Fields of Exile (standalone sent out in May 2014)

 

Fields of Exile

(Excerpt from a Novel)

By Nora Gold

 

 
 
Background to this excerpt: Judith, 33 years old, lived in Israel for ten years, and came back to Toronto last year to care for her dying father. On his deathbed three months ago, he asked her to promise that she wouldn't return to Israel immediately after he died, but that she'd stay in Toronto and get a one-year Master's degree, so she could "stand on her own two feet." Judith agreed, even though she longed to return to Israel as soon as possible. Now living in Toronto for the year, she knows no one here except her boyfriend Bobby.
 
                                                                                                                                 
A glorious sunny day in September, and after a one-hour drive, Judith arrives at the gates to the university in Dunhill, Ontario. She doesn’t want to be here, in exile; she wants to be home in Israel where she belongs. She resents being stuck here for the year because of the stupid promise she made to her father. She stomps around the campus for a half-hour looking for the School of Social Work. She’s here for Orientation, but she feels totally disoriented. The social work school is housed in a silo-like building, the Franklin Ardmore Rutherford Tower, which, for obvious reasons, the campus map does not refer to by its acronym, FART, but simply as FRANK. She climbs the front steps. Once inside, she waits for the elevator with two chatting women. One is a very plain redhead, the other pretty, dark-haired, and flamboyant. The three of them ride up to the eleventh floor. Room 1104 is a big square corner room with large picture windows on two sides, and through these windows Judith sees a big grey-stoned quadrangle eleven floors below her with students crossing it back and forth. The room itself is bright and cheerful, thanks to the large windows flooding it with sunlight, some of this refracted through orange woven curtains, giving everything a warm, fiery glow. It is full of talking, laughing people, mostly women, and Judith, not knowing anyone, mills around, nodding and smiling at whoever she passes, trying to look unobtrusive, un-lonely, and un-lost. She keeps walking as if she’s preoccupied with looking for a friend or has a destination — perhaps someone she knows on the other side of the room. After ten minutes of walking in circles and picking at the handouts and cookies on the long table at the back, she hears a loud thumping. A burly grey-haired man in a green cardigan is pounding on a table at the front of the room.
 
“Okay, everybody,” he calls out. “Take your seats so we can start.”
 
Almost all the gold or orange easy chairs are already taken. Within seconds nearly everyone is seated except Judith. She alone will be left standing, with everybody staring at her, like the loser in a game of musical chairs. Desperately she glances around.
 
“Here,” says a cheerful voice. A young blonde woman in a lime-green blazer is smiling at her and patting the chair on her left.
 
“Thanks,” Judith says, gratefully sitting.
 
“No problem,” says the woman, extending her hand. “I’m Cindy.”
 
The hand is dry and cool to the touch. “Judith,” says Judith, and is about to say more, but the burly man is rapping the table again and starting to speak.
 
“Good morning,” he says. “I’m Lawrence Weick, Director of the Dunhill School of Social Work, and it’s my pleasure to welcome you here today. You’ve made an excellent choice in selecting this school for your graduate studies. As you’ll soon see for yourselves, we have an outstanding faculty, as well as a very select group of students. It may interest you to know that this year, for your one-year M.S.W. program, there were eighty-four applicants and only twenty-eight spots. In other words, for every one of you sitting here now, we turned away two others.”
 
A buzz, surprised and pleased, runs through the room. Judith and Cindy grin at each other. Cindy shrugs.
 
“So you should all feel very proud of yourselves,” Weick continues, “and we’re delighted to welcome you to the 2002–2003 academic year. As most of you already know, we at Dunhill take a Structural approach to social work. Our mission, as you can see on the orange handout, is the advancement of knowledge in the service of social change. This means, firstly, educating ourselves about the oppressions, injustices, and structural inequalities in Canadian society today, as well as around the globe. Secondly, it means preparing our students to engage in the struggle against inequity and oppression, whether you’re working with individuals, groups, or communities.”
 
Judith is starting to feel at home here. This mission statement sounds almost verbatim like the one at the university where she completed her B.S.W. ten years ago. The same language, the same concepts. Apparently nothing has changed.
 
