Becoming a Member of the Family

Emily Kohuth, Conservative Yeshiva
 
Several months ago I opened a Rosh Hashanah e-card from a fellow former ulpan student. 
 
She asked if I remembered her. 
 
Really, how could I forget her; she was a four-and-a-half foot-tall ball of fire—a feisty, opinionated Latina grandmother.  
 
On the surface we had little in common besides our low-level Hebrew course at Jerusalem’s Ulpan Beit Ha’am. 
 
I was a semi-newly minted metal smith and Judaica artist in search of a better Jewish education, and she was a retired secretary fulfilling her dream of making aliyah.  
 
But there we were together, comparing our homework assignments at 7:15 each morning, five days a week for four months, and trying to find our footing in Jerusalem.
 
Finding my way was not simple. 
 
For one thing I have no sense of direction, and of course my painful lack of Hebrew skills was an obvious hindrance, but I also knew no one in the country when I first touched down in Tel Aviv. 
 
During my first few hours in Israel, I felt like my ancestors probably had when they arrived at Ellis Island. I passed through customs at Ben-Gurion Airport with just a suitcase, an address in my pocket, and a fiendish case of vertigo. 
 
Fortunately, the address led me to my first piece of stable ground, the Conservative Yeshiva, where I would study Jewish subjects thanks to a grant from Masa Israel Journey.  
 
When the Yeshiva’s associate director handed me a cup of water and made sure I was settled into the adjoining hostel, I believed that I was well on my way to building a spiritual relationship with my new home. 
 
However, the daily reality of dodging vehicles driving on the sidewalks and sidestepping a minefield of dog droppings strained what should have been an instant connection to the holy city. 
 
Even at the Kotel, the Jewish geographical heart, I experienced a barrier that was both physical and emotional while pressed into the tiny women’s section.
 
Within a few months, I did find my place in the ancient city, though. 
 
With time to immerse myself in Jewish learning, I progressed in my classes at the Conservative Yeshiva.  Eventually, I found myself following along in the daily prayer services at the Yeshiva; I no longer stood in the back, faking the choreography.  
 
Shabbat dinners alongside friends revealed the beauty of my religion to me more than any holy site.  
 
On the Jerusalem Streets, I got to know the raw Israeli culture when a passing jogger stopped to lecture me on the deleterious nature of diet soda and when a woman pushed a stroller up to my friend and me at a restaurant’s outdoor seating, demanding that we watch her child.  
 
Even as we gaped at her as she strode in, I realized that Israelis are like your outspoken family members, freely dispensing advice. 
 
For a brief time, I was privileged to be a member of that family.
 
Even now that I have returned to verdant Massachusetts, there is still a part of me that is utterly convinced that if I walk out of my front door I will step onto Ben Yehuda Street or Emek Refaim or run into my favorite Latina grandmother. 
 
Back in my polite town, I can only think of one thing:
 
I want to go home. 
 

Leave a Comment

Your email is never published or shared. Required fields marked *

We've detected that Javascript is not enabled. It is required for an optimal survey taking experience.
Please check your browser's settings and make sure Javascript is turned on. Click here for more information.

 
 
There was an error on your page. Please correct any required fields and submit again. Go to the first error
 
Get Started!
*Required Fields
1. Completa el siguiente formulario: