Cover image for Coming home to Jerusalem : a personal journey
Coming home to Jerusalem : a personal journey
Orange, Wendy, 1943-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Simon & Schuster, [2000]

Physical Description:
304 pages ; 24 cm
General Note:
Includes index.
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DS113.8.A4 O736 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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In the tradition of Under the Tuscan Sun and Peter Mayle's popular portraits of Provence, an American woman recounts her five-year stay in Israel with candor, wit, and a keen eye for the cultural and political undercurrents of her adopted home.

Wendy Orange and her family settled in Israel in the 1990s, and, despite language barriers, household dramas, homesickness, and a difficult job search, Orange eventually found herself at home. Coming Home to Jerusalem is the story of the world she discovered, the people behind the politics, and the deep-seated ideals obscured behind divisive ideologies.

Her sojourn brings her into contact with famous authors, obscure artists, Evangelical teachers, American-Israeli housewives, and citizens weary of the turbulent life Orange finds so fascinating. As a reporter for an American magazine, she travels to remote parts of Israel and into the Palestinian territories, adventures that give her a broader picture of the age-old conflicts that inform the opinionsof peaceniks and young soldiers, downtrodden refugees and elite politicians on both sides of the cultural divide. Her portraits illuminate every

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Orange grew up in a secular Jewish home with a strong commitment to the state of Israel. When she finally visited that country for the first time, she was struck by its diverse society. This memoir records her experiences in Israel and reflects her ongoing fascination with the land and its people. Using her training as a psychologist and a journalist, Orange ventured into various Jewish and Palestinian communities and learned about the prejudices and stereotypes that divide both ethnic groups and social classes. She observed not only the tensions between Arabs and Jews but also the animosity that exists between Ashkenazic and Sephardic Jews and between religious and secular Jews--all of which play a major role in Israeli politics. Orange offers a very personal view of current Israeli history and politics. Her accounts of meetings with Israelis and Palestinians, the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, and the election of Benjamin Netanyahu will interest all who follow the conflicts in the Middle East. --Barbara Bibel

Publisher's Weekly Review

Jewish baby boomer Orange moved to Israel in the early 1990s with her young daughter as part of a midlife attempt to find herself. (Televised pictures of Israelis wearing gas masks during the 1991 Gulf WarÄa compelling vision for someone who grew up obsessed with the HolocaustÄspurred her need to be with people) Now, the author chronicles the years she lived as a journalist in the Middle East. Though trained as a psychologist, she became a correspondent for the leftist Jewish magazine Tikkun. But in this book she is more than just an observerÄshe leaps into the Israeli world with a vengeance, making both Palestinian and Israeli friends, taking on a lover who is a taxicab driver. She participates in the peace movement as the euphoria of the 1993 Oslo accord gives way to the violence of the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin and the deadly bus bombings against Jews that lead to the 1996 election of Benjamin Netanyahu as Israeli prime minister. Along the way, Orange describes with intense earnestness the ups and downs that accompany life in the tinderbox of the Middle East. Regarding the Palestinians, whose views she seems to genuinely try to understand, she moves from fear to sympathy to rageÄand back again. The reader remains unclear about the reasons for Orange's final departure from the region, but is left with a keen understanding of the grassroots frenzy that accompanies political life there and the author's own intoxication with this frenzy. Agent, Joy Harris. (June) FYI: For another immigrant's look at contemporary life in Israel, see David Horowitz's A Little Too Close to God, Forecasts, Apr. 25. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Orange, a writer and psychologist, is almost a prototype of the alienated American. Cut off from her historical roots and with no nuclear family except for a young daughter, she feels totally unconnected to the world. On a whim, she moves to Israel, and there she finds the extended family she craves. This book, which reads almost like a personal diary, tells of her stay there. As a journalist, she becomes involved in the peace process and reaches out to the Palestinian community, where she finds a home for her soul. In the end, however, she is forced to leave Israel because her daughter is diagnosed as dyslexic, unable to read Hebrew (written from right to left) despite two years of school. Unfortunately, the pages of conversations and interviews