Now Weick introduces Phoebe Browne, the school’s Administrative Coordinator and student advisor. Phoebe is a dumpy-looking woman of about forty, wearing an apricot-coloured polyester pantsuit, and she speaks for about ten minutes, describing in mind-deadening detail all the course requirements for Dunhill’s one-year M.S.W. Judith, being in the Practice, rather than the Policy, stream, will need to take eight half-courses — six required and two electives — over the course of the year; alternatively, she can take only six courses and write a one-hundred-page thesis. Thesis, she writes. She’s forgotten to bring paper with her today, so she is writing in the margins of a fuchsia handout that invites all the first-year students to the Lion’s Den, the student pub on campus, for the first meeting of the school’s GLBT committee. GLBT looks strange to her — she’s used to seeing the term LGBT instead. So for a moment GLBT strikes her as some variation on a BLT — maybe a Greek Lettuce-Bacon-and-Tomato, something for the Greek students? Then she understands. Phoebe, finished now, sits, and Weick pops up again like a jack-in-the-box.
 
“Thank you, Phoebe,” he says. “Now let’s have a go-round of the faculty, who will each tell you what they’re teaching this year, and also speak a bit about their research.” Judith notices now for the first time the long lineup of professors at the front of the room, sitting in a row on plastic orange chairs to the left of Phoebe. Oh God – a dozen speeches!
 
“Don’t forget,” says Weick, “some of you will need to find someone next term to act as your thesis advisor. So, as your profs are speaking, listen carefully for common interests you might have.”
 
A short, friendly-looking woman with close-cropped black hair stands. Judith’s pen is poised, waiting, above the pink page. “My name is Terry Montana, and this term I’ll be teaching the course on women and social work, which focuses on the relationship between the social policies affecting women in this society and the everyday problems faced by our women clients.” This interests Judith. “I’m also co-chairing the GLBT committee this year, and for those of you who don’t know, this stands for gay, lesbian, bi, and trans.”
 
Judith, smiling, lowers her eyes to the page.
 
Terry continues, “My research is a study I’m doing with five women colleagues from universities across the province, documenting the kinds of barriers lesbian graduate students face, and the ways heterosexism and homophobia are manifested in the academic environment. If you’re interested in this topic, or anything to do with GLBT, feel free to come chat. My office hours are Thursdays from two to four.”
 
Terry Montana, writes Judith on the pink invitation to the Lion’s Den. Feminist. Lesbian. GLBT. She means to write down what Terry said, but she’s tired, and with the next guy already starting his spiel, she writes without realizing it, Gay Lesbian Bacon and Tomato. The next guy is named Greg Smolan, then it’s Corinne Marajian, and by the time the following guy stands up, Judith is spacing out. A short round bald man resembling Humpty Dumpty introduces himself as Tom Reggel. Reggel eggel, thinks Judith. In the prophet Ezekiel’s “vision of the chariot,” the reggel eggel was an ambiguous part of the four-headed creature’s body, which has traditionally been translated as a foot, a third and extra foot. But she knows from a night course in Jewish mysticism she took one winter at the Beit Ha’am Institute in Jerusalem, that reggel eggel actually means a penis. Automatically she glances at Tom Reggel’s crotch — no bulge there at all (maybe he doesn’t have one?). Then she catches herself and, blushing, looks away. Professor Reggel is speaking now, but she isn’t listening to him at all. She’s thinking about the penis of Moshe, the married man she was with seven years ago in Israel for about six months. Until her father’s death, she hardly ever thought about Moshe. But he’s been on her mind a lot since the funeral. As she sat there that day in the front row, surrounded by people but feeling all alone, Moshe’s image appeared before her like an apparition, like Hamlet’s father, and ever since then he has come to visit her once, twice, three times a day, even more if she’s bored or lonely. She isn’t so much thinking now about Moshe as feeling him. Feeling his taut, strong body, his thighs, chest, and penis pressing hard against her. Every Monday and Thursday morning he’d wait for her at the train station, at Hartuv Junction near the town where she worked. She’d get off the train from Jerusalem drained by the ecstasy of the ride: forty minutes of meandering through magnificent sun-slashed forests, up and down the backroads of the Jerusalem hills. Unsteadily she’d step off the train onto the almost-deserted outdoor platform, and at the bottom of the hill, Moshe’s white van was always waiting quietly under a tree, with the back door open, like an invitation. She would go running toward it: half-running, half-tripping down the hill, stumbling over the protruding tangled roots from the olive trees and their Y-shaped broken-off branches, nature-made slingshots.
 
