A Different Kind of Light: A Year in Israel in Fifteen Pieces
A Different Kind of Light is a series of essays about living in Israel the year I turned nineteen. The title references the strange, mystical quality of light in Tzfat, mountain town in the north of Israel. But I almost gave this book the same title as one of the central chapters, 'American on the Roadside," which tells the story of how I was left for dead during a training exercise of one of the Israeli Air Force's top rescue teams. It's true. They forgot me, dead on the side of the road. You can't make this kind of stuff up. I didn't make any of it up, actually. This book is nonfiction. The September after I graduated high school, I didn't go to college. I went to Israel instead, on a program called the Young Judaea Year Course in Israel, and I learned to live in a way that I had never seen people live where I grew up in small town America. This book is a series of vignettes about that life I had in Israel for a year, and about the life that memories have on their own when you let them. It's about Israel, the way I saw it at age 18, fresh from Hershey, Pennsylvania. And the way I see it now, five years later. Some of these stories deal with falling in love, and with growing up one way or another, because those are some of the things teenagers have trouble avoiding, and I ran smack into them the year after high school. Some of the pieces are about war, because even though no one dared to use the word, I lived in the middle of one in Israel. There are pieces about the desert and desertion and markets and magic and all the people that I met that year and the ways they travel with me even today. And Hebrew is sprinkled throughout the essays, because Hebrew travels with me too. Generally, these pieces run in chronological order. The book begins with my departure from Hershey in September and moves through the autumn in the crumbling city of Tiberias, traveling and settling into the life of a blond girl in a Middle Eastern country. The stories follow the winter weeks I spent on Army bases and my early spring working on a kibbutz south of the Sea of Galilee. And finally the narrative lands in Jerusalem in the late spring and early summer, when Israelis celebrated their Independence Day between suicide bombings and I stood on the beach in Tel Aviv saying goodbye. Then there's an epilogue, of course. And this is part of what I wrote there: When I came back from Year Course I could not talk about it. I didn't know what to say. People would exclaim, 'You were in Israel! How was that?" And I had an answer that was no answer at all: 'It was a trip!" I'd smile with the right side of my mouth, lift my right eyebrow, and shrug my right shoulder. And I could tell some stories. The way they left me dead on the beach. Nightlife in Tel Aviv with Harvey. Adventures to the shuk with Deborah. Eddie. But the stories were just pieces, are still just pieces, of an entire year of living. These stories are true, but they're not the truth, and now that I put them all together, I see that year is not quite the puzzle I thought it was, because some edges are ragged, and some bits overlap, and there is still so much empty space in between. Asiti chayim ba'aretz. I really lived in Israel. All year long. There was poetry in my life the year I lived in Israel. This is how I wrote it down.
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