How I became a Jew, Part 1

In 1973, I looked around at my life and decided it had to change. Probably a stupid decision at the time, but it did in fact change my (and my family’s) life.

I had a relatively good job as a high school English teacher specializing in film studies and photojournalism, with a second job as a writer/photographer for a weekly newspaper. My wife was happy in her job as a library researcher, we had a car and a motorcycle and a basic but comfortable house with a vegetable garden on Eastern Long Island (NY) in a very pretty location surrounded by woods and waters.

We went fishing off the beach with our three children after school, we dug for clams and raised strawberries and stuffed ourselves with pasta and clams and homemade strawberry preserves and a variety of zucchini dishes from our garden where the zucchini came in faster than we could eat them.  On my long summer vacations, we’d spend a month camping in Maine and Quebec.

Not a bad life.

But I began to feel that I was spending too much of it concentrating on the physical aspects of my admittedly pleasant lifestyle-acquiring and repairing possessions (first you work to buy it, then you spend your time caring for it, then…) – an arguably immature attitude for a young man in his early 30’s, but it was in the early 70’s and change was in the air; I wanted to explore the idea of living in a commune. “To each according to his needs, from each according to his abilities.” All that stuff.

But was there a commune in the States that wasn’t made up of self-absorbed, bed hopping, dirty dishes in the sink, whoopee we’ll change the world, pass the toke, overage frat house types?  Maybe….

And out of nowhere came the idea, “kibbutz”!  Out of nowhere, since, although bar mitzvahed I was a tenuous sort of Jew, secular, agnostic, and generally seeing Israel as a faraway place with an overly militaristic attitude. Not to mention the alien idea of uprooting everything.

But we did. I enthusiastically, my wife reluctantly, and the kids, as always, game for a new adventure.

We did Aliyah, got passports for the first time, flew to Luxembourg, drove a rental car down through France and Italy and shipped out of Marseilles on the Zim Lines vessel Dan and arrived in Haifa one late afternoon in September 1973, tired but intensely curious about our new world.

A bus ride in the dark, peering out the windows trying to see the new landscape, expecting to find tents at our destination, we finally came to a halt in the center of Kibbutz Mishmar Haemek with the bus’ headlights trained on a middle aged woman with a big smile and a greeting of brochim habaim.

Little did we know that one week later we would be in the midst of the Yom Kippur War.  It was the beginning of our journey from ethnically apathetic Americans to connected Jews.




About the Author
Professor of Writing at two Community Colleges, Fulbright Scholar (universities in Russia and Belarus) member of local JCC, secular rather than religious, married many years with children and grandchildren.