At the bottom she’d hurl herself against Moshe’s body, and he would catch and embrace her, one hand on her buttocks, and pull her tight against him. His body was hard and  muscular, the body of a man who worked his own fields. No softness. No slack. But there was softness in his mouth, in his lips and tongue, when he kissed her, and in his eyes when he smiled at her tenderly. Then his kiss would turn hard, and he’d pull her down, and right there on the floor of the forest — on top of pine needles, and pine cones, and dead and living grass — they’d make love. Quickly, and urgently, always quickly and urgently, because there was never much time.
 
“Never enough time,” Moshe often said, feeling old at forty-two, and having, as she thought then, “intimations of mortality.” But also, objectively speaking, there wasn’t much time. The train from Jerusalem arrived at seven-thirty in the morning, and they both had to be at work for eight. So as soon as they’d finished, they stood and brushed themselves off, with him sometimes picking debris out of her hair (reminding her of Rabbi Akiva, who did the same thing with his bride almost two thousand years earlier). Then he’d drive her up the hill to the lone office building in the town centre, where she was working for eight months on a community development project to help the poor and infirm.
 
While in the middle of this thing with Moshe, she didn’t think much about it, because she couldn’t understand it. And she couldn’t understand it because she couldn’t find a word for it. I still can’t, she thinks, sitting here at Dunhill, while at the front of the room a cheerful but tough-looking blonde woman named Harloffery does her spiel. Moshe wasn’t a “boyfriend.” Boyfriends were the Jerusalem boys around her own age, innocent and eager, who took her out on Saturday night dates to movies. Moshe never took her anywhere; he just waited for her by the train. He wasn’t a boy either; he was a man, and an older man at that: forty-two to her twenty-four. Forty-two, twenty-four: opposite numbers, but matching opposites.
 
The other word that didn’t fit her relationship with Moshe was love. They never used this word between them, not once. Though this thing between them was deep, maybe even as deep as love. Because Moshe was a man of the land. He had five dunams of land on a moshav1 that he farmed himself with his own tractor, growing artichokes, melons, and orange and lemon trees. To her, he smelled of the earth, the fields, the orchards, and the sun. Sometimes, after they’d made love, she would lie face down on top of him — the same way she liked on nature trips to lie face down flat on the Israeli earth and inhale its deep scent — and she would smell him. As if Moshe were the Land, Israel itself. Once, lying on top of him like this, she wished she could just for a while be male, so she could scatter her seed on Israel’s earth, and in this way help to — as Ben-Gurion put it — “make the desert bloom.”
 
Now at the front of the room a tall, skinny man is making his presentation. The blonde woman is gone: Judith didn’t even notice when they switched. In fact, she’s not even sure there hasn’t been someone else, or even two other people, in between Blondie and this guy. Now she feels anxious: maybe she’s missed something important. So she tries to focus and listen to this man. He is talking about the elusiveness of language, and how, from a postmodern perspective, the meaning of a word is not static, but something that constantly shifts, depending on its context. What he’s saying sounds very interesting and seems to resonate with depth. Yet she keeps feeling that she almost understands what he’s talking about, but never 100 percent. As if he were an ad for his own product: Elusive Language. After ten minutes of increasing frustration, she asks herself what Moshe, if he were here, would say.
 
“Bullshit,” comes his immediate answer. Judith suppresses her laughter and looks down at the arm of her chair. Of course he’d say that: to Moshe, language was a simple matter. He spoke without thinking about the words he used. But she found them fascinating because they were Hebrew. Moshe was a man of Hebrew words. A “real Israeli,” a sabra. This was his language, his and Bialik’s and the Bible’s — this language she had just borrowed, acquired through painful study, “breaking her teeth” on it, as the Hebrew expression goes. And which even now she knew — though unusually well for an immigrant — in only a fractured way. It was still for her a second, “other,” language, like being the “other” woman, someone’s second love. Yet this language, this holy tongue, belonged in Moshe’s mouth. Sometimes when he kissed her, she imagined thousands of Hebrew words, tiny as sperm, being transferred from him to her, along with his saliva and desire. Planting themselves within her, taking root, and then blossoming inside her into a tree, with hundreds of Hebrew words hanging off the branches, instead of pink flowers. Making her a “real Israeli,” too.
 
