The Closest I’ve Come

by Deb Fleischman

 

Eli, my 5-year-old, sits in the back seat of our green Subaru analyzing area maps of Vermont, intent on finding our exact position. He sings a song about the fifty-nifty United States but the world he navigates is Lilliputian. Focused on the terrain, the curves coming up, the bodies of water, his fingers trace the lay of the land to the driveway where we finally pull in. No matter that the fledgling cartographer is way out in Lake Willoughby, 50 miles off course. He is home.

Perched on bedrock, set back a thousand feet from County Road, sits our unfinished house. The wide boards of the floors were milled from maple and pine logs cut from two of the oldest trees on our property, the windows salvaged from the renovation of the local high school. Typar wrap covers a portion of the west side, the side that faces Nelson Pond. Eighty years ago, Ray Nelson purchased what was then a spring-fed marsh. He took a backhoe to it to deepen it so he could fish and swim, but it has since filled in some and, although private, is a designated state wetland. It supports a blue heron, a moose, a family of ducks, and hundreds of Canadian geese, which stop to refuel on their way North and South. Ross Gardner, who bought the property from Mr. Nelson over 40 years ago, couldn’t get a permit to dredge it.

“That’s Ross for Betsy Ross and Gardner for Eva Gardner,” said the octogenarian who vigorously shook John’s hand when my husband approached him about buying his house. I barely considered the monolithic structure, half concrete blocks, half aluminum siding, whose interior was a bare frame of two-by-fours, and focused instead on the land—the expansive pastoral setting. Woods trailed around one side of the pond, cattails encroached on the other edge, and tall grasses met a meadow where I envisioned a wildflower field. On the south side I visualized the site of an organic vegetable garden and determined the best branch for a tree swing in the 40-foot white pine.

Ross choked back tears when we signed the preliminary purchase and sale, written by hand on a paper napkin. But he cried openly six times, right up to the closing. Back in the fifties, he was one of the first to build a nuclear fall-out shelter in his New Jersey home. This 50-acre property in Vermont became a place to hunt, fish, and flee from the demands of his harried life. He never got around to realizing his dream of retiring here, and it pained me to see a man so deeply attached to his land forced by circumstance and old age to part with it. But at the closing, after we said goodbye, I exhaled a sigh of relief that ended my life-long search for a home.

A mile from our house, just outside Montpelier, Vermont’s state capitol, is a small rural village called Adamant. Adamant was founded in the mid-Nineteenth Century as a quarry town and originally named Sodom, ostensibly because it had no church. In 1905, a local resident petitioned the state legislature to de-stigmatize the name and Sodom became Adamant, a word that reflected both the resilient properties of the granite quarry stone and the people who mined it; a name, someone said, “perhaps as hard but not as wicked.” The quarry has long ceased operation but Sodom Pond still exists, though the kids who bike around it don’t register its biblical significance.

Adamant is not a place you would run into, unless you happened to get lost on one of the many dirt tributaries that intersect County Road. It’s a place where few lock their doors and the free-range laying hens have names. In summer, kids gather to swim in the pond that opens upon a pristine view of the surrounding wooded hills. The first week in July, volunteers dig a pit and simmer a huge pot of beans for 24 hours in preparation for the annual Beans-in-the-Hole dinner. But the village hub is unquestionably the Adamant Co-op, a quaint turn-of-the-century clapboard structure that doubles as a general store and post office. It’s the community stronghold, a place where you can still run a tab.

Maybe that’s why I wound up here, in a place small enough to conjure home—a concept I have trouble with because the closest I’ve come to that place was as different from Adamant as Oz from Kansas. My childhood home was not a village or a state, but a tiny country, roughly the same size as Vermont. But it felt bigger and older. Like the universe, like time.

§

I was 10-years-old when I first set foot in the Holy Land, greeted by a hot blast of desert air. In the spring of 1970, Israel was young, like me, but the newly formed Jewish nation felt as ancient as my grandmother, and stepping off the plane was a step back in time to a place that was backward, exotic, and contradictory.

