Before the Bottom Fell Out
Today, Ronit Plank is an accomplished writer, storyteller, and mother of three. But as a toddler, she spent her days in the children’s house of a kibbutz. Kibbutzim are socialist work farms in Israel, collective communities where Israelis live and work off the land. Like many kibbutzim at the time, Ronit’s believed that children should be raised communally. She lived in a dedicated children’s house once she was six weeks old. While her parents worked, a few female caregivers raised Ronit, her sister, and the other children. The children typically saw their parents for two or three hours every afternoon on the communal lawn.
It’s hard for Ronit to distinguish between her actual memories of the kibbutz and what she absorbed from photos. For the most part, she remembers feeling safe and supported. But when she turned four, her family moved to Seattle so her father could finish his graduate degree. Uprooted from their community and unused to a typical American lifestyle, her parents’ marriage fell apart.
When She Comes Back
Ronit’s memoir, When She Comes Back, details life after her mother abruptly left their family to follow Bhagwan Shri Rajneesh (Also known as “The Sex Guru”). But in truth, Ronit’s dad left them first. He moved to New Jersey to start a family with another woman. Stranded and unequipped to deal with single motherhood—She didn’t even know how to write a check—Ronit’s mother found solace in the Rajneesh movement.
One summer, she dropped Ronit and her sister off in New Jersey with her father. The plan, as she described it, was a solo vacation to Rajneesh’s home base in India. Devastatingly, she simply didn’t come back. Ronit’s dad made a considerable effort to make his daughters feel wanted in the aftermath of their mother’s departure. He eventually left his girlfriend and moved with his daughters to Flushing, Queens. At first, Ronit saw this time as an adventure: Her, her sister, and her dad against the world. But she really, really missed her mom. She never stopped waiting for her to come back.
Eldest Daughter Complex
In hindsight, Ronit shouldered more for her father than a daughter necessarily should. He treated her like a partner rather than a daughter. As an adult, she went to therapy and was prescribed Lexapro. This is mainly to help Ronit manage the anxiety-induced obsessive behaviors that presented themselves around this time—For example, she would brush her teeth for far longer than necessary. Therapy also helped Ronit realize that her mom’s journey didn’t have anything to do with her. At the time, Ronit would wonder if her mom would’ve stayed if she were a better kid.
Mourning Her Childhood
When Ronit got married and became a mother, she saw her childhood in a new light. As a mother, she couldn’t believe that her child self took the blame for her mother’s leaving. She watched her children grow up happy and grieved for the child she used to be.
After Ronit gave birth to her second child, she began to write fiction. Her work grappled with themes of alienation, loneliness, losing power, and not knowing where you belong. Though fiction-writing helped her reconcile with her past, she found herself gravitating towards the memoir genre. At first, she wrote off memoir-writing as navel-gazing and self-congratulatory. But the call was too strong and the process too rewarding for her to not write her memoir.
If you can believe it, Ronit has her parents over every Friday for Shabbat dinner. You can read about how she and her mother reconciled here. She also hosts a podcast called And Then Everything Changed. It’s an interview show that features each guest’s personal history and the pivotal moments that defined their lives. Our host, Heather, was a guest! You can hear her episode “Coming out and into power” here.
Connect with Ronit
Ronit Plank is a writer, podcaster, teacher, and storyteller based in Seattle. Her memoir, When She Comes Back, details her tumultuous childhood—From her infancy on a kibbutz to her role as a surrogate parent after her mother left to join a cult. Her podcast, And Then Everything Changed, features each guest’s personal history and the pivotal moments that defined their lives. You can follow Ronit on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.