She looks at the postmodern guy. No — words for Moshe didn’t shape-shift. They each had a meaning that was constant and clear. She used to ask him for words, and his answer was always unhesitating.
 
“How do you say this in Hebrew?” she’d ask him, scooping a palmful of soil from the ground.
 
Karka.”
 
She held up a pine cone.
 
Itztrueball.”
 
She pointed to a pink wildflower.
 
Hotmeet.” A hot meeting, she thought. Hot meat.
 
She was like Helen Keller asking Anne Sullivan to tell her the names of things. Moshe always told her. But he couldn’t understand her hunger for words. He’d say to her, tenderly joking, “What do you need all these words for, Judith? What will you do with them once you have them? When are you ever going to have a conversation about pine cones?”
 
But she kept asking. Earlobe. Spider web. Cum. (T’nuch. Kurei akavish. Shpeech.) Which, written, looked to her almost like Speech. Slurred speech — shpeech — like when you come. When Moshe asked her halfway into their relationship what she wanted for her birthday, she told him “a word.”
 
“A word! What word?”
 
“Any word. As long as it’s one I don’t already know.”
 
“But how am I supposed to know what words you don’t know?”
 
She just shrugged.
 
“Crazy girl,” said Moshe.
 
But the following week, when she turned twenty-five, he gave her two presents. First a plastic, imitation-alligator-skin purse — the kind of thing she’d never be caught dead with. Then he gave her the word ta’ava. Craving, or longing. Because, he said, she seemed so much to want, and to want so much. “Greedy girl,” he chided her gently. “You must learn to be satisfied with less. L’histapek b’m’at.” Which she realizes now was probably his way of reminding her he was married, and she shouldn’t hope for too much from him. He concluded his little birthday speech by quoting from Ethics of the Fathers, disconcerting her since he was so staunchly secular: “Who is rich? He who is content with his portion.”
 
He … his, she thought. That male language doesn’t include me, so I don’t have to be content. She said this out loud to Moshe, half-knowing he wouldn’t understand. And he didn’t. But that’s okay, she thought. L’histapek b’m’at.
 
Now at the front of the room, there has been another changing of the guard: a skinny woman with wild hair like a cavewoman is talking. From postmodern to premodern, or even prehistoric, thinks Judith, and listens for a few moments. Blah blah blah. She returns to Moshe. Yes, he was married. He had two young daughters who adored him, and a wife who didn’t like sex. And who he in turn didn’t seem to much like, his lip curling involuntarily whenever he mentioned her. What Zahava did like, though, was lampshades. Apparently she had over a hundred of them, and bought a new one at least once a month. Judith pictured a small house crammed full of lampshades, all tawdry and vulgar, and Zahava as tawdry and vulgar too. But actually it was thanks to Zahava that she met Moshe. It was only because he had to keep up with the cost of Zahava’s wild shopping sprees that he started moonlighting and  took the six-month part-time contract in the town where Judith worked. He was hired as a contractor to renovate this small, run-down development town. In the thirty-ninth year after the town’s founding, and in anticipation of the fortieth-year festivities, a group of leading citizens had convinced the municipal council the place needed some sprucing up. So, twice a week, Moshe wandered in and out of decrepit abandoned shacks, houses missing half their roofs, and never-used “community centres” with all their windows broken — donated by well-meaning but naive Jewish communities abroad — as he chewed thoughtfully on a piece of straw, considering what to do. She watched him and thought, This is a man who fixes things. Takes that which is broken, and makes it whole again. Perhaps he could do this for people, too.
 