Arabs in keffiyehs shared the streets with Hassidic Jews and 18-year-old soldiers toting Uzis. The open air shuk sold imitation Levis along with fruits I had never tasted—strings of fresh tmarim, smooth red dates cut from tall palms, and sabras, cactus fruit that proliferated in the region’s arid climate.

It took a half hour to pre-heat water for a quick shower using some primitive fuel called kerosene. Instead of an oven, we cooked on the stovetop using a Sir Peleh, a Magic Pot, which resembled an angel food cake pan but with a higher flute. In it we baked potatoes and cooked stews and cakes; it could do everything but roast a chicken.

With immigrants pouring into the country, languages ricocheted from every corner of the world.

Beni a casa.
Kak vas zovut?
Kief alak!

Rak Ivrit—Just Hebrew—someone would inevitably shout, reminding everyone of the commandment to speak the language that functioned as the great equalizer. But assimilation meant other things, too. Wherever you came from and whatever your background, you had to dump a bucket of soapy water onto the concrete floor of your government-subsidized apartment, mop it with a heavy rag, and squeegee all the excess water into a drain built into the floor. In the winter, my family huddled around a small heater that glowed orange, smoked up the air with its caustic fumes, and barely kept us warm. Instead of fire drills, bomb drills sent us scurrying to mikltaim, underground shelters.

In the three years we lived in Israel, we moved five times in search of a home. From Okafim, a dusty development town in the Southern Negev desert to Kibbutz Givat Chaim Ichud, a flourishing communal farm north of Tel Aviv. In August 1972 we made our final pilgrimage to Ashkelon, a city on the Mediterranean coast, before returning to the States, a decision that filled me with instant regret. Gone was the language with its strange glottal timbre, the new customs and food, and an intoxicating mix of people who seemed to be shouting, gesticulating, and beckoning all at once, bo uu, come.

I landed back in New York at age 13 feeling more Israeli than American. Traversing the tiny country from top to bottom, my skin had caramelized. I breathed citrus and lantana, filtered my lungs with hot wind and sand, and dreamed in Hebrew. I learned to roll my Rs from the back of my throat and speak with an Israeli accent. I carried a leather school bag, with clips and buckles. I wore black Nimrod sandals, and slippers that zip on the side, the kind all Israelis wore. I stuffed falafel, fried eggplant, and hummus into fresh pita. “Artic, artic!” cried the guys who carted glida around the beaches, stopping on our blanket to dispense the weird ice cream bars filled with bits of candied fruit.

It was a far cry from America, land of Saturday morning cartoons and Uncle Bill’s ice cream truck. But I fell for Israel like a child. Head first. All innocence. Because, home, I think, is a place that takes root in childhood during a window of time when its choice is not ours to make.

§

When I was a teenager, I idolized “The Waltons,” television’s tribute to country living. The stability of their home, their enduring love, and the seeming simplicity of their lives contrasted sharply against my reality—a series of small apartments in New York City that opened onto brick walls and fire escapes, and my parents marriage dissolving.

Looking back, what called my parents to Israel and what drew me to Vermont was a similar yearning to belong to that archetypal family—a close-knit community defined by its shared values, self-sufficient ideology, and pioneering spirit. For my Zionist parents, that family boiled down to the Jewish people, tethered, like the Waltons, to a singular strip of real estate.

Though we were not remotely religious, we were part of a new wave of Zionists who flocked to Israel in the in the wake of the Six-Day war. We weren’t the settlers romanticized in the folk songs still popular on Israeli radio in the seventies, the ones who battled malaria, drained the swamps, made deserts bloom. But my parents felt like Thoreau, having sold their belongings, abandoned western civilization, and arrived at desert’s door with the bare essentials. We were campers with a cause, and had faith in Israel’s invincibility, the undisputed winner of three wars, a David surrounded by Goliaths, sworn to its destruction. The enemy made everything we did, however insignificant, seem important.

