While she was growing up in Marlboro, there were hints that Anat Litwok might take a different path than that taken by her suburban childhood friends.
With an Israeli mother and an American father who made aliya at the age of 26, “Judaism and Zionism were always major forces in my life.”
In 2011, she’d follow in her father’s footsteps and moved to Israel by herself. Today, at 23, she has just completed a two-year stint as a hayal boded (“lone soldier”) in the Israeli army, meaning she has no parent living in Israel.
Although she lives on Kibbutz Dan in the north, and the Hamas missile attacks and fighting in Gaza are concentrated in the South, Litwok said she is always conscious of danger.
“I’ll never forget the first time I ever heard a siren,” she told NJJN via e-mail. “I was in the army. My base was located near Ashdod. As I sprinted for my life, I remembered thinking about how when I was a kid in Marlboro we would have fire drills in school and everyone would walk outside unconcerned, not running because they knew it was a drill. Here, in Israel, it’s usually not a drill.”
Although Litwok said she was “never much of a writer,” when the missiles began raining down on Tel Aviv a few weeks ago, she responded with a poem comparing the lives of American and Israeli children.
“I wrote the poem in about 10 minutes on the day that Operation Protective Edge started,” she said. “The moment I heard about the start of the operation I couldn’t stop thinking about my fellow Israeli citizens in the South, and for some reason it was especially hard for me to think of all the children who are supposed to be enjoying their summer vacations and instead are sitting in bomb shelters.
“It is only in recent years that I discovered I can write well when I feel strongly about something,” she added. “Take this poem, for example: It is very important to me that people read it and hear my message.”
From the heart
Litwok’s attachments to Israel were nurtured outside her family as well. She attended Solomon Schechter Day School of Greater Monmouth County in Marlboro through eighth grade, before going on to Marlboro High School.
“We belonged to Congregation Sons of Israel in Manalapan, and I was very involved in my Jewish youth group, NCSY. In 12th grade I was elected regional president of the New Jersey region,” she said. “I was also very involved in the local Friendship Circle,” a Chabad-sponsored group that recruits teen volunteers to assist special-needs children and their families.
Before making aliya, Litwok said, she spent one year volunteering at a boarding school in Afula, a town in the Jezreel Valley, for kids from broken homes. She then returned to New Jersey and began studying at Rutgers. Soon she realized, “College wasn’t for me, and I decided to return to Israel and join the army.”
Although her parents, Steve and Nurit, now live in the United States, she looks to their past with great pride and a sense of identification.
“My mother was born and raised on Kibbutz Afikim, where her grandparents, my great-grandparents, had been among the pioneers who built the kibbutz. My father met my mother and married her while he was living in Israel, and their first child, my brother Yoni — now 29 and a doctor completing his residency in New York City — was born on the kibbutz.”
Another brother, Danny, 26, is working on his doctorate degree in economics of education at Michigan State University.
Steve Litwok said that he and Nurit read their daughter’s poem “with great pride.”
“When she writes from the heart, something good usually happens,” he said.