My People, My Place, and My Purpose  (Part 1)

“Daddy, I have found my people, my place, and my purpose!” declared my eldest daughter Isabel (now Elisheva) over the phone from Israel. “I am not going to continue to Europe. I am staying.”  

I found my daughter’s declaration intriguing. What was it she meant? Israel has been in the news all my life, but what did I really know about it? Who are the people she is embracing? What does she mean by purpose? I set out to learn all I could about what she meant. 

Religion was not a part of her life growing up and was not a part of mine. Her maternal grandfather was Jewish, and she had become more interested in her roots just prior to traveling that summer. I am of English ancestry.  

I visited her the first time in Fall of 2017. By this time, she had become engaged to a wonderful young man everyone calls Shushu (Yehoshua). Shushu comes from a large religious family in The Golan with deep roots in Eretz Israel tracing back on his mother’s side to the 16th century (fled Spain), and on his father’s side to the late 19th century arriving from Bukhara, near Samarkand. 

After some time in Jerusalem, a stop at Ein Gedi, and a pre-dawn hike to Masada for sunrise, we set off for Shabbat in the small moshav of Keshet, in The Golan Heights.  

His family was so warm and loving to me and it was clear they very much loved my daughter. This was my first ever experience of Shabbat and I was deeply moved by the ritual of it all, and the strong sense of love for Judaism this family shared with me. As a father I saw what my daughter meant now as her “purpose”. She was fully embracing life as an observant Jew and she was in love with it! 

Three months later I returned for the wedding in Israel. What an experience! Several hours of ceremony, dancing, eating, ceremony, dancing, eating and so much joy. A very happy day! 

Seven months later I was back in Israel. I had to see more. I had to get back to Jerusalem. This trip was all about my own personal experience with the land and the people. After a side trip to Jordan to visit Petra and Wadi Rum, I spent a week in Jerusalem alone. Jerusalem. It had me. I did not know how, or why, but its white stones reached into my very being. It was not expected. I was not the religious type! Yet, I was being called. I was beginning to understand what my daughter meant by her people, her place and her purposeI felt strangely at home in Jerusalem.  

Later iKeshet for Shabbat I found myself experiencing a lovely sunrise and the notion arose in my mind “Maybe you are destined to be a Jew?” 

I soon encountered a man walking his dog. To my surprise, he spoke English! He told me that he is a Rabbi raised in Venice Beach California. He invited me to join him on his walk and I decided to tell him what had occurred to me. He tried to talk me out of it. His task as he saw it was to discourage me. “You don’t want to be a Jew!”.
But, maybe I did?  

I decided that when I return to Santa Barbara, I would see

(CLICK HERE to read Part 2)


Marcus James was raised in Isla Vista and is the happy father (divorced) of two daughters (grown) and feels lucky to have a wonderful dog named Frodo. A lover of learning.

Photo is of Elisheva and Marcus overlooking The Hula Valley from The Golan.