with her Palestinian and Israeli friends lose their impact owing to repetition, and Orange's perspective is limited. She loves Israel but never learns the language. Thus, she is disconnected from the majority of the people and involved only with those who have an affinity for her own ideas. Just as her daughter can only read from left to right, Orange can only see the world from that angle. Not recommended.DIdelle Rudman, Touro Coll. Lib., New York (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Chapter One Trains in the Distance Once off the plane Michael hails a taxi to drive us up to Jerusalem. Our driver turns out to be a man with whom Michael once studied Hebrew, a man named Shuki. They talk as I look out the window at our sandy surroundings. In less than an hour we're checking into the King David Hotel. After stashing his bags in an adjoining room, Michael enters my room and starts pacing back and forth, though I'm already in bed, exhausted. I'm half asleep when he suggests that we leave Jerusalem immediately, that we take a tour of the country. "Tour the country?" I ask, incredulous. "Michael, we just got here." I'm sinking back into sleep when he shakes me awake. He's feeling sick, he says. I sit up and see that he looks pale. His legs are shaking. I suggest we call a doctor, but he says something about having weird feelings, a panic attack, and in a flash, after grabbing his backpack, he's out the door. "I need to get out of here," I hear him say as he goes, leaving me wide awake. I've never seen Michael act like this and now I'm completely alone in this foreign land. Having never traveled such a distance, I know nothing about jet lag. I become mystified by the mood that overtakes me -- a high wakefulness laced with a free-floating fear. Luckily, the conference isn't scheduled to begin for six days. Cornered by my own anxiety, I venture only as far as the hotel's gift shop, where I buy Thomas L. Friedman's From Beirut to Jerusalem. For the next three days the sun shines brightly. Not a cloud passes overhead. But too shy to go outside by myself, I stay in the hotel, devouring Friedman's depictions of Israeli and Palestinian realities. I read in bed, on the balcony, in the dining room. I don't brave leaving the hotel until I've nearly memorized Friedman's words. Yet I know I haven't come halfway around the world to read a book. So, on the fourth luminous morning I force myself to go out. Five steps away I spot a line of taxis. "You want tour?" a driver asks. "I take you Yad Vashem," he says, referring to the Holocaust memorial. I nod, climb into his backseat and remain mute as we head uphill. We pass modern stone buildings and drive up curving hilltops with views of desert vistas. Then we take a winding urban route and pass overflowing cafes filled with animated crowds. What I see from this cab window is nothing like my imagined Israel. Jerusalem looks exotic, yet feels familiar in ways I can't explain to myself. I'm awed by the beauty of this country that I've so studiously avoided all these years of my life. As I gaze out the window, my driver shouts to me in English, "A few years back...Thugs. Nazis called. 1930s. They kill all Jews. Dead and dead everywhere! This guy, named Hitler..." I tune him out, mumbling, "I know about that, " wondering who in the world doesn't, while mesmerized by the Jerusalem that's passing before me. Soon I ask him to let me out of the car, and I wander haphazardly through neighborhoods that seem inviting. I enter dark alleyways which open onto sunny courtyards. I stroll past stone houses terraced with colorful plants and flowering bushes. If I ask people for directions, we often end up playing Jewish geography ("You from New York? Know Abe Grossman?"). The Israelis I meet act as if there's all the time in the world for such chatting. Almost everyone greets me as a family member, though I notice that unlike Americans, Jewish Israelis are firmly planted on their land, in their country's politics and history. They may be shrill, but they're not suffering from any estrangement, I notice. That night I get into bed suffused with the day's physical and human warmth, impatient for my next excursion. Part of Jerusalem's allure is purely visual. In the days that follow I study the birds and the oddly juxtaposed trees: pines and palms, lemon and eucalyptus, firs and figs blossom everywhere. Whether lacy or aromatic, they fill the courtyards, encircle each home, towering above the stones that turn rose, lavender, yellow, white and gray under the oscillating summer light. I study these transformations as if deciphering my destiny. Or I move to another neighborhood where I contemplate each scene, costume and character as if I'm gazing at an Old Master's artwork. In the Jewish Quarter of the Old City, I see ultra-Orthodox men and boys garbed in black from hat to shoe racing toward a yeshiva, side curls (peyot) flying in the breeze, cigarettes dangling from their lips. Nearby, wizened old men in the Muslim quarter sit with their heads swathed in checkered scarves, known as kaffiyehs, relaxing and smoking hookahs (water pipes) at outdoor tables. They seem oblivious to the