She soon discovered, though, that he didn’t work alone. He had a Moroccan guy helping him, a skinny younger man named Koby, who measured everything in sight, listened to Moshe weigh the pros and cons of various repair plans, acted as his sounding-board, and helped him come up with price estimates that were neither too high nor too low. Once Judith came with Moshe to visit one of his sites. Koby looked with surprise at her, then questioningly at Moshe; Moshe just smiled and shrugged. For the next fifteen minutes, she watched the two men work together and saw how heavily Moshe depended on Koby: he couldn’t have managed this project without him. But that didn’t stop Moshe from saying when they were alone again back in the van: “Never trust a Moroccan, Judith. You’re not from here, you don’t know what they’re like. They’re lazy, and primitive, and they’ll rob you blind the second you turn your back.”
 
She looked sharply at him to see if he was joking, but he wasn’t. She felt nauseated, and couldn’t think of anything to say. Other than, “But Koby —”
 
“Koby’s okay — he’s a good worker,” Moshe said. “But he’s the exception. Most Moroccans aren’t like him. And even he sometimes says very primitive things.”
 
Not like you, she thought, but didn’t say it. She stared straight ahead at the road as they drove through the town, and her nausea steadily increased. She couldn’t believe she’d been intimate with this man — she’d let him inside her body — and he was a racist. She was disgusted by his comment, and by him and his body, calmly arrogant in the driver’s seat next to her. Yet she also half-admired, or anyway envied, him. She wished she had his male self-confidence, his  unquestioned assumption that it’s his God-given right to say whatever he feels like. She was always worrying about sounding nice or not-nice, saying the right or the wrong thing. But Moshe just talked. He didn’t know about political correctness, and even if he had he wouldn’t have cared. He’d have felt it was his right to express, to expel, whatever words had collected in his mouth. Not just the “nice” ones, but all of them. She can see his mouth now: his sensual mouth, full of words. Full of words like the mouths in the Shabbat morning prayer:
 
Even if our mouths were as full of poetry as the sea is full of water, and our tongues sang your praises like the roaring waves … we could never thank you, God, for even one thousandth of your countless gifts and miracles.
 
Moshe’s mouth was like a sea. And his red lips like the banks of the Red Sea. She remembers the first time he kissed her. His kiss was careful, exploratory, tentative, like dipping a toe into the sea. She’d just gotten off the train from Jerusalem, he was at the station picking up a small shipment of building materials that had been delivered there, and even though they didn’t know each other, he offered her a lift up the hill to the centre of town. It was a long, hot, dusty walk, and that day there was a hamsin, a burning, dry desert wind. She looked up the hill doubtfully, and nodded yes. In the car, they drove in silence. But at the top of the hill, Moshe leaned over and his mouth softly covered hers. Then his lips parted like the parting of the sea, and his tongue, just the tip of it, reached down hopefully into her mouth. She waited a moment, wondering what would happen next, but it just stayed there — hanging there like a bat hanging upside down on its perch — waiting. Slowly she reached up the tip of her tongue to meet his. Carefully, though. She’d been told by previous men she was too intense, too passionate. She didn’t want to frighten Moshe. But then she couldn’t help it: she trembled — a huge tremor ran through her body, and made Moshe tremble, too. His face flushed and filled with desire.
 
“On Thursday I’ll pick you up again,” he said hoarsely, somewhere between a statement and a question. She hesitated, then nodded.
 
Remembering this now, she lowers her eyes for a few moments to the arm of her chair. She’s not sure how much of her feelings show on her face, and she doesn’t want everyone here at the Dunhill School of Social Work to see written across it all her naked longing and desire. Then she looks up. Weick is watching her. Peering at her intently. She blushes and looks down. Oh God. He knows. He can tell. She keeps looking at the orange armrest. When she glances up again, he’s still gazing at her, frowning slightly, as if trying to puzzle her out. Then he looks away and stands. Now alone at the front of the room, he instructs everyone to look at the rose-coloured page, which lists all the teachers and their areas of specialization. Judith studies the list. It looks like they have one of everything here, like a smorgasbord. One lesbian, one gay guy (the interest in HIV/AIDS is always a dead giveaway), one black prof, one Native one, etc. Given these identity politics, she can’t help speculating whether the prof who will be teaching poverty grew up poor, if the guy teaching about housing was ever homeless, and whether Tom Reggel, specializing in child abuse and neglect, was, as a child, neglected and abused.
 
