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Sample Essay (Violet)
"Where I am From, Where I am Going"( in response to Common App Prompt #1)
Nothing is more reminiscent of family than the smell of fresh manure. My dad and I exchange a wry glance, recognizing the inescapable stench. As we drive along the dirt road, lush greenery and rolling hills serve as a backdrop to small stucco houses and grain silos. Interrupted only by clucking chickens and lowing cows, I close my eyes and let the surrounding stillness resonate in my ears. We have once again arrived at my grandparents’ farm in Beit Shae’rim.
Every summer, I travel from New York City to pastoral Israel to visit my family’s moshav, a collective farm. My great-grandparents, with other Polish émigrés, established Beit Shae’rim in 1936, escaping oppression and chasing a Zionist destiny. My family maintains this fervor. They work on the farm, serve in the army, and take great pride in being Israeli. My father, an outlier, deserted this in pursuit of the elusive American dream. My mother, an Israeli-American, underwent similar estrangement. Out of their joint defiance, I was born.
My childhood summers in Israel were blissful and bucolic. Yet, as I got older, there was a palpable cultural barrier between me and my family. They treated me as an American, an outsider. Simultaneously, I did not feel Israeli and started to notice the profound chasm in our views. More troubling to my sense of self, I started to judge them as they did me.
On my recent trips, this feeling of unbreachable distance has intensified. They assume I’ll follow my parents, becoming another defected American. My modern, liberal values conflict with their traditional ones. I argue that Israel is not a God-given promised land for the Jews, but should ensure liberty and equality for all. The slightest mention of my sympathy for Palestinian people is construed as a betrayal to my heritage.
They exist within gender roles that I reject. My grandfather and uncles sit at the head of the table, speaking loudly, while the women passively keep their head down, avoiding dissension. As a woman, my strong convictions and propensity for debate isolates me from my family. During meals, I feel uncomfortable speaking my mind among the booming male voices. I dread the scoffs and inspecting eyes that inevitably follow. So, ashamedly, I dilute my opinions for harmony and convenience.
Rooted underneath my feminist dilemma is an even more significant ideological conflict. My Israeli family adheres to a black-and-white framework in which people are rigidly and irrevocably classified within absolutes: Jews (good); Non-Jews (bad). By contrast, I consider myself an individualist who believes there is duality and intricacy within everyone. I celebrate the diversity of people and embrace our nuanced and antipodal sides.
Here lies my dilemma: if I praise complexity, why don’t I embrace my family dynamic? Am I failing to view my family as multi-faceted, reducing them as antiquated? How can I honor the divide between my family and me?
My family has something to teach me. For all I know, my aunt stays quiet and feels free to be who she is. Maybe the separation of genders creates a nurturing female network. Or perhaps these contradictions can’t be reconciled, but their social framework still has merit different from my own.
Despite our divide, I still feel attached to Israel and my family. While my mother and brother have not visited in years, I return every summer. No questioning can overrule the enigmatic power of heritage. I don’t fully identify with my ancestry, but I also can’t reject it entirely. I’m not an idealist; I’m learning to relish our discordant natures. Our polarized opinions, forged within me, have fashioned a more generous perspective. Yes, dinnertime is alienating. But when I feel the soil under my feet, when I watch the olive trees sway in the breeze, when I smell the familiar stench of manure, I am proud of where I come from and where I will go.
The process: V is a writer; she writes when she's not required to, she identifies with it, and she invests.
Passionate and perfectionist by nature, she wanted every word to be the exact right word, pretty much right away. It was hard for her to let go of the exquisite sentence she wanted to see in effort to explore in (an at first) messier way what she might want to say about herself.
She had a strong idea right out of the gate what she might want to write about, but her earlier attempts focused overly on her family history, or her parents' dynamics with their own families and pasts; she had a hard time bringing the essay around to its rightful focus, herself.
In order to explore herself more fully, she started a different essay or two, but eventually returned to The One, determined to make it fulfill genre requirements.
The first line stayed exactly as she first wrote it: the delightful and offensive surprise of manure.
In the end, she found creative, compressed ways to talk about her ancestry, inheritance, and cultural clashes. She did this in service to highlighting aspects of her own character and inner conflict that it called her to question. Her inquiry remains unresolved, as most big inquiries do, but it brought her to a deeper place of acceptance and integration. Every word had to earn its place.
V is hot in opinions, outspoken in the best of ways, deeply well read, and able to consider multiple perspectives even as she articulates her own. It was satisfying and intellectually exhilarating to help her shape this essay.
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