Jews rushing past. Back at my hotel in modern Jerusalem, I'm surrounded by casually dressed Israelis, uniformed in Tshirts and jeans, smoking, talking, gesturing vivaciously. Wherever I walk, whoever comes into view, I've yet to see a set of dulled eyes. One morning near the Damascus Gate, an archway leading into the Old City, I watch six Greek Orthodox priests walking abreast of each other, so close they seem to occupy one body. When a wind blows their long black robes, each one billows like an umbrella, while their gold crucifixes catch the sun while swinging back and forth on their chests. With the Judean mountains in the background and with so many religiously attired figures around me, I feel as if I've wandered far from the postmodern world onto a page torn from the Bible. At the same time, my sense of alienation is evaporating, as is the Sunday sadness (in Israel, Sunday is a weekday) that's assaulted me everywhere else. Instead of withdrawing from life, I feel an easy intimacy with the people, with the place and with myself, wherever I go. When I finally lie down to sleep, I can't wait for morning, for the dawn sun rising over the Old City in brilliant red, for the sounds of Hebrew and Arabic prayers mixing in the air. Before reading the day's newspapers or opening one of my books on Mideast history, I sit on my small balcony and look out at the Judean desert hills and beyond, all the way out to the horizon. By 8 A.M., every mosque and synagogue shines golden under a sun that's guaranteed a full six months here. These sights and sounds all wake me to an alertness so intense, it almost replaces coffee. Whether I walk through Mea Shearim (the eighteenth-century replica of a Jewish shtetl) or on crowded Ben Yehuda (in central downtown), or to the neighborhood of Abu Tor with its moonscape park, the Tayelet, every sight draws me out of myself and into this waking dream. The city's old stones have a warmth that seems historical, evocative of recent generations in my family, my most intimate link to the vast chain of Jewish history. I've long known that our subjective moods can "create" external reality; now I learn that the converse is true: that an outer world of meanings can shift the sense of who we are. I'm no longer identified with that wicked child of the Passover service, the one who says, "What happened to you in the land of your forefathers?" Here, I wonder naturally, "What happened to us?" The fact that I feel so at home in a place where everything is reversed -- the alphabet, the calendar, the Celsius weather reports, the books that read from right to left, the rhythms of the Jewish holidays -- confirms the notion that my feelings of displacement are being reversed as well. I belong in Jerusalem. This inner refrain arises not only from the exotic landscapes, constant sunlight or the dynamism of human connections. What most enlivens me is the Jewishness of it all -- a multicultural, bohemian, cosmopolitan Jewish expressed in English, Hebrew, French, Russian and Aramaic, languages spoken everywhere in this city of immigrants. On my sixth night I meet an Israeli intellectual who's sipping Turkish coffee in the hotel lobby. He invites me to join him, tells me that he's driven the two hours from Haifa, and is also waiting for the conference to begin. (Men seem like cousins here. There's no sexual subtext coloring every encounter, though there's plenty of freefloating flirting.) Uri is a scholar and, as I soon learn, is not part of the peace movement. He's here to check out Americans and Israelis who are propeace and is wary of us all. He knows Torah as well as the minutiae of Israel's history. He quizzes me on what I know, barking questions like the stern professor he is. He asks me about the Bible, about recent politics and distant history -- a test I fail miserably. Yet it's easy to be direct with him. "Look," I say, "I know next to nothing; I'm here to learn." "At least you're honest," Uri says, shaking his head. "American Jews aren't usually aware of their ignorance about us. Why do you people always superimpose your fantasies on our reality?" I shrug. That he even thinks I have fantasies about his country shows he hasn't caught on to how little I yet know about Israel. As night wears on, we can't stop talking in this ornate lobby. Or rather, he can't. I become the rapt listener. Somewhere near 2 A.M., I realize that despite Uri's erudition (his lived Zionism, his yeshiva education begun at age five, continuing into his mid-fifties), he needs me as an audience or sounding board for the argument he's having with himself. I watch as he moves through the tunnels of his mind vis-à-vis the "Arabs" (the word he, like most Israelis, uses when discussing the Palestinians). He's trying to envision a "two-state solution" and at one point almost talks himself into one, though he continues to sprinkle his monologue with racist epithets against Arabs -- a people he thoroughly distrusts. And, as he lets me know, he finds pro-peace Americans not much better. "Naive, unsophisticated, arrogant" is what he calls us over and over. Nor does he lose any love on the Sephardim -- Jews from Arab countries. He's