Someone’s handing out canary-coloured sheets. It’s the schedule for first term: every Monday she will have Weick in the morning, Greg Smolan over the lunch hour, and then in the afternoon someone named Malone for “Social Work Practice with Individuals, Families, and Groups.” Weick loudly clears his throat, looks around the room to get silence, and explains there are four profs on the list who couldn’t be here today: Hetty Caplar, Marie Green, Bruce McIvor, and Suzy Malone. Suzy Malone — that name, spoken aloud, sounds familiar to Judith. But she can’t place it. “Malone, Malone,” she whispers under her breath, as if speaking the name aloud will help. It doesn’t. But hearing it repeated like that makes the name seem different, like an abbreviation for “I’m alone”: ’mAlone. And she does feel alone. Terribly alone. There’s no one here — in this school, town, or even country — who really understands her. Who she could talk to about Israel, who shares her feelings about that place. Bobby loves her, but he doesn’t understand her. She achingly misses her friends in Jerusalem. I’m alone here, she thinks. ’mAlone. Gantz aleyn.2 As Daddy would say.  In galut — in exile.
 
“We, the faculty,” Weick is saying — rather grandly, like an American saying We, the People” — “have just told you something about ourselves. So now we would like to hear from you: who you are, what you’ve been doing, and what you’re interested in.” He stops abruptly and turns  sideways to listen to Phoebe, who is hissing something at him. He turns back to the group with a short laugh. “Unfortunately, however, Phoebe reminds me that in only twenty minutes Labour Studies gets this room. So please tell us something about yourself, but try to keep your comments brief. Just a few sentences, starting with your name, of course.”
 
Judith’s stomach starts convulsing. This type of public speaking always makes her very nervous. But at least, she sees, she won’t have to go first or even anywhere near the beginning: she’s sitting smack in the middle of the room, and Weick has started the go-around on his immediate left, with a startled older woman. As this woman speaks, and is followed by other students, Judith listens for clues about what to say when her turn comes. Anxiously she plans a presentation of herself that will make her look interesting and will also fit in with the “mission” of this school and what others are saying. Among the first seven to speak, there are those who proudly declare themselves gay, poor, “of colour,” physically challenged, learning disabled, and “culturally diverse” (Native, Caribbean, Pakistani, Portuguese). Some are just one of these things; others are two or even three, like Macario, the gay, dyslexic, Portuguese guy. Judith struggles over what to say about herself. There’s nothing particularly oppressed about her — nothing she can think of, anyway. She’s white, middle-class, heterosexual, not disabled intellectually or physically, and neither old nor young. She knows that being female and Jewish, she has been in various ways oppressed by both sexism and antisemitism. But the truth is, she doesn’t feel particularly oppressed, and doesn’t see any reason to put herself across that way. The go-around continues, and as it moves closer and closer to her, she gradually figures out what to say. The person talking is three seats away from her. Then two. Now it’s Cindy’s turn.
 
“I’m Cindy Hanson. Since getting my B.S.W. five years ago, I’ve been working at Mindy’s Place, a group home for teenage girls with physical and developmental disabilities. Quite a few of them have been sexually abused. So I guess what interests me is why that is, and if it happens to these kinds of girls more often than others because of being disabled. I’d also like to know how they think about these abusive experiences, and also about their bodies in general.” There are nods and murmurs of support. “So this is what I’d like to do my thesis on. Maybe approaching it from a feminist perspective, even though I don’t know very much about that. But I hope to learn.” Cindy looks at Terry Montana, and Terry nods back.
 
Now everyone looks expectantly at Judith.
 
“I’m Judith Gallanter,” she begins.
 
“Louder,” shouts someone from the other side of the room. “We can’t hear you.”
 
Judith raises her voice. “I’m Judith Gallanter. Is that better?” But somehow the volume has increased with each word, so that by the end she’s shouting. Heads turn sharply toward her and a few people laugh, as if she’s made a joke. Blushing, she continues, somewhere between her normal voice and a shout.
 
“My area of interest, like Cindy’s, is teens. But what I’ve been involved with were discussion groups between Jewish and Arab adolescents in Israel. I was part of a group called Friends-of-Peace. They have a branch in Toronto. We ran meetings twice a month — with discussions and activities — to foster mutual understanding and tolerance between the two groups. To try to build bridges for the future between these two communities, instead of just conflict and hatred.” She pauses. Everybody’s looking at her and listening attentively.
 
