Way before getting inducted on February 13, 1991, I was titled the American goof by all the members of my garin. On Kibbutz Sufa, the only way to feel comfortable in an unfamiliar setting was to laugh things off. But I guess I went too far. They continued calling me “The American Goof.” (I was the only American female in our garin.) Just a few months before, I had left the comforts of my New York City home, and made a decision to go through with serving with a garin of new immigrants (a group of young people who do the kibbutz part of the military service together.) The only problem was I didn’t anticipate how much work it would take to coexist with so many foreign mentalities. This is one of the major lessons I would learn for the next two and a half years.

Later during our service, I’m overcome with fear and doubt when I first enter the settlement consisting of just a few bungalows, a ripped Israel flag and just a few soldiers. We’re in the Arava desert or the middle of nowhere. Like everyone in our garin, I feel very inadequate about being sent to serve on a settlement instead of learning the fundamentals of basic training. (Our basic training got delayed by four months.)  The fact we’ve been sent to this barren wasteland makes me feel even more vulnerable and inadequate.

From Chapter 12, Shitim

“Without the fundamentals of basic training, we are vulnerable if we were to be attacked by an outsider or the enemy. I feel unprepared for working on a settlement knowing that I still don’t have the necessary basic training experience under my belt.”

I find myself blaming the IDF for moving us to this settlement. Eventually I understand that I have a definite choice in terms of my behavior. I can either stay positive or annoyed, fearful and full of self-doubt like my mother.

Because I have no choice but to coexist with these garin members on this godforsaken place called “Shitim” in the middle of the Arava desert, I try to avoid seeing our cultural differences as a weakness. I try to trust and have faith in that I’m not that “American goof” they originally once thought of me. But…. I have to earn their trust.

So I devise a plan that will allow me to see the more positive sides of myself. I collaborate with a garin member and paint our room with idyllic nature scenes. In another scene, I try to be helpful with the male members of our garin by bringing them food and nourishment in 100 plus degree weather. At the guard’s quarters, situated on a dirt road, two kilometers away from the settlement, I try to be of good cheer and company. I try not to get dejected when a Russian soldier says things that calls me out on my past behavior.

My real efforts however, start paying off when Luis, a Spaniard in my garin and I start working in the fields pulling plastic wraps from a nearby lumpy tomato patch.  During our work, the culmination of work and fun finally come together. It is also during this time that I start tapping into my inner strength:

From Chapter 12, Shitim

“Each time I pull the wrapping just a little bit more, I think, “I love this land! I love this land!” I figure if I say it enough I’ll eventually start to believe it. It’s a new mantra.  After the first two rounds of thinking this mantra, I start saying it out loud.  I will myself to believe that a mundane chore like pulling plastic wrapping can make me love this land.

This effort is not just to build a more positive relationship with the garin, but also my own attempt to move away from my mother’s narcissistic and self-serving behavior.