elitist, sexist, certainly a Jewish chauvinist. But as he keeps smiling at me, I intuit how much he welcomes a neutral mind onto which he can work out his zigzagging thoughts about peace, its possible solutions. "I hate even the thought of losing the biblical sites on the West Bank," he says. Like a good therapist, I nod, saying nothing. "But we can't afford any more of our soldiers dying while trying to control those terrorist kids with their stones." As he says this, his face goes rigid. Yet around the next curve in his mind, he's wrestling with more liberal ideas -- ideas he'd never entertain if I'd suggested them. "You know nothing. It's amazing! Nothing!" he says, which is true, after all. Yet he seems unaware that it's my ignorance that frees him to speak opposing thoughts out loud. After a few hours he winds down. Immediately, as if he's waking from a trance, he says, "But none of this is any of your business." "Sure, it's my business," I say, thinking less of American Jewish money poured into this country and more of the hours I've just spent listening to each twist and turn of his complex mind. "Why else would we be talking if it's not my business? As you said, all Jews are connected through 'birth and persecution,'" I repeat his words back to him calmly. I don't need to be defensive, however dismissive and rude he is. Because, for once in my life, I know I belong to this story. The next morning, the conference begins. More than four hundred American Jews have flown over to attend. In the mornings and evenings we're joined by Israelis who by day must go to work. On the schedule is a highly anticipated panel featuring four Palestinians. But I see no Palestinians at all during our daily sessions. What I see is how we Americans appear to the Israelis, especially those among us who talk with authority, sounding arrogant, a tone that's never lost on the sabras, native-born Israelis. Yael Dayan, daughter of famed Israeli military hero Moshe Dayan, and a firebrand in her own right, a woman who will soon become a member of the Knesset (Israel's parliament), steps to the stage, gives a passionate speech. She outlines the Israeli peace movement's strategies, their plans to counter Likud Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir's intransigence against even modest compromises with the Palestinians. She finishes to wild applause. Following her to the podium is the newly elected senator from Minnesota, Paul Wellstone. His talk is long, earnest and abstract. As he finishes, he looks at Dayan, who's sitting in the front row of this packed auditorium. "I so appreciate that you've taken the time to come here tonight. How generous of you to interrupt your busy life and to share your thoughts," he says. Dayan leaps from her seat. "Mamash! [Really!] Maybe in the States you say such things. But not here, not to us Israelis, not to me. We, sir, do not attend your meetings out of 'generosity.' Peace work is no hobby for us. Don't you understand? Coming here is not altruism; it's our life! Who are you to thank me?" The Israelis smile during her outburst. The Americans do not. They seem taken aback by her directness, which I find energizing, even if rude. In fact, I'm overcome by a sense of freedom at this Israeli bluntness and the permission it gives us all to speak our minds truthfully. The next morning I join hundreds of Americans who are sitting around an outdoor amphitheater at Hebrew Union College. Try as I do to concentrate on the scholars' talks on the Bible or Jewish spirituality, on class schisms in Israel or the possible pathways to peace, I keep getting distracted by a clump of cypress trees in the corner of the yard. Each tree seems a testament to a hundred years of Zionism. I force myself to concentrate by taking notes, but soon I'm off on another reverie, marveling at "Jewish" birds flying in a "Jewish" sky, trying to remember all those words about Israel I so assiduously tuned out since childhood. I'm preoccupied with sorting out my long-held prejudices about Israel from this wild place all around me. At the mid-afternoon break an American woman asks if I'll join her for a meal. I like her voice, her homey manner, the way leftleaning American Jews can be so casual and unpretentious. But to my surprise, over lunch not a word is said about the conference. We focus on her problems: a mastectomy years back, her mother's death two decades ago. She talks about being fat, saying that it's obvious to everyone that she has problems. "Well, don't we all?" "But your problems aren't obvious," she responds. I show her my bitten nails. She shrugs. "That's nothing, just fingers," she says. When our meal is over, we walk to the Wailing (Western) Wall, touch the ancient stones, move a few feet back to stare at them and then touch them again. Nothing stirs in me; I'm a bit numb. Rather than forcing a feeling, I study the people who are praying here, separated into men's and women's sections. Many have prayer books open and are davening back and forth, muttering in Hebrew. Several women nearby are sobbing openly. Others are crying quietly. I open my notebook and write a letter to God. I give gratitude