Jeevan breaks the traditional (and Jewish) child upbringing of the fifties and sixties: instead of being a mother she becomes a friend
Growing up in a traditional Jewish American family 83 years ago, I was very much aware of the generation gap. However, I was unable to bridge it with my parents as Osho describes he was able to do so ingeniously in Books I Have Loved (Ch. 7), remembering his love affair with one of his favorite books, Ivan Turgenev’s Fathers and Sons:
“Turgenev’s book Fathers and Sons should be read by everyone, because everyone is entangled in some kind of relationship – father and son, husband and wife, brother and sister, ad nauseam…yes, it creates nausea. The whole business of ‘family’ in my dictionary should mean nausea….. And yet everybody is pretending, ‘How beautiful.’ Everybody is pretending to be English, British.”
There were things I did as a child that I would never have told my parents, thinking, “They would ‘kill’ me.” And yet the gap continued with my own four children, in which I played a traditional role as a Jewish mother. That gap was slightly bridged when we all, my husband Paul as well, became part of a Children’s Theater in our town in which the adults played roles like the wicked queen, or the father of Hans Brinker, and the kids acted the kids’ roles. This activity as well as after-the-play parties brought us all together in many non-family situations. However, it was not until I had to seek the services of a psychologist, Barney Katz, when one of my sons and I were having difficulties with each other, that things began to shift. He changed the course of my life.
Dr. Katz was reputed to be the kind of guy that if the kid wanted a horse, you bought him a horse. Fortunately, my son’s desires didn’t go in that direction, but one of the things he wanted was to get out of Sunday School of the Jewish temple. Barney, who himself was Jewish, asked us why we were forcing a religion on our children. “Why don’t you wait and let them make their own decisions?” I actually welcomed that idea and we opted out of the temple, to the surprise of our circle of Jewish friends. The rabbi didn’t take it too well: he threatened doom upon us and predicted our family would come begging to be allowed back, but we would not be welcomed. I remember the day well when we announced to the children we were going on a picnic in the country, and those who wanted to go to Sunday School could go – well, you know what the answer was to that one!
Barney also asked me: “If you knew your son would have a heart attack and would die if you continued to scream at him, what would you do?” With that Zen stick and great difficulty, I started to break my family tradition of screaming at children and hitting them. I remember telling my trembling two youngest children, aged maybe five and six years old, that I was angry but I wasn’t going to hit them. My little girl looked up at me and frightendly asked, “If you don’t hit us, what will you do?” I don’t remember what happened then, but I know I never again laid a hand on any of them except with love.
Another change happening then was a lessening of many of the rules and disciplines. Instead we started treating each of the children separately and not bunching them as “The Littlies” as distinct from “Us” – the children and the parents. I began seeing them as individuals, each in a different way. I began to have a special time-out with each one.
But the real revolution began in their teens, which coincided with the California free speech hippie movement in the late 60’s. I remember well my first “love-in” in a park in Los Angeles that we went to as a family and the impact on me. The tables turned, and my children began to influence me, bringing me up-to-date with what was happening in their world. And I heard their message, and followed their course…and it wasn’t easy!
Bob, my oldest son, upon graduation from high school, rejected a four-year, fully-paid National Merit Scholarship in favor of becoming a hippie – long hair and guitar in hand. He moved into a commune in Los Angeles called Ellis Island, which was to become my home a few years later!
Bill, next-in-line, fought the rules of Warren High School as he had fought me as a small child, publishing his own paper called Oink, and distributing it freely on the street corner near the school. He quoted some of the most outspoken leaders of the freedom movement at that time, and was summarily expelled from the school and his post as the president of the student body. He found two lawyers in the American Civil Liberties Union to take the school to Federal Court for abrogating his civil rights. During the two-day trial most of his classmates cheered him on. Even I was put on the witness stand and was asked if I had signed a note excusing his absence from school, where he had written that he’d been kidnapped by a band of fairies and was unable to break loose from their power. I testified, “Yes, I signed that note!”
