One of my favorite cartoons as a kid growing up in Montreal, Canada in the 60’s was, Hercules. The highlight was the song that was sung at the beginning of each cartoon and there were two cartoons in the half hour show, so I got to hear (and sing) it twice!
I made Aliyah with my mother in August, 2009, 3 months before her 90th birthday. B”H she will be 97 this November, ad 120! As we were in the process of making the move; appointments with Nefesh B’Nefesh, with the Israeli Consulate, Canadian passport office, with doctors’ appointments, packing, selling items not taking with us, good bye parties (in Toronto and back in Montreal), and more and more, I would look at my mother and the Hercules song came back into my mind for the first time in decades
“Fighting for the right,
Fighting with his might,
With the strength of ten, ordinary men.”
She was Hercules! Her “fight and might” continued with the flight to Israel, getting all our documents, attending Ulpan three evenings a week in her first year, and so on and so on. She made Aliyah with her two adult children, her daughter-in-law and her five grandchildren. She supported and encouraged her family, attended all events related to holidays, state celebrations and the grandchildren’s school, sports and arts programs; with the strength of ten, ordinary men.
I looked around me and started to connect with other women; friends who came after us, new friends, women in my Ulpan classes, and realized that this Herculean persona could be seen in them as well.
The women; mothers/grandmothers (married or single), daughters to elderly parents, wives, sisters, aunts, professionals, friends and neighbours, they were the ones “holding” every aspect and challenge of the Aliyah experience together. They were finding ways to cope and ways to practically solve the myriad of problems arising on a day to day basis. It takes a lot of strength to “hold” that much together; strength, patience, creativity, compassion and more. All at the same time as trying not to beat ourselves up for being human and not perfect.
Aliyah is handled generically; language, culture, housing, finances, employment, school, and so on. What is not being focused on is the unique needs of the who is involved in the Aliyah experience; the woman or girl, man or boy. With each role and gender come expectations and outcomes based specifically on that role and gender; the who.
We need to look at the experience from the inside out; what does it mean for me, as a woman, wife, mother, grandmother, daughter, sister, professional woman, to be making Aliyah? We can reflect on these questions individually. What also needs to happen is for us to have a dialogue in regard to these questions. A place to share, listen and be heard.
Empowerment, our strength, starts from the inside out but is sustained from the outside through the support of a community of women. While you are “holding” the needs of your family and friends, remember to establish supports for yourself.
Although the words of ‘Eishes Chayil’ may appear dated, the meaning is current and relevant and the recognition of her strength is there: “She girds her loins with might and strengthens her arms.”
We are fortunate to have many inspirational role models of women throughout our history and in our present time. But it is the Aliyah women who are our unsung heroines. Maybe we shouldn’t take this quiet strength for granted and find a way to share our experiences, our successes and our failures (for we learn much from those as well), and discover the way to support each other.