for being in Jerusalem and ask for grace for all those I love -- the living and the dead. Following the common custom, I then press the note into the cracks of this massive stone wall. We then head back to the conference. But not before making a detour to sit in the cafe adjacent to Jerusalem's Cinémathèque, the film center here. It's gorgeous out on this stone ledge. We can see the Sultan's Pool, the David Museum, the Dome of the Rock, the hills of Palestinian Silwan. Again I feel emanations of history coming at me, exactly what the Wailing Wall did not evoke. When I try to talk about my sense of being placed, my companion can't respond; she's staring down at a nearinvisible stain on her dress that she wants me to agree is obvious. It isn't. We arrive back at the conference just in time to catch a poetry reading. Someone is introducing the famous Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai: "They call this the Holy Land. But what's really holy are the connections between people." Amichai reads from his poems, including one called "Tourists," which is a minor synchronicity because his words capture what I was thinking only an hour ago at the Wailing Wall: Once I was sitting on the steps near the gate at David's Citadel and I put down my two heavy baskets beside me. A group of tourists stood there around their guide, and I became their point of reference. "You see that man over there with the baskets? A little to the right of his head there's an arch from the Roman period. A little to the right of his head." "But he's moving, he's moving!" I said to myself: Redemption will come only when they are told, "Do you see that arch over there from the Roman period? It doesn't matter, but near it, a little to the left and then down a bit, there's a man who has just bought fruit and vegetables for his family." The following session is standing room only (the audience is entirely American). Taking place in a large auditorium, it's billed simply as "The Palestinians." Faisal Husseini and Sari Nusseibeh, two men from prominent East Jerusalem Arab families, are on the program. As are Hanan Ashrawi (who's not yet a household name) and Zahira Kamal (a West Bank lawyer and activist) But three of the four on the program do not show up. Only Zahira Kamal arrives, along with a young male associate. She's a wisp of a woman, smart and softspoken. With reserve, she begins speaking about Palestinian work going on in the territories, about the long vigil her people endure, of Israeli occupation with "its unspeakable record of human rights abuses." She explains what the Intifada (the Palestinian stone-throwing uprising) has meant, not to Israelis, but to the structure of Palestinian family life. She tells us how women's roles have been altered; that they now have more power and authority in their communities. She talks about the psychology of Palestinian kids, of the consequences they face when choosing to either fight in the Intifada or not. After her speech, to my horror, Kamal is bombarded by questions thrown out at her like...stones. These harsh queries are voiced by the most vocal among us -- mostly by American men in the audience. They question Palestinian disorganization, making aggressive comments that dispute her "Israel-bashing." They voice suspicions about her people's "martyrdom." She's asked if the Palestinians' stoic stance is a public relations stunt. Seated in the front row, I watch Zahira Kamal field these queries with seeming aplomb. But I can feel her disappointment, her weariness. Finally a man stands up and speaks sternly. "Imagine what it would be like to be a Jew addressing a large group of Palestinians," he says. "Would that be easy? Wouldn't you want respect? Wouldn't you hope for the audience to learn about your reality rather than instantly challenging every word you said? Who among us would reveal internal Jewish schisms to Palestinian strangers? What do you expect of these two who were gracious enough to show up?" When he sits, the group is quiet. The two Palestinians make a hasty exit into a world about which I really know nothing. Days pass as I tour the country, make new acquaintances, visit homes where I have meaningful, even revelatory conversations. Occasionally I go to hear the scholars speak at the conference. But more often I take day trips (with Michael's taxi friend Shuki) to the Dead Sea or to Tel Aviv. On the streets, especially in Jerusalem, I frequently hear anti-Arab slurs, just what the conference is attempting to reverse. But during these days, neither politics nor the future really grips me in the way that the architecture, trees, smells and random conversations do. I feel swept away by this zestful place, by wave after wave of extroverted Mediterranean energy -- an energy that seems to feed on itself. Every day I hear stories of the past from those who lived it. In a restaurant a man shares the tale of how he survived the Holocaust. An elderly gentleman sits me down at the Dead Sea spa and tells me at length of his role in 1948's War of Independence. At cafes in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, I hear about Israel's history from the people who