Embarking on aliyah to Israel is one of the most impactful decisions a person can make, often involving uprooting their life in their home country in search of a stronger connection with their religion and culture in Israel.
It’s a big step for anyone to take. But also affected by this decision are those connected to the people who decide to make aliyah — namely, their parents, who now have an ocean separating them from their child.
That’s where the local support group, PARCHLI — Parents of Children Living in Israel, comes in.
The group was founded a little over a year ago, but its members met in person for the first time this month.
The group’s founder, Deborah S. Adler, was dealing with newfound loneliness after both of her children made aliyah. Her daughter moved to Israel in 2019, and her son made the move in 2022. Both attended Alexander Muss High School in Israel for a semester during 10th grade, giving them a connection to the country that led them to relocate there.
“Everyone is always saying ‘mazel tov’ when they find out I have children living in Israel. Theoretically, it’s a ‘mazel tov,’ but realistically, it’s hard to have your kids living so far away in a different time zone,” said Adler, a resident of Columbia and member of Temple Isaiah.
The stress she was experiencing, along with the challenge of traveling to Israel to meet her newborn grandson, are what led her to found PARCHLI. The idea initially came from her daughter, who suggested that Adler seek out other parents who could empathize with the experience of missing a child living in Israel.
With 20 members, the group brings together parents from the Baltimore and Washington, D.C. areas whose children have made aliyah and encourages them to bond over their shared experiences.
The group started in August of 2022 and would meet on Zoom every four to eight weeks as well as having dedicated email and WhatsApp groups.
On Sept. 10, six members of the PARCHLI group finally met in person at a member’s house. Adler said that meetings will likely be held in person rather than online from now on, as the experience was a very positive one for everyone involved.
“It was so, so wonderful for these people to come together and meet in person and support each other,” she said. “It’s become a very positive thing that even though our children are so far away, we have found each other.”
The group has no restrictions on membership and boasts a diverse member base, with parents from different denominations joining to discuss their experiences with others like them. Many of them have differing opinions on the state of current politics in Israel, but the group is strictly apolitical, and members put aside their differences to bond over the one thing they all have in common.
“We just want to be able to talk respectfully about things that impact our children, and the goal is to communicate and collaborate rather than forcing one person’s point of view on anyone else,” Adler said. “We’re all different, and we all have different opinions about Israeli issues.”
Sue Marx is one member of the PARCHLI support group, along with her husband. Their daughter made aliyah to Israel in 2015. The two plan to host PARCHLI’s next in-person meeting at their house, and Marx stated that the group has helped them feel less alone.
“We focus on our children’s experiences and what we can do to support our children and each other,” she said. “Having children and grandchildren so far away is, of course, challenging. … Before, it felt like we were the only ones with a child living in Israel. It’s nice to discuss how to support our children, and to be able to get to know other people in the same situation.”
In addition to focusing on their children and how to support them, the group is also dedicated to learning more about Israel and its culture. Over the past year, the members have entertained guest speakers who have taught them about Israel’s educational system and tips for traveling to the country. While some members frequently travel to Israel to see their children and relatives, others are unable to, so the group gives them an outlet to experience some of the same things as their children.
In the future, Adler suggested that the PARCHLI support group may make use of some of the Israeli learning opportunities that the Baltimore and D.C. Jewish communities offer and organize group trips to local events focused on Israeli art, culture or politics.
“A year ago, we were strangers,” she said. “Now, we’re friends. The group is developing, and the friendships are developing as well.”