Excerpt from a new novel by Adam Eliyahu Berkowitz gives an inside look at the spiritual side of “settler life”

Is it my desire that a wicked person shall die?—says Hashem. It is rather that he shall turn back from his ways and live.

Ezekiel

18:

21

(the israel bible)

July 15, 2022

6 min read

The Master of Return and the Eleventh Light, a novel by Adam Eliyahu Berkowitz, gives a rare and personal look inside the world of the Orthodox settlers and their intense personal spiritual work to bring the final redemption. And how the Arabs are murdering them for precisely that reason.

The Master of Return and the Eleventh Light is a semi-fictionalized account of a newly married and newly religious young man living in the Biblical heartland of Judea. Unemployed, Eli lives with his pregnant wife in a caravan on a hilltop. He spends a lot of time out in the woods yelling at God and jumping into ice-cold springs, trying to reconcile his secular past with his spiritual aspirations. At the same time, his relationship with his wife is not working out. His wife is unsatisfied with his lack of religious discipline. Eli discovers that despite his Orthodox lifestyle, he has not left his desire for romance behind. And a modestly dressed wife with a head covering does not fit into his fantasies.

He writes novels (or tries to) but when a friend hooks him up with a job, he has no choice but to take it. As a writer for an online news site, he is conflicted about his job. Eli is shocked when he discovers that the news service caters to evangelicals who want to hear about news from a “prophetic” angle. 

Trying to establish himself as a journalist, the lines between the stories he writes and his personal life become blurred. He is introduced to a bizarre “holy man” who has powerful prophetic visions and performs miracles.

But life in the Holy Land is not simple. The holiest souls are targeted by the worst violence. Eli watches as his friends are murdered for the crime of being a Jew and answering the prophetic call to return to the Promised Land. And then he has to report on it.

This story is told against the turbulent political backdrop of modern Israel and the developments that many believe are bringing the prophesied Third Temple. 

The Master of Return and the Eleventh Light can be purchased on the Root Source website.

I stood there, naked, staring at the black surface, not bothering to stick my toes in to test the water. Just by looking I could tell it was colder than water had a natural right to be. There was no question I would hate being in it but there was also no question I was going to jump in anyway. If I took a moment to consider, to test the waters in the most literal sense, or if I thought about how cold it would feel, I might lose my nerve. So I looked away, pretending there was no water, leaned forward, and waited until it was too late. There were no surprises, no last moment lapses in gravity. I gasped, forcing myself to breathe as I broke the surface, thrashing around for a few seconds before pulling myself back up to the rocky platform surrounding the spring. Toweling myself off quickly, I threw my clothes back on, slyly watching as Kalman slid without hesitation into the water, unflinching, welcoming the cold. He was tiny, much shorter than me, but perfectly proportioned, a slender little man who made me feel like an imitation human formed by a thick-fingered Creator still in need of practice. I was one of the bungled and botched but Kalman was a near-angel. He stood for a few moments in the chest-deep water before gliding towards the center. His lips moved and his eyes closed as he dropped silently below the surface three times. Finally, he pulled himself up, smiling at me in all his naked glory. I suddenly felt awkward.

“Do you ever wonder about this?” I said.

“Wonder about what?” he asked as he toweled himself off. 

I was already dressed but still shivering. “We are so freakin’ modest all the time. I don’t even shake hands with women. But as soon as we get near a natural spring, off come the clothes and it doesn’t matter who sees. Look,” I said, pointing across the valley. “The main road is right over there.”

Kalman glanced over. “It’s a pretty wide valley. And the sun isn’t really up yet.”

“Yeah, but if someone had binoculars. Or night vision goggles. Or just really good eyesight. It would be embarrassing,” I said.

He shrugged. “Why would anyone go to so much trouble to watch a bunch of hairy men get naked,” Kalman said with the tiniest of smiles. 

The point about us being hairy was well-taken. There were times when I suspected that being a religious Jew meant a long line of bad-hair days. I found this thought to be strangely comforting since the stages in my life were all marked by changes in hairstyle. Adolescent rebellion meant long curly hair that hung well below my shoulders. Sanitary concerns and the near-military discipline of gourmet kitchens meant short hair. Dissatisfaction with my career choice began to appear ten years later along with a return to long hair and a biker’s goatee. 

But this living-on-the-mountain approach to Judaism pushed all the limits of good taste. Most Orthodox Jews took great pride in their neat appearance, but settlers were a different breed altogether. Dispensing with the black clothes and shiny black shoes that were totally unsuited for walking the land of our forefathers, we went whole-hog on the hair thing, growing out our sidelocks like a limited over-the-ear alliance with Rastafarians. And our beards made us look like crazed prophets who had just returned from mind-blowing meetings with the Creator. Our free-jazz approach to grooming probably led to negative PR in the media, but it meant that no settler could ever take himself too seriously in a this-world materialistic manner.

“Who cares what we do? We are just living our lives. We eat. We sleep. We pray. We jump in the spring…” Kalman said.

“And we go out to the forest to scream at God,” I interjected.

We began walking up the hill towards the forest. “You scream at God,” Kalman said. “I speak to him politely. I am hoping one day you’ll get over it.”

I flicked him with my towel. “God is a big boy. He can take it.”

Kalman nodded, another tiny smile at the edges of his lips. “Sure he can. But it’s hell on the squirrels.”

“Israel doesn’t have any squirrels.”

“Not anymore,” he said. “You scared them all away with your screaming.”

Silence followed for all of two seconds. I was wide awake and jittery from the cold water and was currently having a moment when reality was still not dialed in.

“Do you ever wonder if we wouldn’t be better off had we never left…everything?” I asked, the words tumbling out. I had asked myself this question hundreds of times a day, every day, for the last ten years, and I suspected I had asked Kalman almost as many times. “Wouldn’t I be better off finishing up that life plan to become a chef in Manhattan, maybe open an upscale restaurant in the burbs?”

“Maybe in an alternate reality, that is precisely what a different version of you is doing right now,” Kalman said.

Kalman knew exactly which buttons to push in order to force me to relent.

“Well, if that’s the case, I feel kind of sorry for me,” I said. “I hated cooking. Long hours, lousy conditions, and all so some guy with a fat credit card could think pleasant thoughts for the half-hour it took him to suck down my masterpiece. I may be cold and tired, unemployed, in debt, and living in a Middle Eastern trailer park, but at least I’m…” I paused. “I forgot what I was going to say.”

Kalman nodded. “There’s your answer.”

We came to the fork in the trail where he always went left and I to the right. Kalman put his hand on my arm gently, stopping me from continuing. 

“This morning, when you scream at God, take it easy. I’m not so sure that Abba is as big and tough as you think he is,” Kalman said. “Sometimes, when I am very, very quiet, I think I can hear him crying. A lot of things happen in this world that makes him sad.”

With that, Kalman walked away, leaving me to cope with my own residual crappiness. 

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