created it. Israelis of all ages pull up chairs to regale a foreign Jew with personal accounts -- of making aliyah (the "ascent" to live permanently as a citizen in Israel), of fighting wars or growing up as sabras. I'm surprised at their openness, at how readily Israelis talk of the most personal matters -- comrades lost in past wars, buried children, friendships, even marriages, formed (or riven) by politics. They are equally free with advice about how to navigate life here -- the traffic, the best place to exchange money, what movies to see. I relish the way Israelis lean into my life, asking, "Where's the child? You come so far and without your girl? No husband? How can you afford the expensive hotel?" I do not experience these interchanges with strangers as intrusive; rather, in no time, "strangers" seem like aunts, grandparents, cousins. The more I talk to Israelis, the less American I feel, and this all occurs so quickly that I question my own perceptions. Each time I go to the conference, by contrast, I feel the psychological distance that exists between us American Jews, even though the speakers' political and biblical explications are usually brilliant. I seem to come alive only when out on the streets, wrapped inside Israel's shifting, ambiguous realities. One evening a group of Israeli intellectuals takes over the stage -- writers, activists, politicians, poets. I resonate with the masculine men and the no-nonsense, straightforward women. A. B. Yehoshua, a famous Israeli novelist, takes his turn at the microphone, announcing that, unlike those who preceded him, he'll give his lecture in Hebrew. The crowd groans, but he says that this reborn ancient language should be known by us all. And off he goes -- on and on in Hebrew. Oddly, while few can understand him (and I do only because bits of his speech are translated for me by an Israeli who's sitting nearby) the group seems to rise up along with Yehoshua's energy. Somehow his talk is more powerful than all the other speeches put together, as though language is no barrier. The gist of his exhortation is: "Come to live in Israel. Other Americans, the ultrareligious, the right-wing settlers, they come in droves. But you! You intellectuals. You peaceniks. You only visit. That's wrong! Don't you realize that you could help create a new Israel? Help create social justice here. Help make peace with the Arabs. Even rid us of Shamir! But no, you give your opinions, not your lives. I say to every one of you: Make aliyah; not conferences!" Can I do this? Move here? I approach him after his talk while busy calculating the logistics. I do have enough money to live for a year without full-time work. My child hasn't entered kindergarten yet. Surely, she'll pick up Hebrew "like a sponge," as all young children do with foreign languages. Yehoshua eventually turns to me. It's as if he can see through me and is convinced I will be the rare American to heed his call, to move here. This is one of those moments when something speaks through you and you listen, more than a little surprised. Yehoshua is pulling these thoughts from me as he puts an arm paternally around me, casually jotting down his home phone number. "You'll call; we'll talk," he says, as though the case is closed and I'll be back soon. Excited and disoriented, I look around only to spot Michael. He must have just returned from the Negev or from wherever he disappeared to. He hugs me apologetically, says that he knows he deserted me, is sorry. I can't forgive him until he explains what happened. As soon as we entered Jerusalem, he says, he was flooded by painful memories, searing flashbacks. That's why he had to escape this "so powerful place." "Jet lag," we quip and then we stare at each other. I tell Michael that he looks stronger and more virile here. He swears I already look like an Israeli. He can see my soul rising into my face. A group of Israeli, American and English Jews joins our reunion and we all head to a nearby cafe for hummus, pita and olives. Around the long table, Israelis describe what it was like living through the Gulf war. They talk of wearing gas masks, of the sealed rooms essential in every home. One woman passes around photographs of her children lying on cots, under thick sheets of tarpaulin. We take turns studying their small faces strapped into huge masks; they look like children in emergency rooms or in intensive care. "It must have been terrifying," an Englishman observes, but the Israelis laugh it off. The war's over; very few were killed. Their mood remains cheerful even as our talk turns to the Palestinians. We ask why only one activist showed up at the conference, rather than the four expected. An Israeli explains about the latest political rift. He says that cultural tensions these days are not due only to Shamir's rigidity. They also result from recent Palestinian actions, the way so many danced on their rooftops, cheering on Saddam Hussein. This, he tells us, has ripped apart the small Israeli and Palestinian peace cultures, disrupting decades-long friendships between those who work together. An American asks, "But isn't it obvious that the enemy of your enemy