The summer of 1971 between my junior and senior years of high school, I received an American Field Service scholarship that allowed me to live in Germany. I had been out of the country only to Canada and had never been on a 747 jumbo jet, which is what carried me over the Atlantic for the first time. I was sixteen, turning seventeen, and had studied French, Spanish, and a semester of Russian. I wanted to go to the Middle East; I wanted to be close to my grandmother’s place of birth in Haifa, Palestine. In the application, I remember that one could designate geographical areas one preferred or would simply not travel to. I did not designate anything, because I didn’t want to blow this chance to live in another culture.
So I ended up in Germany, in the middle of Germany, in a tiny town between Cologne and Dusseldorf, in the Rheinland. And I lived with a German family; a father, who worked for the only Jewish newspaper, although neither he nor anyone in his family were Jews; a mother, who was my main language teacher, since she spoke almost no English and I spoke almost no German, and I spent a lot of time during the day with her; and two boys, one older than I and one younger. I come from a family with four girls, so you can imagine this was a novel experience. I had always wanted brothers.
Exchange students in the American Field Service were encouraged to call the parents in our host families “mom” and “dad,” and I had no problem with that. This generous family invited me into their home and carted me around Europe that summer. Today, I found out that my German mom recently died of cancer. I didn’t know she was ill.