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Oceans Apart

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Oceans Apart
A Guide to Maintaining Family Ties at a Distance
By Rochel U. Berman
KTAV Publishing House: 2010, 200 pages
ISBN: 978-1-60280-158-5

Reviewed by Israel Drazin - August 17, 2010

The ease of travel today and the need to work or study far from home, from parents, siblings, and other family members, have raised many psychological, economic, emotional, communication, and other problems, unknown or not so dire in prior times. Rochel U. Berman, who has shown remarkable sensitivities in her 2006 award winning volume Dignity Beyond Death, addresses these and related issues with similar well-considered feelings and insights. Berman knows the issues of separation from family. She lives with her husband in Florida, has a son and his family in New York and another son and his family in Israel.

Berman discusses subjects such as why people move from home, how and when to keep in touch, how to get through stressful times such as illness and death, the importance of family traditions, and the creative uses of technology. She includes "lessons from life" with each chapter that capsulate solutions for the issues discussed in each chapter, examples that help her readers realize that they do not struggle alone, and remind them that there are solutions, such as insisting that both sides be honest with the another to minimize worry, and learning to be positive. She has a detailed section on resources, such as how to make trips as comfortable as possible and, most important, how to organize. In addition, as if this were not enough, her end-notes to each chapter offer other sources to which readers can turn for additional information.

The book is filled with delightful anecdotes from some seventy people from twenty-five countries, men and women, old and young, of different faiths and backgrounds, offering interesting details and quotes, turning the book close to an engrossing novel.

Berman addresses a host of important relational and practical problems. For example, how can parents and children retain their best behavior during visits? How do they control tensions? How do husband and wife with different interests and agendas handle visits with their children they haven't seen for many months? How and when should parents, children, and siblings visit? What is the best thing to do during visits? Should they spend time together away from the house? How do concerned individuals distanced for months or years rejuvenate their relationships? Should they allow it to change? How? When? Do distances of children affect the feelings that existed between their parents? What is the affect of separations upon siblings? How should illnesses be handled? What are the unique problems faced by grandparents? What should grandparents do when they are too old to travel? What should husband and wife do when they need to separate for some time due to work?

Berman herself is an example. As stated previously, she and her husband have a son who lives with his family in Israel. How do they bond with their grandchildren? The grandsons visit them from time to time without their parents. Among many other things, the grandparents work with their grandchildren to create a book of each visit, which they bind and date, like a regular book. They put pictures in it of what they do together and what the grandchildren do alone as well as the comments that each makes regarding what they did.

Rajan is another example. He came to the US from India. His mother in India could not afford many phone calls; she could only phone once a month. Letters to India took three weeks to arrive. His mother worried constantly. Rajan's father died. His mother was alone in India, but Rajan wanted to remain in the US because of his future opportunities. He loves her mother and does not want to hurt her. He had loved his father and wants to continue showing him respect. What should he and his mother do?

These are some of the many difficulties that Berman addresses. She captures our interest by the way she presents the problems and provokes our curiosity, and she offers solutions intelligently.

Dr. Israel Drazin is the author of seventeen books, including a series of five volumes on the Aramaic translation of the Hebrew Bible, which he co-authors with Dr. Stanley M. Wagner, and a series of four books on the twelfth century philosopher Moses Maimonides. The Orthodox Union (OU) and Yeshiva University publish weekly chapters of Drazin and Wagner's book Let's Study Onkelos on and on His website is

The views expressed in this review/article are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Jewish Eye.
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