They never managed to teach me much in Hebrew school. Mondays and Wednesdays were devoted to the Evrit, which I struggled to read and never learned to speak. Sundays were reserved for Jewish history and religious practices, and the education I had received in these subjects at home was far superior to what the less-religious, Israeli-born teachers could impart. My tendency to always come up with the correct answer to obscure biblical questions soon alienated me from my classmates, and I was eventually removed from the seventh-grade heh classroom and made a teacher’s aid in the third-grade aleph class.

My bat mitzvah the following year was accomplished with the expected pomp and circumstance. I chanted portions from the Torah and Haftorah, after which my religious fervor and my synagogue attendance gradually tapered off until my sophomore year in high school, when I flatly refused to attend High Holiday services with my family. I became a vegetarian, stopped worrying about kashruth, and considered myself more enlightened than my parents. Thus it stood through high school and college, and, with the exception of weddings and b’nai mitzvot I did not set foot in a shul for the next seven years.

The year after I graduated from college was confusing. Unable to settle on a career that interested me or leave the town where I had gone to school, I began to dream of communes and travelling. My reveries were based mostly on friends’ stories of Costa Rica and interesting things I’d read about women’s collectives out west, but I knew that even the most meager adventure was beyond my economic reach. There was only one financing option open to me, and there was only one possible destination. My mother had been to Israel three times, my father and my sister had gone twice, my brother had been there once, and my parents were determined that I would visit the promised land before I forgot my heritage completely.

Not very many months later, I found myself touching down on the dusty runway of Ben Gurion Airport, courtesy of my parents and El Al, the airline of screaming babies. Along with the other passengers, I craned my neck around for my first glimpse of the land of milk and honey.

In the row in front of me, the primary screaming baby was also taking his first look out the window. A little blond chap of about two and half, he did not seem particularly impressed with the view. "That’s not the land of eretz yisroel," he wailed.

His confusion was understandable. With the exception of a few date palms and a lot of dust, the place was nearly indistinguishable from the airport we’d left behind in New York. There were no extendable caterpillar gates through which travelers might disembark directly into the airport; to reach the terminal, we had to climb down a moveable metal stairwell, through the thick, dusty heat, and pack ourselves onto little busses, which carried us to border control.

My mother had given me some shekelim, which she had brought back after her last visit, and I changed a hundred dollars, picked up my oversized duffel bag, and went out into the dry, stifling afternoon to find the number 17 bus to Tel Aviv.

? ב ג ד ה ו ז ח ט י כ ל מ נ ס ע פ צ ק ר ש ת

Much later, I developed a theory on Egged, the Israeli public transportation system, and it is this: the Israeli people do not want to forget the enslavement of the Jews in Egypt and their oppression throughout history. Thus, they pack themselves into slow-moving, bumpy vehicles without bathrooms in order to trek across the country in the greatest possibly discomfort. Egged busses do have powerful air conditioners, but these seem less of a concession to comfort than a necessity, without which the company would inadvertently end up slaughtering the majority of their clientele through heat stroke, discouraging repeat customers.

I was to learn, however, that the bus ride is the definitive Israel experience. With luck, or reservations, you might have a seat for the journey, or you might stand next to the driver, or sit on the floor for three or four hours. Every hour or so the driver would pull off the road into one of the establishments that seemed to exist solely for that purpose. Travelers would disembark, pay a shekel to a tired old woman sitting outside the restrooms, and possibly, receive a roll of toilet paper. Old sandwiches, falafel, and strange, middle-eastern pastries which inevitably made me sick, could be bought inside, along with candy, soda, and, of course, ice cream. For obvious reasons you cannot walk fifty feet in an inhabited part of Israel without finding someone selling ice cream bars out of a little glass-top freezer.

