The search for identity is always fraught, involving questions that the seeker does not even know to ask at the start of the journey. Dina Elenbogen finds this out firsthand in her new book “Drawn From Water: An American Poet, An Ethiopian Family, An Israeli Story” in which she takes the reader on an exploration to Israel after Operation Moses in 1984, a rescue mission that brought 7,000 Ethiopian Jews to the country. She teaches English to some of these children upon their arrival in Israel. As her students struggle to assimilate in their new land, Elenbogen, an American, discovers that she too feels displaced, unsure of whether she should return to America or plant roots in Israel permanently. Unsettled, Elenbogen travels back and forth between the two countries for years, transporting a turbulent heart with her on each trip across the ocean. Wistful and yearning, Elenbogen exists in a constant state of flux that mirrors the instability of her students’ lives as they grow up in a country that does not fully welcome them, yet provides them with opportunities they would not have otherwise. Elenbogen does not feel entirely American nor entirely Israeli, and is called by both places for vastly different reasons.
The narrative mirrors the journey itself, written not as one continuous story but rather in pieces, by date and occurrence, highlighting Elenbogen’s time with her students and her own equivocation. We follow her dating life as it suffers under the strain of her mounting uncertainty, her encounters with family and friends who do not necessarily understand why she feels pulled in two directions, and her numerous trips back to check on the children she clearly so deeply cares for as they grow into adults. Ultimately, this is a story of homecomings for the author: to a place, to a people, to herself. (Amy Friedman)
Dina Elenbogen discusses “Drawn from Water” at Beth Emet Synagogue, 1224 Dempster, Evanston, on May 20 at 7:30pm. Call (847)869-4230 to reserve a space.
“Drawn From Water: An American Poet, An Ethiopian Family, An Israeli Story”
By Dina Elenbogen
BkMk Press, 304 pages, $15.95