(The Christian Science Monitor) The first bureaucratic triumph upon our arrival in Jerusalem came at the Ministry of Interior, when a surly woman peeled off our newly minted residency visas and pressed them into our passports.
“We are prisoners of thanks,” my husband and I said, mustering an antiquated Hebrew phrase of gratitude. “Bye,” she replied, with all the feeling of a desert rock.
In August 1994, I was an introspective, brainy 16-year-old, fresh from a summer in Israel with a busload of other 16-year-olds. On my last morning in Jerusalem, I had watched the sun rise: cool breezes over ancient golden stones. I heard church bells ring and the Muslim call to prayer, whispering my own Hebrew dreams into fuzzy pink air. As a Jewish teen who went (reluctantly) to Israel for the Roman ruins but stayed for the prayers, when we chanted under desert stars I was suspended somewhere in between Reform Jewish teenagerhood and a future as a religious studies professor—plus my always evolving, complex relationship with Jewish adulthood.
This was when I first encountered Rodger Kamenetz’s The Jew in the Lotus: A Poet’s Rediscovery of Jewish Identity in Buddhist India.