is a natural ally? Isn't that the reason why Palestinians took the side of Iraq?" The Englishman says, "Your Israeli government didn't help matters. How could they refuse to distribute gas masks to those living in the territories?" An Israeli argues with them. He believes the Palestinians only showed their true feelings with such actions -- that they simply hate all Israelis. Despite these opposing views, the group energy at our table remains high-spirited and openhearted. During a lull I mention that my lifelong sense of estrangement has disappeared since my arrival. An Israeli named Chava turns to study me. "No one told you that Israel cures alienation?" "No," I say, as everyone stops talking to look at me in disbelief. They find my ignorance about Israel astounding. Each then describes how he or she first came here, under what circumstances that long romance with this place began. An Israeli man who arrived here as a youngster from Europe is sitting next to his South American-born wife. He says neither of them can imagine living in the States. Whenever they visit there, life seems too fractured and lonely. To my surprise, all the Americans at the table nod in agreement. Each claims that the only reason he or she has not moved to Israel is because of family or work obligations in the U.S. One after another insists that, if possible, in a New York minute, they'd come here to stay for good. I casually mention that I can stay, that nothing is keeping me in the States except that I don't know Hebrew. This comment draws a chorus of, "You'll learn...You're so lucky...Hebrew's no big deal...Do it!" Someone says I'll be welcomed because I'm a good listener. "And who listens here?" they ask each other, laughing. Long after midnight Michael and I leave the cafe. As we walk back to the hotel, I tell him how seductive I find these conversations. I ask if he's noticed that the Israelis we meet all seem happier than our friends back home. He nods; yes. I ask if life here really is more richly textured or is that just my beginners' fascination? He says, "Of course it's more meaningful. For sure." I've kept a clock on my night table set to Boston time, seven hours earlier than Israel's. At first I called Eliza daily. Since then, less often. Now, two days before I'm scheduled to leave, I step away from a lively conversation going full tilt out on my terrace to phone her. It's 2 A.M. here, dinner time in Boston. "Mom," she says in sweet, babyish intonations, "it's raining here all day. So come and get me tomorrow, okay?" "Sweetheart," I say, "it's the day after tomorrow. Are you going to be all right?" But she's already handed the phone to her babysitter, who assures me that Eliza is doing fine. I hang up, thinking of my daughter with a longing laced with dread. In some essential way I've forgotten our American life and its rhythms, so immersed have I been in this Jerusalem adventure, the whole new world that's opened up for me. I walk back to my guests: British filmmakers and others from the media. They're talking about the conference, the Palestinians, about British anti-Semitism. I'm only half listening; am looking up at the crystalline stars and mulling over Eliza's word "rain." "Rain," I muse, as if this word refers to some rare meteorological anomaly, as if I haven't experienced a dreary day of rain in years. God, how awful, I think, gazing around at the balmy Jerusalem night. I know that I've been the proverbial wandering Jew, looking for place in all the wrong places. For over the past days the initial sense of homecoming has grown so strong that with a rapture I'd previously attributed only to the deeply pious, with my voice intoning like a crazed TV evangelist, I've taken to saying out loud, "Thank you, Lord. Thank you, Lord," while leaping two red-carpeted hotel stairs at a time. I regularly belt out the S'chma Yisroel, one of the few Hebrew prayers I know, thanking God or Whoever for delivering me from my own Egypts, that life-long sense of exile. Though the conference has days to go, I arrived early and must leave before everyone else: Eliza is waiting for me. Michael drives me to the airport. In the car he jokes that, in Jerusalem, God is a local call. I've heard this comment before and always considered it flaky. But now I wonder if miracles do occur more easily here. I tell him that my instant ease in Jerusalem has given me the sense that though I have an American body, I am an Israeli soul. And if that's so, I ask him, then shouldn't I return here to live, as soon as possible? We hug and then I dash up the airport steps to catch my plane. At the top stair I turn to wave. Michael is standing tall in the midst of a carnival of lively Israelis. With his arms raised and his face beaming up at me, he's shouting, "Yes!" If I have second thoughts on the flight back to the States, it's because the logic of making aliyah has no logic. I have no religious life, speak no Hebrew, have only a beginner's grasp of Mideast cultures and politics. To live in Jerusalem, I'll have to give up my work as a psychologist and professor. I'll have to learn Hebrew. I'll be uprooting my already vulnerable daughter, who's