There was a point when I, too, become restless, pulled to feel part of something I couldn’t exactly pinpoint. I’d spent 12 years in the Bay Area but the novelty of the west had faded along with city life. I missed winter and was drawn to Garrison Keiler’s stories about the impact of cold on community—the nesting impulse, the warm hearth, how it felt to see your breath.

Vermont was a switch from an urban to a rural lifestyle. From cafes and convenience to nature and homesteading. Where your garden is more about food than flowers. Where your neighbors mean more than the person next door. In Vermont I hoped to find something I wanted for my child—a place to grow up, a place to return to. A connection to something elemental and eternal, like Walton’s Mountain.

I stumbled upon Adamant by accident in July 1999. My husband had just accepted a teaching job in Vermont and along with our 1-year-old, we had spent three days searching for a place to live before heading back to California to prepare for our move. It was blistering hot and we found our way to Curtis Pond, were we met Robby and his 2-year-old daughter. A dead ringer for the Marlboro Man, Robby grew up in Adamant, the son of the respected managing editor of central Vermont’s daily newspaper. If you ask Robby’s father, Bill, why he and his wife moved here in the early 60s, he’ll tell you dryly that at the time it was one of two states losing population.

Robby was raised without TV and with a do-it-yourself ethos. In a back to the land fashion, his family logged their woods with Oxen, cutting and splitting enough trees each fall to heat their house through winter. They raised sheep, chickens, pigs, cows and horses and maintained an expansive kitchen garden. During its heyday, their livestock and garden fed their family of six. When Robby mentioned that that his parents were renting an 1850s farmhouse they had purchased for the 40 acres that adjoined their property, we jumped at the opportunity to fix it up for reduced rent and that is how we arrived in Adamant.

In August we moved in and instantly bonded with Robby and his pregnant wife Beth Ann who lived a quarter mile from our house in what looked like an old airplane hanger. Formerly a metal welding shop, Robby had converted a third of it into a house, and another third into his rustic furniture business. Beth Ann, equally resourceful and innovative, had a sewing studio where she made boutique bags, pins, and hair clips that she distributed to stores across the northeast. They became our role models and mentors for the life we imagined for ourselves and by the time summer was over, John and I had stripped the old wallpaper, refinished the floors, and planted an organic garden. That fall we met a few more couples our age with young children, who like us, had recently moved to Vermont and were looking to settle. Together we forged a community.

That first year I volunteered to work at the co-op on Sundays and befriended an eclectic bunch of natives and transplants who came in for their newspapers and lingered to chat. There was Hugh, with his distinct Irish cap and broad gap-tooth smile, a retired investment manager who took it upon himself to pick up a stack of New York Times’ in Montpelier and deliver them to Adamant. He rallied about the importance of Town Meeting, which he called the last vestige of democracy, and taught me a bit of Adamant history, its character and characters. I met Janet, a native Vermonter and a talented but unassuming artist who attended the Rhode Island School of Design. She was also a carpenter who designed and built her first house off the grid in the woods. Over the years, she painted a slew of portraits of Adamant and its residents, and refurbished the 2nd floor of the co-op for her studio. Harold and Mary a couple in their 80s, were Sunday regulars. They moved here from New Jersey and were fixtures at all the local gatherings, where Harold might corner you and talk your ear off about particle physics or some Calderesque windmill he was building in his garage.

At a glance, Adamant seemed a little Mayberryish and sometimes I wondered if I dreamed up this bucolic place or if it really existed—the old crabapple tree set beside the waterfall that drained into a rambling brook where a group of our young kids waded with their penny candy. The day I heard a Brahms sonata wafting from one of the cabins that fronted the pond, where I swam, I thought it was a recording. It turned out that nested in the woods were over two-dozen studios each containing a grand piano. These studios are part of the Adamant Music School, which was founded in 1942 by a group of New York musicians who bought the old parsonage and converted it into a summer retreat for pianists.

