Drawn from Water: An American Poet • An Ethiopian Family • An Israeli Story (Elenbogen)

I’m not sure who first suggested that reading is the best form of travel, but whoever said definitely had this book in mind. It not only made me long for Israel (and its food), but it also nudged forward an ambition to see Ethiopia one day.

Consider the elegance of the title – Drawn from Water. What does it mean to be drawn from water? Who is drawn from water? What does water mean in both Israel and Ethiopia?

There are many metaphors in this book – that of the garden, the meaning of languages (poetry and prose / Hebrew, English & Amharic), etc.. But the one I found most central was khootz l’aaretz – the notion of being outside of the land. The Ethiopians are outside of their land when they – at least the ones who are not lost in the desert of Sudan – migrate to Israel. They are outside of the land when they are housed on the edges of Israel. Elenbogen herself is outside of the land when she moves back and forth between Israel and the United States trying to figure out which one is home.

Another layer of this memoir that works so well is the openness with which Elenbogen opens her mind to us. She unpacks the evolution of her thinking on her regular visits as she traces the development of the Ethiopian families she’s tracking. It is not enough in Israel (or anywhere) to just help people get into a country; an effort must be made to help them make the transition. And they must learn how to help themselves. It must be incredibly difficult to try to live with one foot (to borrow an image) in two countries.

Israel has, by virtue of its very existence, a kind of unique responsibility to the diaspora. That does not mean it’s easy. There are small signs of hope when Elenbogen considers the overall situation, but there is a great deal of hope in the families she’s grown to know and love (and the reader does too).

I am grateful to Ben Furnish, who apparently told Elenbogen to edit the book with her “poet’s hat on.” The loveliness of her language is as magnetic as the country itself.

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