As the bus bumped off to the city, I kept my eyes on the road, and I knew that I was seeing with my American eyes. The side of every street was littered with plastic bottles, aluminum cans, myriad unidentified bits of garbage. I’d never seen such rampant pollution in the States. Oh, but here and there I could see the country I’d come looking for. Towering date palms grew up out of the ubiquitous arid yellow dust. Corrugated tin and striped sheets marked the Bedouins’ camps that stood out from the barren landscape in their shabby, but deliberate construction. The Bedouins themselves could be seen, nearby, with their heads covered, surrounded by herds of lethargic goats munching unenthusiastically on the sporadic patches of brown grass that struggled up from the parched earth. The best, most surprising thing I would see on the bus ride was the occasional long-eared wild donkey standing under a date palm, swishing flies away with a long, black tail.

? ב ג ד ה ו ז ח ט י כ ל מ נ ס ע פ צ ק ר ש ת

I was fortunate in that the bus driver could, and would, speak English. He helped me disembark in the right neighborhood, and gave me direction to the Kibbutz Aliya Desk, where I learned a few interesting things. My trip had been delayed several times while I obtained recommendations and completed the necessary paperwork this organization claimed to require before it would send me to volunteer on any kibbutz. However, while I sat in the office, other people walked in off the street and were accorded similar services. Well, not quite. Although I was asked a number of questions, it turned out that, for me, there was only one question that mattered. When they learned that I was Jewish, I was sent to Kibbutz Keturah, which treated its volunteers better than most kibbutzim. I later learned that the vast majority of kibbutz volunteers are not Jewish, and the conditions for volunteers on most kibbutzim are deplorable, but this was much later. For now,! all I knew was that this kibbutz was in the south, near the sea, and while most kibbutzim were completely secular, this one kept a kosher kitchen.

I had no idea what to expect. I caught another bus to the Tel Aviv bus station, an ugly, six-story building filled with Americanized shops and kiosks selling ice cream, candy, and soda next to unwrapped baked goods laid on tables where only the flies seemed to enjoy these offerings. I vowed to myself that in the future I would avoid this place at all costs. Surprisingly, buying my ticket and boarding the bus to my destination were no trouble. I informed the bus driver of my destination and asked him to let me know when we’d arrived, but I neglected to ask anyone how far away it would be.

For the next four hours I watched the scenery roll by. With great relief, I saw the ugly urban landscape fall away. As we headed south, the land became rockier. There were fewer settlements, and less garbage. The tawny yellow began to venture toward more interesting shades of red and brown, and the jagged hills grew into majestic cliffs.

A sharp bend in the road revealed a long, steep descent and my ears popped as we dropped down into the Arava, a narrow valley running along the eastern side of the Negev Desert. Cliffs of gold and rose and every color that the desert sun can paint a rock grew up out of the empty earth. The stone face to the west, just next to the road, was in Israel, but those cliffs just a few more miles to the east stood in Jordan. The desert was dotted with lifeless scrub and strange, misshapen trees baring only the slightest hint of green. The parched land was cracked with numerous wadis.

Here the settlements were few and far between, small collections of white buildings, unremarkable except for the groves of date palms that stood guard behind them. I began to despair of ever reaching my destination, wondered if perhaps the bus driver had forgotten me, when I heard him call, "Keturah!" I jumped up, thanked him, and disembarked.

The average temperature in the desert, in August, at three o’clock in the afternoon is roughly a hundred and ten degrees. It was August, and it was three o’clock in the afternoon, and my luggage weighed nearly as much as I did, and the bus driver had dropped me off about five hundred feet from the kibbutz’s front gate.

א ב ג ד ה ו ז ח ט י כ ל מ נ ס ע פ צ ק ר ש ת

Kibbutz Keturah was not everything that I had expected. Oh, well, it was certainly the Zionist’s dream. Here, in the middle of the dry, yellow dessert, there is somehow enough to transform unyielding rock into a lush, verdant oasis. Thick carpets of green grass covered the ground. Perpetually flowering trees abounded, sheltering weary birds and sun-stroked humans. A few neglected basil plants in front of the administrative offices had flourished, untended, into full, broad-leafed bushes. Drip irrigation lines snaked here, there and everywhere, shedding their life-giving tears wherever the kibbutzniks wanted things to grow. There was even a large swimming pool. If not for the purple-red-orange-yellow-brown-gold mountains that obscured the horizon in every direction, I might have though I was in the Caribbean.