But what made the community special were the things we did and created together. When John and I finally bought our property, our friends converged on our unfinished house for work parties. Formerly, Adamant’s one-room schoolhouse, the community center became the focal point for gatherings like Valentine’s Dinner where our young kids, dressed in black aprons, waited on the adults. That was also the site of the Adamant Kids Club, where we converged to make gingerbread houses, candles, and carve pumpkins. The Black Fly Festival still draws crowds to a local parade of children dressed as Vermont’s most insidious pest.

In many ways, Adamant reminded me of kibbutz where I lived one memorable year between 1971–1972. Tucked between Tel Aviv and the small town of Hadera in central Israel, Kibbutz Givat Chaim Ichud, with its towering eucalyptus trees, lush farmland, and socialist lifestyle, was as close to nirvana as it gets.

§

I remember the tangy smell of the green clementinas clinging to their leaves that graced our breakfast table on the kibbutz. Citrus for the most part ripened when green, with maybe a speckle of yellow—oranges, grapefruits, and the enormous pomellas, my favorite. Every morning I devoured avocados harvested from the kibbutz groves, spread onto lachmaniot, freshly baked rolls, and eggs scrambled with vine-ripened tomatoes and onions. Hot meals for lunch. Hard-boiled eggs for dinner, chopped with cucumber, peppers, and seasoned with lemon.

In late August, 1971, a little over a year after our arrival in Israel, my family moved to kibbutz just in time for the start of sixth grade for Evelyn, my twin sister, and me, and second grade for my sister, Judy. With close to one thousand members, a huge central dining room, citrus, avocado, walnut, and pecan orchids, cotton fields, chicken and turkey coops, a dairy farm, and acres of vegetables, kibbutz was the apotheosis of socialist living, an agricultural collective, where no money exchanged hands and everyone shared the work and the profits.

Of my family’s innumerable moves over the years, kibbutz was the most radical shift from life within our nuclear family to life in beit hayiladim—the children’s house—a living arrangement the community saw as the underpinning of its work ethic, with parents freed up to rise at 5 a.m. and go about their work day, unencumbered by childcare concerns. For my sisters and me it was like being dropped into summer camp.

At first all the kids crowded around Evelyn and me, identical twins from America. We were the attraction. Handmade cards sat on our neatly made beds. Ruti, our mitaplet, gave us a tour of our new quarters, a dorm style dwelling where twenty-four girls and boys our age ate, slept, and went to school. The biggest hurdle we had to overcome was the communal shower system, but what we sacrificed in privacy we gained in chevre. There is no English equivalent for this word—a supportive network of close friends who regard each other as family. They are the people you grow up with, who are part of the fabric of your life. Ultimately they are the people you serve with in the army. In a country where military service is both a national obligation and a rite of passage, that word takes on great significance.

Boker Tov, Boker Or!” Ruti would half-sing, half-shout, gliding in and out of our bedrooms, where we slept three to a room. Ruti arrived each morning dressed in the traditional kibbutz work outfit, a dark blue cotton shirt, matching shorts, and thick-soled sandals with black durable straps. She made sure we got up and went to bed on time, inspected our clothing cubbies, cooked and cleaned. At night Ruti went home and an armed guard roamed between the children’s houses, making the rounds after lights out.

1972 was the year I learned to make shakshuka. The year I learned to milk goats. The year I fell in love with a boy whose name I couldn’t pronounce. When the lights went out, Ilana and I whispered to each other. Unlike me, a skinny girl with veiny legs and a boy’s hard chest, Ilana matured early and was fully developed. She spoke English fluently with an affected American accent that she acquired from illicitly hanging out with the American volunteers, one in particular, named Steve. If she wasn’t sexually active, she wanted to be. I, too, was infatuated with a boy—lanky and freckled, who was chosen that year to star in a British documentary called “A Boy on a Kibbutz.” I obsessed about Nir but he lowered his head shyly whenever we crossed paths.