Laurie, my thirteen-year-old daughter, had read Summerhill, a book describing a school in England where children had a great deal of freedom. At that time, I became aware of the Los Angeles Free School which had the same essential flavor, and decided to send her and her twelve-year-old brother Dave there. I was beginning to see the fascist tendencies of the American schools at that time, thanks to the experiences of their two older brothers. Along with the other changes I was going through, this school and the teacher, Ed Moritz, fit into my new style.
I again found the need for a therapist for Bob, when he was facing a jail term for selling ‘bogus’ LSD. When Paul and I went to see Dr. Bill Adams he told me that there was nothing I could do for Bob, who was signed up to be in one of the therapist’s twenty-four-hour marathon groups. Bill Adams did however invite us to be in another such group and we agreed. Not knowing anything about a therapy group, I even brought my knitting! What an awakening to see myself mirrored by so many people – the roles I played, the lies I lived, the grief I held in my heart – all came out for me to discover and to face.
Subsequently, each of the children went into a therapy group with this therapist and we began to relate to each other in new ways. That was the beginning of going through another new gap. It was as painful a process as a birth process. Now I can say how grateful I am to my children for never withholding their truth from me.
It was Laurie who said to me one day, “Hey Mom, how long are you going to rely on how you’ve been fucked up before you change?” And Bob, who, in trying to get my attention across a room by calling, “Mom! – Mom! – Mom!” suddenly changed to calling me by my name… to which I responded immediately, gratefully. And to Dave, when he told me how much he hated his job, I found myself saying, “Well honey, we all have to do things that…” – I suddenly stopped to say that’s his mother talking. However, his friend – me – would suggest that he quit the job and find something he really loved… which he did.
At this point, it finally became apparent that neither Paul, nor I wanted to continue to be part of a nuclear family. With this realization, he and I moved into the Ellis Island Commune where we joined Dave and Bill and ten other young people – learning to live out our individualities, dropping the roles laid on us by society. I had begun training with a Radical Therapy Collective of women to become a Radical Therapist and wanted to get out of the hierarchy of the family. I was influenced by David Cooper’s Death of the Family, but had no role model how to do it. I wanted to regain my own ‘personness’, my individuality – I was a pioneer, learning radical ways. The word ‘authentic’ figured largely in my life because I had been so full of lies in my relationships.
The Ellis Island Commune is named for the island in the New York harbor which processed millions of immigrants during the heyday of American immigration, near where the Statue of Liberty welcomes them from foreign lands. Ellis Island, the commune, welcomed us as immigrants into a life where we relearned what it means to be a person.
I announced my desire to liberate myself to my children by telling them that their mother was dead and I was no longer their mother – I wanted to be their friend. The repercussions of that break-through and those words still continue to this day: With two of my offspring I communicate, but like in the Beatles’ song, there is “No Reply.” Dave figures as a beloved friend who supports me in being who I am. Bob left his body twenty years ago in a road accident, but we had become clear and loving with each other previous to his untimely death.
In retrospect, it all feels perfect and I have no regrets: it was my destiny. I had read The Dhammapada at Cornell University when I was 17 and was impressed by the Buddha then. I imbibed his spirit and wanted to ultimately know myself as he taught. I interpreted his words to mean that I was to form a family, as a homemaker, and then after that to become a seeker. And isn’t that just the way it all turned out to be?
From Ellis Island, I graduated to a VW van, living on the road, learning – learning what I had not learned in the first 45 years of my life. All this was a preparation to the time when Osho found me in Berkeley, California at the Living Love Center in 1973. There I did my first Dynamic Meditation, saw the first picture of Osho, and first read his words in a Rajneesh Newsletter Tantra Edition. And I was hooked: in 1975, I became a sannyasin.
Now, I am all who I had always wanted to be, and I still am growing, with Osho guiding my way.
Jeevan’s story of her life and her way to Osho will soon be published in Osho News under the title of Life, Love, Laughter
Text by Prem Jeevan for Osho News