Commune life suited me well. I worked in the kosher kitchen. We rose early, beginning before six a.m. every morning, which I didn’t care for, but did become accustomed to. We had to prepare all three meals and clean the kitchen every day, except Fridays, when we had to prepare six meals and clean the kitchen in preparation for Shabbat, when no work could be done. A half-hour break was allowed for breakfast, and another for lunch, if necessary. With luck and hard work, we could be finished before noon. With laziness and holiday meals, it might be three o’ clock before I could shower and plunge into the sun-warmed pool.

The strange part was, there weren’t really any Israelis there. The kibbutzniks were, for the most part, ex-patriots! Among the volunteers, I made friend with kids from Canada, Brazil, Mexico, Belgium, Hungary, Australia, England, Morocco, Sweden, the Netherlands, Scotland, Thailand, and Ireland. Maybe I’m forgetting some. Nearly everyone spoke English. The kibbutz kids, who complained about being forced to study Arabic in school, were all fluent in English. They loved to hang out with the volunteers and hated the peace and quiet on the kibbutz, dreaming of the day they would turn eighteen and be unleashed on the world. Their parents, for the most part, didn’t care much about the volunteers, and ignored them whenever possible, although I did become friendly with some of the real chalutzim who’d come from America in the sixties to found the place.

The volunteer scene began to bore me quickly. Once the pool closed in the afternoon, recreational possibilities were pretty much limited to drinking beer, smoking pot, and having sex with strangers. This just didn’t seem much different from my experience at college, from everything I’d come to Israel to get away from.

Of course, there was always the half-hour bus ride to thoroughly-modern Eilat, where all the unpleasantness of city life could be combined with the scorching discomfort of the desert. There were malls, movie theaters, Ben and Jerry’s, Pizza Hut, and McDonald’s. There were discotheques, pool halls, and tattoo parlors. There were Israeli girls walking down the street in string bikinis and British guys lurking in dark alleys waiting to sell matchboxes full of marijuana to tourists for forty shekels. Also, there was the Red Sea, a warm, almost tideless body of saltwater bordering a dirty, narrow strip of beach littered with cigarette butts and dirty diapers. The steady pulsing of techno music, American pop songs from the seventies and eighties, and Bob Marley classics rocked the air.

In the day the beach was crowded with rowdy, older, dark-skinned Israeli boys running around in their underwear, and enormous, pale, foreign women lying comfortably in miniscule bikinis. Stunned by the heat, bathers sat stewing in the shallow water. By night, tourists and Israeli kids headed for the night clubs and the stalls on the boardwalk, where henna tattoos, plastic wallets embossed with pictures of hemp leaves, and your-name-on-a-grain-of-rice could be purchased for prices comparable to those in every other tourist city in the world. After the sun set, the beach was the domain of starry-eyed lovers and roving packs of incredibly friendly dogs. If the kibbutz was the Zionist’s dream, Eilat was my capitalist nightmare.

So I boarded an Egged bus with Rebecca, a girl from Detroit who was a student at the Art Institute in Chicago and Joachim, a guy from Morocco who was a computer engineering student at the Ecole Polytechnique in Paris, and we headed north to Jerusalem.

א ב ג ד ה ו ז ח ט י כ ל מ נ ס ע פ צ ק ר ש ת

We arrived in the early afternoon on Friday and found a hostel. Rebecca and I donned our long skirts and we all went to the Jewish shuq. Rebecca and Joachim had both been to Jerusalem before. As we walked down the long, crowded rows of stalls selling fresh fruit, fish, ladies’ underwear, Japanese electronics, flowers, wine, and everything else imaginable, Rebecca reminded us that there had been a bombing in this very market the week before.

As the evening drew near, we headed for the old city. There was a man who waited near the kotel, Rebecca told us, and sent travelers home with Orthodox families for Shabbat dinner.