Living away from our parents I felt suddenly independent, so grown-up. The kids had our own farm with deer, peacocks, rabbits, ducks, goats, and horses. Each day after school we worked on the farm for two hours. Sometimes we got up in the middle of the night and made French fries or raided each other’s rooms. After the pecan harvest we got to climb the trees, shake the branches, and gorge on the remaining nuts. Friday night, in honor of the Sabbath, this secular community wore white and assumed an air of spirituality. That night we enjoyed a hot meal and sang Israeli folk songs together after dinner.

Song and dance permeated our lives, which revolved around the succession of Jewish holidays. Tu Bishvat we took tractor rides to the outskirts of the kibbutz to plant new trees. Sukkot everyone assembled to celebrate the harvest and eat outdoors in a hut made out of bamboo and eucalyptus branches. Lag BaOmer we collected old wood and built an enormous bon fire that blazed all night. The year culminated in Yom Haazmaout—Israeli Independence Day—a festive celebration with performances, a parade, special foods, and folk dancing till dawn.

A combination paradise and fortress, with guard towers stationed along its perimeter, kibbutz, during the year we lived there felt like the safest place on earth. A decade later we would learn of the deaths of two of our chevre in the Lebanon War.

§

In Vermont, no permit is required to carry a handgun, rifle, or shotgun, concealed or not. But apart from a few annual hunting deaths and drunk driving accidents, Vermont is a relatively safe place to live. “It’s like living in an extended family,” said Morgan, my friend who grew up here. “You don’t necessarily like all of them but you look out for each other just the same.”

But community is an obscure and shifting ideal that hinges on a false balance, one as out of control as the forces of war and peace. The year I moved here, Vermont became the first state to legalize civil unions but the debate had divided the populace. Overnight, it seemed, The Take Back Vermont movement surfaced and spread to every corner of the state. In 2000, signs bearing that slogan appeared, hand painted, nailed to barns, and staked on lawns like political posters.

At first I thought the signs were about people wanting a simpler life—an anti-sprawl slogan. Soon it became clear that those who wanted to take the state back were the Christians, the right wing Republicans, the anti-gay, pro-life contingent. They wanted the lefties out, the flatlanders gone.

Karen and Jo, our Christian neighbors, home-schooled their six kids and sold us fresh cow’s milk. We talked about what we had in common: homesteading, gardening, animals. When a 3’ x 4’ Take Back Vermont sign materialized on their barn, it sent shock waves through Adamant, a tolerant place where a lesbian couple had made their home with their young daughter. “It’s not like we are saying that gay people don’t have a right to be gay,” Jo told me. “It’s just that we don’t think the state should be rewarding their lifestyle choice. That is up to God.” It was so unexpected, this prejudice. It had been a long time since I had sensed such palpable enmity between people.

§

Ofakim, a stifling development town on the outskirts of Be’er Sheva was, like Adamant, off the map. So far off, though, it might as well have been the moon. It resembled not a town so much as a ghost town, a no mans land, where my sisters and I, age 10 and 6, festered our first summer in Israel alongside several hundred poor Arabs and a handful of Jewish immigrants with nothing to do.

Our daily walk home from summer school took us through the densely settled Arab neighborhood, where aged stone slabs lay stacked atop one another, forming a seamless web of interlocking apartments. Boys with shaved heads—the failsafe remedy for lice—and girls with worn dresses greeted us with taunts and curiosity.

The Jewish settlement, a series of newly constructed four-story high-rises, most of them empty, sat on stilts pounded into sand, the architectural signature of 1970s developments. The freshly poured sidewalk, sprinkled with a few date palms ran along the road that led out of town, where most of the Jewish immigrants, including us, were headed. My father had negotiated a teaching position at the University of the Negev in Be’er Sheva, and we were on a waiting list to get into the Absorption Center created to help Jewish immigrants acclimate to the country.