been moved about too often in her short life. She's excited and ready to enter kindergarten with her new Cambridge friends. Tearing her away from all she knows simply because I like myself and this world I've briefly glimpsed gives me pause. Maybe I am suffering from what psychiatrists call Jerusalem madness, an affliction that's common among travelers to the Holy City, those who in no time believe that they're Jesus or Moses. Except that my delusion, if that's what this is, is that in Jerusalem I've become myself. Wrestling with such doubts in the airplane, I'm also reading Saul Bellow's To Jerusalem and Back. I soon find his sensibilities are antithetical to mine. "How can the Israelis bear living with such intensity?" he writes, as I wonder, How can I live without that? I put down his book, pick up an essay by Israeli author Amos Oz, in which I've already underlined "...suppose this hysterical Jewish bond were severed....Could I give up this drug, this addiction to collective excitement, these tribal ties?...If I could kick the habit, what would I have left? Are we really capable of living ordinary, peaceable lives? Could any of us?" That I understand. When we land at JFK in New York, I enter depressive shock. Though Manhattan's multiplicity and anonymity once enthralled me, the city now seems too huge, as if everyone here is fated to remain strangers, to live inside a giant disconnect. I fiercely miss the family feeling I've just left and head for a newspaper and magazine stand, longing for something -- for anything -- to read that will keep Israel alive. Fiction, nonfiction, history, current news. But what I discover all over this shop are headlines heralding Donald Trump's latest sexcapade. In this tiny moment my decision begins to take shape. Because these headlines are such a contrast to Israeli news, which never centers on reports about the vagaries of the rich, but on life-and-death issues that connect everyone in a country-wide intimacy, despite all the famed religious and political schisms. I think back to the bold print of the Jerusalem Post on my first morning in Jerusalem. The headline, one large word, read "GEVALT" (Oy vay, or My God). This memory gives rise to an overpowering urge to return to a place where politics are personal, where people are bonded by public shorthand. As I wander around New York's airport it's as if I lived in the States only briefly, forty-odd years ago, and have been in Israel ever since, rather than the other way around. Within five weeks I've packed up eight cardboard boxes, filled with toys, clothes and books (on Judaica, Israeli history and politics). I'm ready to travel six thousand miles for what I intend to be the rest of my life. When friends ask why I'm going, I can't answer coherently, not at first. Only gradually do I see that the powerful familial ties I felt instantly in Israel were connected to that fate I didn't suffer, a fate I lived in my imagination as a child. Was my youthful belief that my true origins were closer to the forties' death trains than to the fifties' 'commuters' one reason why Israel's stories affected me as if they were my own? I'm not sure. What I know is that while obsessing on the Holocaust, I missed the next chapter in Jewish history, the birth of Israel. I know now where I'm traveling -- to a complex world, rich with many subcultures I've barely glimpsed. That richness nearly takes my breath away. On our line at JFK Airport, an Israeli family is standing directly behind us. The mother asks casually, "Why are you going to Israel? How long will you be vacationing there?" Instead of answering, I look down at Eliza's sad face. It's now I see, with naked clarity, that I'm taking us both away from friends, school, work and, most of all, from an English-speaking world to live in a culture that, if I can face this fact, I've been exposed to -- in its entirety -- for thirteen days. The line inches forward. I turn back to the Israelis and say, "We're not going to visit. We're moving there." Excerpted from Coming Home to Jerusalem by Wendy Orange. Copyright © 2000 by Wendy Orange. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Table of Contents

Prologue: In the Beginning
Part I Among The Israelis
Chapter 1 Trains in the Distance
Chapter 2 Into the Heart of Jerusalem
Chapter 3 Joining the Tribe
Chapter 4 What We Talk About in Israel
Chapter 5 Initiation
Part II Among the Palestinians
Chapter 6 Crossing Over the Green Line
Chapter 7 Shifting Landscapes: Four Days in May
Chapter 8 Today Is Not like Yesterday
Part III After the Handshake
Chapter 9 Scenes from an Uneasy Peace
Chapter 10 Tomorrow and Tomorrow: Winter Vignettes
Chapter 11 After the Massacre
Chapter 12 Double Vision: Gaza in My Mind
Chapter 13 Waiting for Arafat
Chapter 14 A Happy Interlude: A Peace Accord
Chapter 15 Placed, and Misplaced
Part IV Losing that Wild Earth
Chapter 16 My Mid-East Crisis
Chapter 17 Rabin Is Dead
Chapter 18 Black Dreams and Blood-Red Streets: Israel Under Siege
Part V The World is Upside Down
Chapter 19 Inside a Shipwreck: Scenes from an Israeli Election
Chapter 20 Sadness in Ramallah
Chapter 21 A Place Named Israel; a Place Named Palestine