The old city! Thousands of years of history crammed into hundreds of stone passages and wrapped in the high ribbon of a fortress wall. It was cramped, it was devoid of greenery, and it was beautiful. The streets were narrow and labyrinthine. You might start out walking down a road and suddenly find yourself in an underground passage with a roof over your head. Conversely, you might walk through a tunnel and come out on the roof of a building, with no walls around you, only sky and hills in the distance, and someone’s laundry hanging on a line beside you.

We made our way to the pavilion where the kotel stood, where hundreds of tourists milled around while religious Jews prayed in front of the wall. We found the man Rebecca had spoken of and were introduced, along with seventeen other international travelers, to our host. Before dinner, he directed us to go to the wall. Joachim went left, with the men, and Rebecca and I went right, to the women’s side. We peered through the metal fence as the men sang slow joyous songs in honor of the Sabbath. They passed leaves of fresh basil to us through the grate, so that we could smell the sweetness symbolic of the holiday. The men’s side was very crowded with black-garbed men praying in small groups. The women’s side was emptying out. The women came, prayed quickly by themselves, and ran off again to finish preparing the Sabbath meal.

Finally, we followed our host up winding, stone paths to a spacious apartment, which was decorated with thousands of dollars worth of silver religious relics in glass cases, and boasted a large bay window and a spectacular view of the entire kotel. Dinner was an interminable affair, where our host lectured ad nauseum against the evils of romantic love and preached the Orthodox approach to marriage, which turned out to involve a couple of matchmakers and a hotel lobby. It was nearly midnight when the meal and the sermons ended. I left, thoroughly disgusted and still hungry.

א ב ג ד ה ו ז ח ט י כ ל מ נ ס ע פ צ ק ר ש ת

On Saturday we returned to the old city, entering the Arab quarter through the Damascus gate. Here we wandered through the fascinating Arab shuq, where, in addition to everything that could be had in the Jewish shuq, there were numerous opportunities to have one’s beard shaved by a professional. I made the mistake of wearing a sundress and was grabbed repeatedly by surreptitious men and giggling little boys. The little boys tried only to touch my fingers in passing. The men went for a handful of my rear end. All the Arab women were veiled, and they would not make eye contact with me.

On Sunday, we put on our long skirts and our long sleeved shirts, despite the fact that it was still about ninety degrees, and ventured into Meah Shearim, the ultra-Orthodox Jewish neighborhood.

"If a woman walks down this street in a short-sleeved shirt," Rebecca told us, they’ll spit on her. If someone drives through on Shabbat, they’ll throw rocks at the car. We stopped and bought apple pastries and received dirty looks when we asked for napkins. The bearded man who sold us the confections grudgingly found a few squares of toilet paper for us to wipe our hands on. Despite our superfluous clothing, we also received dirty looks on the street. Rebecca had only wanted to find a store where she could find a prayer book with an olive-wood cover, but we were still marked as outsiders.

Finally, we walked out of Meah Shearim and headed back to the Jewish shuq to buy some fruit.

"I’m hot as hell," I said, pulling damp fabric from my sweat-soaked skin. "I’m taking this damn shirt off."

I was left in a tank top, and was rewarded with lecherous, longing looks from the haredi men in black hats and tzitzit.

"That woman’s complaining about you," Rebecca said, translating. "She says, ‘How could she walk around like that? There are religious men here.’"

"Well, they don’t seem to mind." Those religious men stared at my bare arms with unveiled lust greater than that expressed by the Puerto Ricans back home in Humbolt Park who called after me as I rode past them wearing nothing but biking shorts and a sports bra. "Hypocrites," I muttered.

א ב ג ד ה ו ז ח ט י כ ל מ נ ס ע פ צ ק ר ש ת

On Sunday, Rebecca announced she was going back to the kibbutz a day early.

"I’ve run out of money," she said, loudly, several times. "And I think you and Joachim would rather be alone," she whispered to me.

Joachim and I returned to the Jewish quarter of the old city, split up, and stood on our respective sides of the kotel. We met again in the pavilion behind the fences.