The dry afternoon heat forced the pale Ashkenazim to wear sun hats, and the dark skinned Arab boys ridiculed us, shouting insults then bolting for cover. I had learned a few curse words by then and screamed back at one.

Coos Umak.

First he threatened and then pelted me in the head with a rock. It was a small rock, but the impact drew blood and shocked all of us as we ran for home, the boy and his friends in one direction, my sisters and I in the other. At dusk I stood nervously in front of an iron gate enclosing a building streaked with soot, a small garden, and a brood of ragged children. My American mother, poised to confront the boy’s Arab one, held my hand protectively, the two of them centuries old enemies, ready to battle it out in their broken Hebrew.

Ha ben shelach meshuga!” my mother screamed. Your son is crazy! Look what he did to my daughter! She opened the gate, gripping my hand, and pointed to my head wrapped in gauze.

Ot ha meshugaeet!” his mother belted back. You’re the crazy one! She wore a colorful scarf bound tightly to her head and a black skirt that trailed the ground, its hem encrusted with dirt. My mother dragged me onto their property, raging, threatening to call the mishtara, the police, to have the boy arrested.

I stared at the boy who cursed at me behind his mother’s back. “Itleh el Yehud,” he said in Arabic. Jews get out. My head no longer hurt, but my face burned hot as the humiliation of my mother’s tirade bore through me like his racial slur.

§

Unlike my parents, who considered Israel home long before they immigrated and even after they reluctantly returned to the United States, Vermont was never on my radar. Before I moved there I spent exactly one day visiting in the summer of 1984 with my friend Amy who had asked if I would accompany her on a job interview. She had just received her teaching credential and was trying to decide where to move. I lived in cities—New York, San Francisco, Boston—and the sight of all this farmland with nothing in between, this Norman Rockwell scene, made me uneasy.

“Are you sure you want to live here?” I asked Amy as we drove through countryside I had never seen. Green hills, trees, fields, mountains. A saturated green. A green so singular, it defined this state, embedded its very name—“Verd Mont.” French explorer Samuel de Champlain named its Green Mountains, which cut North to South through the would-be state.

“Vermont’s cool,” Amy told me. “Did you know it was the first state to abolish slavery?”

Ben & Jerry’s was making news that Orwellian year with its What’s the Doughboy Afraid Of campaign. The fledgling ice cream company had filed suit against Pillsbury, the parent company of Haagen-Dazs, which tried to limit the distribution of the hippie ice cream in Boston. But all I really knew about Vermont was that it served as a destination for rich people who ski.

Interstate 89 begins its ascent toward Montreal in Concord New Hampshire, where the traffic disappeared. As we crossed into Vermont the billboards, too, vanished. Vermont, it turns out, had been the first state to ban them. We cruised past densely forested, low-lying mountains, punctuated now and again by a small town, its church spire peaking out through the trees. Soon the road turned to dirt and we were kicking up rocks and bouncing past cornfields.

“Make a left at the red barn. Go about half a mile and make a right at the pond.”

“Are there any street signs?”

We stopped to get directions from an elderly woman walking her leash-less dog on the side of the road. She was friendly, wished Amy luck, and drew us a little map with landmarks, one of which was a leaning yellow silo. We were disappointed when we finally arrived at a non-descript brick building—Braintree Elementary.

I looked at Amy, part earth mother, part gypsy dervish, a fiery, green-eyed Jewish girl with puffy lips, whose smile and throaty laugh made you want to nest in her uncontrolled shock of black hair. She tried to make herself presentable for the interview, straightened out her rumpled skirt, tucked in her blouse, and twisted her mane into a clip.

While Amy was inside talking to the principal about curriculum requirements and learning standards, I wandered down the road and listened to a flock of crows in a stand of rustling poplars. A tractor hummed by, leaving straight lines of cut grass in its wake.

