I have been blessed with mentors who have put themselves out for me in inconceivable ways. Because of my professor mentor I began teaching at the university with only a BA. Because of Neil Amdur, my journalist mentor, my diaries, the first, and the second Storm of Terror: A Hebron Mother’s Diary in 2002 were published. The publisher was Ivan Dee, a small prestigious publisher of non-fiction in Chicago. For the second diary, Neil was determined to making a huge publicity and book promoting campaign. Dee bought me a plane ticket bound to New York from Tel Aviv that October. Neil did the rest. After I landed at JFK, he gave me a list of the busy two week schedule of interviews and appearances.
And every single one of them took place: An interview with Tom Brokaw for his Nightly News; a session with a photographer and journalist for the Daily News which would feature excerpts. I was photographed holding bars in a prison cell as if I was imprisoned. The idea was that I lived behind barbed wire in a settlement.
I am not photogenic to begin with and the startling photo showed a haggard hideous author. This hurt my vanity but not the promise that publicity even if it is unattractive would promote my book. I was interviewed for the feature story in the Newsday magazine section “A West Bank Mother’s Diary” and photographed (much more flatteringly) for its cover. I was driven to a radio studio where Mitch Albom interviewed me live for his show. I was escorted to Leonard Lopate’s studio for his NY & Co radio program where I was broadcast live.
I prepared this little for an op-ed piece in the Times. I called it “There is No Road that Leads from Madison to Hebron:”
(WARNING: THIS HAS A BIT TO DO WITH THE MIDDLE EAST CRISIS. IF YOU DON’T LIKE POLITICS, PLEASE SKIP)
“I was a flower child in Madison, Wisconsin in the late 1960’s. This needs explanation. I mean how did I get from Madison, Wisconsin to here?
Ostensibly I was going through for a liberal arts degree; in actuality going through the political, sexual and ideological wring-mill of the counter-culture. The books that turned us on like Siddhartha guided us on our search for a more beautiful reality, one without strife and war.
So it is difficult for me to make sense of the fact that since the first Intifada began in 1989, my family and I have buried so many murdered friends, victims of terror. An American guest asked my daughter, “Just how many friend and neighbors have you lost?” Estie went through sixteen fingers and then stopped. “So many I can’t count.”
Here I have raised my five children?
There is no conceivable way I could have gone from resonating with John Lennon about a world without God and religion, to here where Moslems and Jews are warring to decide to whom this sacred city of Hebron rightfully belongs to, the heirs of Abraham or the heirs of Ishmael.
I would never have got here at all if Polly from Appleton, Wisconsin hadn’t given me a car. The car belonged to her elderly aunt who kept it parked by her house to use for shopping once a week.
I was hanging around Madison, going into my fifth year there, not wanting to leave the warmth of the Student Union Ratskellar, not wanting to venture into the cutthroat money-mad world. My graduation from college had come and gone when Polly came to me and stuck out her palm. “I’ve got a 1964 Plymouth for you for you. Now you can go.”
Polly, if you hadn’t given me the Valiant, I would never have got to Hebron.
You might say it is obvious I was affected by the drugs, the LSD, the Mescaline, the golden hashish from Mexico that formed the mainstay of our 1960’s college diet which we imbibed with Marx, Fellini, and Freud. For everybody knows there is no road that goes from Madison to Hebron
This is where Destiny comes in. I got into the car and onto I-80. I drove back to New York, because that is where I was from. But I would never return to Long Island. I would never be materialistic again. I learned in Madison, not so much in class, (often the University was shut down because of violent demonstrations against the war in Vietnam, Dow Chemical, and the recruiters that came to campus from the military-industrial complex) I learned from the ideas that vibrated in the tear-gassed air. The roads most people took towards careers and money weren’t worth a life.
So I took an apartment off the Bowery where bums lay drinking in the street. That was more authentic than plugging into the capitalist machine. I tried to earn a living as an artist, a poet, an actress, seeking in art, the road that leads to truth. After two years of dire poverty (sometimes friends gave me slugs to get into the subway); after living life so dangerously (every day I walked stealthily and carried a big stick), after experiencing a very lonely destiny, I yearned for Polly. My Valiant parked on the street below was most mornings on cement blocks. The tires had been stolen again; the battery pilfered. I bought a new battery and a chain. The chain was sawed off. The battery stolen once again. I went to a neighbor and stuck out my palm. Here are the keys Polly gave me. You want a car?
Oh, Polly, where were you then? If only you would give me another set of keys! How could I get out of the Bowery without a dime? How could I get out when in me burned the fire of conviction, that to take a bourgeois nine-to five job was to sign my own certificate of death.
It was then I had my first vision. Not actually my first. But this was the first not brought on by what was circulating in Madison. This was deep inside. This vision showed me that the beauty I was seeking could be found, not in Manhattan, but in the wilds. The vision came with an urgent imperative. Leave your art and poetry. Go after the infinitely more real. Seek for Native Americans living in teepees. They are living in harmony with themselves and natures. You are not. They have a spiritual life. You do not.
At three o’clock one morning in July 1974, I boarded a Greyhound bus for northern Vermont where I was told I might fight Indians in teepees. The next day, walking in the woods, I saw a man with a little child. ‘Where am I?” I asked the man, an existential question. “Plainfield,” he said. Then a question blurted from his lips. He never had asked anyone before because it hadn’t mattered to him. Are you Jewish?
I answered, “I’m a citizen of the world. But if you want to know, I was born a Jew.”
His question and my reluctant answer ticked off a journey which ended, or began, with our getting on an El Al airplane five years later on our way to Israel, young immigrants with our two -year old son. I have called it destiny.
The settlers I live with call it God. They might say God took me out of Madison. They might say God put the keys in Polly’s hand. I say God gave me the vision of teepees which brought me to Vermont and the question I ultimately had to deal with, are you Jewish? And if I am, where is the most authentic, the most real place to be Jewish?
Religious Jewish settlers say Hebron, the city of our forefathers and mothers.
But I was always an anomaly here. I’m still going down the psychic road to truth. I have returned to my art, my poetry, writing here, here a mother of five often under sniper fire, here often with explosive devices by the side of the road, and Hamas would-be suicide bombers all around. A far cry from the world John Lennon asked me to imagine for my progeny.
There is no road that goes from Madison Hebron. But I tread it none-the-less.”