"What do you feel here?" he gestured to the kotel, the memorial to the six million mounted high up on top of a building, the crowds of milling tourists and religious Jews.

I looked at the huge, ancient blocks of stone, where willowy green plants sprouted out from the cracks and white doves resting in the chinks were sheltered from the blazing sun. Near the base of the wall, thousands of tiny pieces of paper, on which visitors had written their prayer to be delivered, express mail, to god, were stuffed into the rocks.

"I feel peace."

He raised an eyebrow. "Is that what you think?"

I knew what he meant. The sense of being in a sanctuary was great, and at the same time, the Dome of the Rock loomed overhead, and I knew that the country was enmeshed in a war that I believed might never end. It was a false sense of security to think that, because Jews had possession of this last remaining wall of the Temple, there was any peace here.

"Can’t we see the Dome of the Rock?" I asked him as we turned our backs on the kotel.

He shook his head. "No. Jews don’t go there, because somewhere in there is the place where the holy of holies once stood. To step on this place…."

He trailed off, and I understood. This would be the utmost sacrilege.

א ב ג ד ה ו ז ח ט י כ ל מ נ ס ע פ צ ק ר ש ת

On Monday we boarded another bus, back to the Arava, but we stopped off at the spa at Ein Gedi, on the Dead Sea. Here we floated in a roped off area, like so many carrots in a boiling, salty soup. You can do nothing but float in the Dead Sea. The water is so salty that it is a struggle to press one foot down to the sand, and if you try to drag the second one down, the first one will spring up to the surface again.

We covered ourselves in the mineral-rich healing black mud that is found beside the Dead Sea, and swam in the sulfur pools. Then we caught another bus back to the kibbutz. There I learned that Rebecca’s excuse for leaving us in Jerusalem had been a thinly veiled cover for her true intent: to move out of the room we had shared since our first day there and to badmouth me to the other volunteers, for reasons that she never would disclose.

א ב ג ד ה ו ז ח ט י כ ל מ נ ס ע פ צ ק ר ש ת

By October, I began to tire of the kibbutz. The dates were ripe, and many, many volunteers had been brought in to pick them and work in the melon-packing plant. The parties became boring, and I found the other kids silly and immature. The desert, which had done lovely things for my allergies and my sinuses, was dulling my mind.

One of my friends, who had lived on the kibbutz with his sister since he was a teenager, was starting college, and I traveled north with him, to visit his parents in a suburb of Haifa. We hitchhiked to Caesaria, where I dipped my feet in a third sea, the Mediterranean. As we swam in the vigorous surf, we admired the thousand-year-old Roman aqueducts that serenely stood guard over the beach. The powerful wind blew sand in our eyes and we hitchhiked to the ancient Roman city of Caesaria, where ongoing digs were revealing fountains, baths, theaters, and houses.

א ב ג ד ה ו ז ח ט י כ ל מ נ ס ע פ צ ק ר ש ת

The holiday of Sukkot, the autumn festival, approached, and I left my friend at the bus station and returned to Jerusalem for the final, most dreaded trip that I was obliged to make. My aunt and uncle would be visiting their son and his family for the holiday. My aunt and uncle were amiable people, who I’d known all my lives. Their son had turned frum as a young man, become a rabbi, and married an ultra-Orthodox woman. They’d made aliyah and proceeded to have ten children. The oldest was twenty-three, a year older than I. The youngest was three. I had not seen this branch of the family since I was five.

My mother had persuaded me to make this journey, pointing out that having my aunt and uncle there would make the situation easier for me. When I had called my cousin’s wife, Rachel, she had agreed that I should visit. "But you must wear long sleeves and a long skirt," she cautioned, "and you must arrive before the holiday begins." I had only brought one lightweight long-sleeved shirt to Israel, so I was obliged to buy a second one, as the holy part of the festival was two days long. Thus, my visit must last that long as well.

Sukkot is the harvest festival, but it also commemorates the time of the Jews wandering in the desert. Both are symbolized by the Sukkah, a booth in which religious Jews eat and sleep during the holiday. It is a simple structure, which must be easily assembled, as were the structures the Jews dwelled in as they traveled in the desert, and the structures traditionally built in the field during the harvest. The roof must be constructed in such a way that one can see stars at night through it, and it is covered with greenery, which is hard to come by in Jerusalem. The common sight is analogous to America near Christmastime, where the gentiles can be seen driving through town with a large tree strapped to the roof of the car. In Jerusalem, before Sukkot, the cars are covered with loads of palm leaves. Back on the kibbutz, I knew they’d erected a large, net-covered sukkah that would seat four hundred.

My cousins owned the entire top floor of their building, and their Sukkah covered the entire porch. I alit from the bus not long before Rachel’s deadline, and was happy to see my aunt and uncle, as Rachel was obviously too busy with her holiday preparations to devote any time to me. My aunt introduced me to her grandchildren, all ten of them, her daughters-in-law (two), and her great-grandchildren (one, but both of the daughters-in-law were visibly pregnant). Other ironies in the family dynamic included the fact that of ten children, nine were boys, and the youngest child was only a year older than his eighteen-month old nephew. Thus, one would hear sentiments such as, "Now, be a good uncle and share your toys…."

The festival meal was served in the Sukkah, amidst boisterous, spontaneous ejaculations of zemirot. Throughout the neighborhood, similar bursts of song could be heard, prompting Rachel’s husband, Baruch, to cock his head to one side and ask, "Who is that? Is that Cohen?" and his sons would listen to the far-off harmonies and agree that, yes, it was Cohen. Then they would drown out their neighbor’s songs with their own joyous harmonies.

I was seated between Zipporah, the sixteen-year-old only daughter, who spoke fluent English with a heavy Israeli accent, and Nechama, my oldest cousin’s wife, who had emigrated from America only a few years earlier. My second-oldest cousin’s wife, Chaya, spoke no English, but all the others were bilingual. I made my way morosely through the meal, which, between my vegetarianism and my picky eating habits, afforded me nothing more than a few slices of potato. I did not ask if my cousins’ marriages had been arranged by matchmakers in hotel lobbies, but I assume they had been.

After the meal, the table was cleared out and ten beds were moved into the Sukkah. At ten o’clock, the automatic timer shut off all the lights, as flipping a switch is considered work and, therefore, a violation of the holiday. The men slept outside, while I retired to a bunk bed inside. I slept on the top, while Nechama and her son slept beneath.

א ב ג ד ה ו ז ח ט י כ ל מ נ ס ע פ צ ק ר ש ת

The next two days passed with a slow, surreal cadence. Although my aunt and uncle were lodged in a hotel across the street, there were still fourteen people staying in one apartment. Although the oldest sons had their own homes, they could not return until the holiday was over. The haredi lifestyle is not conducive to solitude and silence anyway.

My aunt and uncle’s primary past time seemed to be complaining about the restrictive nature of their son’s religious lifestyle, which they could not understand. My aunt wore knee-length skirts and short sleeves with impunity, and was irritated with the prohibition against turning things on. She constantly referred to religious law as "picky-picky." Before the holiday was over, my uncle announced that he wanted to give me my birthday present early. Then he passed me a twenty-dollar bill, obviously unmindful of the fact, of which I was well aware, that the handling of money on yontif is prohibited. I accepted guiltily, looking around to make sure that no one else witnessed this transgression, and ran to hide the money in my bag, since my long skirt had no pockets.

The youngest children warmed up to me with the expected gradual acceptance. The oldest cousins, who were married, spoke kindly to me, asking about kibbutz life and politics and America. The adolescent boys, secure in their gender-segregated society, mostly ignored me. Despite the differences in lifestyle, the eternal struggles between parents and children continued. As evening fell, the boys all went off to pray and Rachel demanded to know which shul one of them would be attending.

He named a synagogue and asked "Why do you care?"

"Because I want to know where you are! That’s why! Besides, they’ve probably already finished davening there!"