Amy returned to the car bug-eyed, unnerved by the school’s insularity, conformity, and whiteness. Driving back, we peered at the endless greenery and cows, the parochial white houses with green shutters. Suddenly, it became apparent to both of us as we looked at each other, that we were not merely Jewish. We were more than what Vermonters call flatlanders. We were right out of the desert, descendants of Abraham, members of a tribe.

§

I turned 13 the year my family returned to the States, six months before the outbreak of the Yom Kippur War in 1973, the first war that caught Israel off guard and in those first weeks threatened the country’s survival. My parents’ decision to return to New York was personal, not political. Ideology had taken a backseat to a failing marriage and the realization that my father’s job prospects were better in America. Sequestered in The Bronx, watching the news of the war on TV, I felt like I’d lost something I had no idea belonged to me.

What lingered was the imprint of the dry weather that drew every kid from every apartment building in our neighborhood outdoors; our hikes to the new developments—unfinished steel-framed buildings—where we climbed along the beams and leaped into a mountain of sand; holding my breath as I reached into the thicket of cactus quills to cut the grenade-looking prickly pear from its succulent pad; the pandemonium of the shuk, where I bargained for everything from gum to goomi. I’ve since taught the Adamant kids to play goomi, a game like Chinese jump rope, GaGa, a cross between dodge ball and soccer, and Chamesh Avanim, which is similar to jacks but requires more skill.

People often ask me if I felt scared living in Israel. And I tell them, “no more than living in The Bronx.” I’d gotten used to a country that operated under the threat of war and terrorism. Bomb squads routinely deployed when an unclaimed package was left at a bus stop and soldiers guarded every city and village. The Voice of Israel, the government’s radio station, came on at the top of every hour signaling everyone in the country to attention. Five beeps—the countdown—gave you the requisite time to prepare for the worst—news of a hijacking, border patrol skirmish, reserve call-up, names of the dead.

Kol Yisrael blasted its way into dinner conversations, work deadlines, afternoon naps. The radio seeped into our consciousness because it was ubiquitous, in buses, stores, at work, school and home, its headlines echoing across the tiny country. We were tuned to survival but in a larger sense it kept us united to a small tribe where all Jews are family.

I returned to Israel twice as an adult, first as a student, and later to live. That first time back, at age 21, I was amazed to see how much Israel had changed in less than a decade. In 1981 it bore the hallmarks of Westernization—big cities, traffic jams, pollution, television. But something of my past had stayed with me as I brushed up my Hebrew, replacing the anachronistic greeting of my youth, Ma Sholmech?—How are you?—with the cooler Ma Inyanim?—What’s going on?

My final semester, I took a course on the historical geography of Jerusalem. Weekly excursions led to The City of David, Israel’s first kingdom, one of the most significant and monumental archeological sites in the world. Combing through the City beneath the City, we traced the biblical stories of my youth directly to their source, the words of my professor echoing off Jerusalem’s white limestone walls.

“The Jews are a people bound by religion, culture, and land.”

I felt rooted in this land, its history, its climate. It belonged to me, this country whose tiny size contrasted against its colossal imprint on the world. Four years later, in 1985, I made my way back to Israel to live on a kibbutz, with the thought that I might stay for good. But when a year had passed, I found myself facing the City on the Hill, feeling the deep isolation that comes from the recognition that it’s too late to recapture your childhood. I turned and walked down the Mount of Olives, knowing that my ties to Israel and my past were about to end. I went back to being an American, a New Yorker, a Californian, and finally moving to Adamant, a place that could not figure less in the scheme of world affairs. A place I never expected to call home.
 

Deb_FleischmanDeb Fleischman’s latest work appears in Neutrons/Protons, 1966 Journal, and Little Fiction/Big Truths. Deb co-founded Write Mondays, which offers writing workshops to middle-high school students in central Vermont. She holds a B.S. in political science from M.I.T. and an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts.

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