18 years ago, I was a seminary student at Michlalah’s Machal program for overseas students. 18. Years. Ago.
That year was, as with many seminary and yeshiva students, an absolutely pivotal year for me. It was my first time living on my own, away from my parents, and I absolutely loved that freedom. It was my first extended stay in Israel, and I fell in love with this Country. It was a year of many firsts for me, and I did not want to leave. So much so, that I threatened my parents that I would join the IDF if they didn’t let me stay. Not really the path most Michlalah girls go down but, I was desperate to hold onto that experience. I was desperate to stay in Israel, and I was willing to enlist to do so.
I didn’t end up staying Shanah Bet (nor did I join the IDF), and as the years went by, I became more and more distant from my seminary year, and from my classmates. The invention of Facebook bridged that gap and, suddenly, I was reunited with Michlalah girls from my year! Its been amazing reconnecting with so many of my seminary friends, and suddenly a new connection back to my seminary days was reestablished. Truth be told, I am still close with the Rabbi from Michlalah that I developed a kesher (connection) with during my year. But, aside from a few close friends from childhood, I let a lot of those relationships fizzle. Most of my friends got married in their young to mid 20′s, and as a single gal on the UWS, I didn’t really relate to their life. So, it was easy to just let go.
Fast forward to our Michlalah reunion, which was really 20 women from around Israel – and abroad – coming together at a classmate’s home in Ramat Beit Shemesh. We kept it intimate: husbands weren’t invited, not were Michlalah staff or Shana Bet girls. It was just classmates from our year gathering together to catch up. Unfortunately, some people were overlooked but – for the most part – many of those invited were able to attend.
In a word, it was overwhelming. We milled around and flitted from person to person, trying in a couple of minutes time to catch up on 18 years a part. Some women brought actual photos, others traded cell phones to scroll through pictures. The mood was so festive, and people who weren’t necessarily part of the same chevra in Michlalah, interacted with genuine happiness to see each other again.
I was caught up in a conversation with a former friend, someone I haven’t seen or spoken to since the day we left school 18 years ago, and she asked me the usual questions: residence, husband, children, etc. (Interestingly enough, very few people asked me what I actually do for a living.)
When I told her that I got married 5 1/2 years ago and that my girls are both toddlers, she seemed surprised. I told her that I spent my 20′s living and working in Manhattan, and I really enjoyed it. And, I also told her that I was not ready to get married until I was 27.
That seemed shocking to her. And, she asked a question that I hadn’t really had to discuss with someone in a very long time.
She asked me if I ever thought I wouldn’t get married.
Now, that’s a really, really personal question and not really something I expected to discuss during my Michlalah reunion. It opened up a floodgate of memories, of bad dates, broken hearts, abusive and difficult relationships, etc. It brought me back to those years when I honestly wondered if Hashem made a match for me, or if my destiny was to be single forever. If I was ever going to be a Mother, and have children of my own. Of the years I sat alone in my apartment on Friday night, with the glow of my two little candles to keep me company and no one to make Kiddush. There was no one there to hold my hand and comfort me when I had an emergency MRI, there was no one there to celebrate with me when – at 26 years old – I became a Vice President of Corporate Communications and was making more money than I ever thought possible. There was no one there to comfort me when my beloved Grandfathers passed away, and the chair next to me at my parent’s dining room table was empty for far too many Pesach seders, birthday parties, Rosh Hashanah dinners, and Fourth of July BBQ’s.
And so, as I always seem to do when I am asked a question I’m not really comfortable with, I honestly answered. I told her that, of course I thought I would never get married, but that I had a plan.
“A plan?” she asked.
“Yes,” I said. “If I was 35 and still single, I was going to have a baby on my own.”
Can we say stunned silence?????
I continued and told her that, in Israel, there are many single mother’s by choice and that it is amazing.
She nodded her head, as if she understood. But, I didn’t really think she truly got it.
And then, I excused myself from the conversation and sought out another friend. I took a moment to survey the room and realized that, many of the women are planning bar and bat mitzvah’s for their children. Some of them got married one to two years after seminary, and have never lived on their own. Many of them went from their parents home to their married homes. Some of these women got engaged on their third and fourth dates, while at least one got engaged to the first guy she ever dated. Some don’t know what it’s like to attend a client meeting, go on a business trip, or even read an email.
And that is really wonderful.
But, I didn’t have that experience. I was single until I was 30 years old, and I had more than one serious relationship. I moved out of my parents house when I was twenty and had (and still have) serious career ambitions. I was not ready, when I was in my early twenties, for marriage. I was not ready, when I was 25, to take care of children. I didn’t know who I was in my 20′s, and it took me an entire decade to really find myself, before I was ready for a serious relationship, marriage, and children.
And, that is okay.
It is okay that, during the past 18 years, my journey was different than many of these women. I am proud of the path I’ve forged for myself. I think my single 20′s has made me a better wife and a better Mother. I think, had I gotten married at 24, I would not still be married today.
And I’m counting my blessings that I finally found my one and only, and that we have been given these amazing, wonderful children to care for.
Our journeys, though vastly different, makes us who we are as individuals.
And I cannot wait to see where this path will take me during the next (P”G) 18 years.