“So while I’m here, I’d like to focus on cross-cultural dialogue, especially with adolescents, and examine what makes it work when it works — or not work when it doesn’t. In more general terms, I’m interested in how people talk to each other. I’m interested in hate speech, and also” — she smiles, scanning the room — “in love speech. In coexistence speech. In the language we use to communicate with each other.” She pauses for a moment. Then she shrugs. “I guess that’s it.”
 
Lots of people are smiling back at her or nodding approvingly. With relief and happiness she realizes she’s done well. She’s managed to translate herself, and her life in Israel, into Canadian terms: into something these people can relate to. Several of the professors are regarding her with interest. Cindy touches her arm and whispers, “That sounds very interesting.” “Thanks,” says Judith. Soon the go-around is complete, and Weick stands. But before he can say a word, there is loud, raucous noise coming from the hallway — yelling, laughing, and banging on the door, like an approaching mob.
 
“That must be the Labour Studies people,” says Weick. “An unru-u-uly bunch.” Someone laughs. “It’s their turn for the room now, so we’re going to have to adjourn. Please make sure you’ve got all the handouts, and we’ll see you in class. Welcome.”
 
Judith is glad this orientation is over. It felt considerably longer than one-and-a-half hours, and she’s tired. But she feels much better now — less alone — than when she walked in here this morning. She gathers her papers.
 
“Thanks again,” she says to Cindy.
 
“No problem. You know, we should talk sometime about working with teens. That’s not an age group many people like.”
 
Judith laughs. “I know.” She watches Cindy, who is trying to straighten out all her different-coloured handouts, and then, giving up, just stuffs them impatiently into her brown leather satchel. There is something endearing about this, and while Cindy bends over, buckling the straps, Judith says to her back, “How about now? I’m not doing anything.”
 
Cindy looks sideways at her with china blue eyes, reminding Judith of Loretta, her favourite doll when she was growing up: the one with the real open-and-shut eyes. “Sounds good,” Cindy says, standing and slinging the satchel over her shoulder. “But I have a few errands to do first: I have to drop by the administration office to pay my fees, and I need a library card.”
 
“I have the same list. So we could do them together.”
 
“Great!” says Cindy. They move toward the door. “That’ll be more fun than doing it alone.”
 
“Yes. I hate doing stuff like this. It’s so boring.”
 
“I know. Plus even though I did my B.S.W. here, they’ve changed the campus since then, and I can’t find my way anywhere.”
 
“Really?!” Judith is surprised. “You seem so … at home here.”
 
“Me?” Cindy laughs. “Not at all. I haven’t been in a classroom in five years, and I find all this quite overwhelming. I’m not sure I’m ready for this grad school thing. Plus the faculty for the B.S.W. and M.S.W. are completely different. I don’t know a single person here.”
 
“Yes, you do,” says Judith. “You know me.”
 
Now it’s Cindy’s turn to look surprised. They look at each other for a moment, then smile. “You’re right,” says Cindy. Together they leave the room. And on the way out, Judith, feeling triumphant, snatches one last cookie.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
1 Moshav (Hebrew) - Co-operative agricultural village in Israel whose inhabitants possess individual homes and holdings, in contrast to the system of communal ownership on a kibbutz.
 
2 Gantz aleyn (Yiddish) - all alone
 
 
 
 
 
 
Copyright © 2014 Nora Gold
 
This excerpt is from Fields of Exile, which will be published by Dundurn Press on May 3, 2014. Fields of Exile can be purchased here.
 
Nora Gold’s Fields of Exile is the first novel about anti-Israelism in the academe. It has received enthusiastic advance praise from Phyllis Chesler, Thane Rosenbaum, Irwin Cotler, Steve Stern, Nava Semel, Naim Kattan, Alice Shalvi, and Ann Birstein. 
 
Nora Gold is also the author of the acclaimed Marrow and Other Stories, the creator and editor of Jewish Fiction .net, a blogger for “The Jewish Thinker” at Haaretz, the Writer-in-Residence at CSWE/OISE/University of Toronto, and a community activist.


 

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