and teeming with recent immigrants from Africa. It also happens to be the neighborhood where my 17-year-old daughter, Lily, is living for the year.
Through July and much of August, however, Lily was living at Camp Ramah in Nyack, N.Y., working as a counselor to a bunch of six-year-old girls. And Shapira seemed like a messy, low-income neighborhood with a higher crime rate than surrounding areas; and where calls to the fire department to deal with illegally wired apartments housing more people than they were made for, was not uncommon. Shapira seemed dodgy, a little unsavory and well, maybe not the place I was supposed to send a suburban girl, my younger child, to live for a year. It also seemed far away, both in time and place. But Lily had found a gap-year program that spoke to her — it is heavy on social action, working with new immigrants to Israel fleeing strife in their native lands; involves Ulpan Hebrew; sharing an apartment with Israelis and studying at the Secular Yeshiva.
I should understand, shouldn’t I? After all, I had fled the comfort and safety of suburban Dallas, a place I thought had to be the most boring on the planet. (I have learned since that it is not.) Relatives could not understand why I was moving to New York City, fresh off a garbage and transit strike, to live in a neighborhood they considered to be Harlem and attend a school they associated with a student takeover in 1968, something that seemed like ancient history to me.
So I was worrying about Shapira and my kid living there. One friend in Israel alarmingly told us it was a horrible neighborhood. Another gave a less strident assessment. I felt better.
And then Naftali Fraenkel, Eyal Yifrach and Gilad Sha’ar were kidnapped and murdered in the West Bank; and the missiles started raining down from Gaza. Now I was worrying about rockets.
At first Tel Aviv seemed like a remote target. Then the missiles went farther. I downloaded the Tzeva Adom (Red Alert) app and it buzzed all the time. It sounded through meetings at work; through telephone conversations; while I was commuting on the bus; overnight, as my phone charged; while I was editing pieces from my work’s Israel office, about the situation there. Buzz, buzz, buzz.
Missiles were falling, and I was sending my kid to them. Maybe I was insane, but neither I, nor my husband, ever thought once that she should not go. Perhaps that was a slightly delusional way of thinking, one we had been lulled into by the super-charged success of the Iron Dome defense system. No one has really pondered in print what the 50-day war between Israel and Hamas would look like had there been no Iron Dome. Maybe the world would have been happier if more Israelis had died, but that is a question for another column.
Then I worried about the tunnels. As soon as the Israeli military discovered their extent, it did not take long for my imagination to picture the horrors of what the world seemed unable to conceive – a third intifada, where terrorists had burrowed their way into Israel to suicide bomb buses and pizza parlors once again. And my child would be there, a target.
And then there was a cease-fire. The missiles stopped and I went back to worrying about Shapira. I started thinking about just what countries the people Lily would be working with might hale from. I started worrying about Ebola.
Ebola is the sort of thing you worry about – provided you are not actually living in a stricken country – when the things that might actually threaten you and your loved ones stop feeling like such threats. Ebola is the stuff of nightmares, but it’s not one that most of us will ever confront.
Ebola is not the thing I’m really worrying about, however. And while I’m concerned about Israel and its security, and my child’s safety within the country while she’s living there, what I am really anxious about is that once she leaves, she is gone.
I am worried that when she boarded that El Al plane last Wednesday with her friend Shira —whom she has known since she was a toddler, so almost all of her life — that she took with her that stage of my life that was preoccupied with the daily goings-on and whereabouts of my children.
I am not a particularly gushy parent, and probably the antithesis to a helicopter mommy. Yet I haven’t wanted to think about what it would mean to wake up with no children around. I have avoided, with the help of missiles and bad neighborhoods, tunnels and Ebola, thinking about what having this stage of my life end and the next one, the child-free, empty-nest one, begin.
But Shabbat dinner last week was the last one we would have as a family of four for a long while. There is just no getting around that. Nathan, my son and older child, has since returned to college and it’s just me, my husband Avrom, and the days ahead.
Oh, sure, they come back. I hear some of them come back and due to economics, out-stay their welcome. But we’re not at that point yet. I’m just trying to get my head around the fact that there is no one around to clue me in about the artist singing that annoying song in the gym; or that there are no more musical cars in the driveway each evening so that everyone can have access to the appropriate vehicle at the right time. And that when I post my menus for Friday night dinner on Facebook, two of the most important people for whom I am cooking won’t be there.
My kids have been gone before. We have spent long, delightfully kid-free summers when they were away at camp as either campers or counselors. But you know that with camp, at the end of summer they are going to return. Now it feels like I’m a magician who has released doves from a cage, and I’m watching them become smaller and smaller specks as they speed away from me into the high, blue sky.
Doves are a type of pigeon. Nathan, who was very into birds growing up, reminded us repeatedly that a New York City pigeon is, in fact, called a rock dove — go ahead, Google it. And pigeons come home. Right?
And true, next year Lily will be back, attending college in the city. At least that’s the plan. So for the moment, I’ll stop thinking about how quiet the house is. That when I set up the coffee each night for the next day, to make one cup fewer, because Lily won’t be here. That I might have to consider scaling back my Shabbat dinner output considerably. That her comings and goings don’t figure into the equation any longer.
Maybe I’ll go back to worrying about Shapira.