As I was writing in my journal, Zipporah finally approached me, intrigued with my flashing pen and notebook pages covered with what she called "scribble." She showed me a project she had done in her English class, in which she written about her family. We found the picture of our common ancestors, my grandmother’s parents, and I remembered that the heirloom ring I wore on my right hand had belonged to this great-grandmother Minnie, for whom I was named. I shared this with Zipporah and we smiled with the bond of our commonality.

When the holy days ended at sundown on the third night, my aunt and uncle wanted to take me out to dinner. Rachel was irritated.

"She can stay here and have tuna fish," Rachel told her in-laws, unmindful of the fact that I didn’t eat tuna fish, unmindful of the fact that they simply wanted to take their normal niece out for a normal meal at a normal restaurant, something they could never do with all their children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren in tow.

So I went out with my aunt and uncle, and we walked among the festive holiday crowds, acting very much like normal American tourists in Israel. The next day I boarded a bus outside my cousins’ house, and immediately pulled off my long skirt and shirt, to reveal the thin, cotton tie-dye pants and a Grateful Dead T-shirt I’d worn underneath in anticipation of this moment of freedom.

א ב ג ד ה ו ז ח ט י כ ל מ נ ס ע פ צ ק ר ש ת

There is much, much more. There was the terrible suicide bombing that took place not far from the restaurant where my aunt and uncle and I ate that night. There was the terrible flash flood that killed eleven unsuspecting hikers who happened to be walking in wadis when the sky opened up, and stranded seventeen busloads of passengers in the middle of the desert for an entire day. There was the Thai-Canadian Jewish volunteer who wanted to make aliyah, but was thrown off the kibbutz and was threatened with a report to the department of state interfering with his immigration. This happened when it was made known that he was selling marijuana that he had bought from the Arab workers and would not finger the man who’d sold it to him. At the same time, numerous other volunteers who were dealing drugs they had bought from other sources were given slaps on the wrist and asked to be more discreet.

I took off for Europe soon after I left my cousins’, but I longed for America, for clean public restrooms and wide-open highways. When I passed through customs after four months away from home, the guard stamped my passport and said, "Welcome home."

I looked up at him and whispered, "Thank you," and I was crying with happiness to be back.

א ב ג ד ה ו ז ח ט י כ ל מ נ ס ע פ צ ק ר ש ת


Aleph—the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet, thus "one"

Aliya—literally, "to go up," used to describe the act of immigrating to Israel

Bat mitzvah (fem.) [b’nai mitzvot (pl.)] literally "daughter of the covenant," to become an adult in the Jewish community

Chalutzim (pl.)—pioneers, particularly Zionists

Daven—to pray

Eretz Yisroel—the land of Israel


Falafel—fried chick pea ball served with a salad in pita, likely to give you a stomachache if purchased from a greasy fast-food place

Frum (Yiddish)—ultra-Orthodox, not a particularly complementary term

Haftorah—stories from the prophets and other sources not included in the Torah, usually read by B’nai Mitzvot

Haredi [haredim (pl.)]—the preferred, inclusive term for the ultra-Orthodox

Heh—the fifth letter of the Hebrew alphabet, thus "five"

Kosher—adhering to Jewish dietary laws, ritually fit

Kotel—literally "wall," refers to the Western Wall

Kashruth—pertaining to Jewish dietary laws

kibbutz [kibbutzim 9pl.)—a Jewish commune, housing approximately 2% of the Israeli population

Kibbutzniks—Yiddishized term for kibbutz inhabitants

Shabbat—the Sabbath

Shekel [shekelim (pl.)]—literally "silver," Israeli currency, approximately $0.25, depending on the exchange

Shul (Yiddish)—synagogue

Shuq (from the Arabic)—open air market

Torah—the five books of Moses

Tzitzit—fringes worn by Jewish men while they pray, and by ultra-Orthodox men at all times

Wadi (from the Arabic)—arroyos, dry stream beds

Yontif (Yiddish)—holy day

Zemirot—songs of praise.