"Somewhere in my family, way back there, we're related to William Clark," he says, referring to the Virginia-born half of the famous Lewis & Clark Expedition, which explored the western half of the American continent back in 1800.
Clark, a first-year medical student in the Columbia Program at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, has packed a lot of adventure into his 24 years: He mastered sailing, went on environmental explorations in the Bahamas, studied in Tokyo and taught English in Nepal, to name just a few. Then on July 13, 2005, he made aliya.
What was a nice Jewish boy doing in North Carolina, in a town so small there wasn't any organized Jewish community at all?
"My mother's family is from New York," he says. "She was born in the Bronx, from parents who'd fled Central Europe before the War. My father - of English/Scottish extraction - is an English teacher, a librarian and a musician, playing trombone in the Salisbury Symphony. He found work in Salisbury.
"Growing up, graduating high school in Salisbury, I had no particular connection with my Jewish ancestry," he says. "We celebrated holidays, that was about it. When I got to college, though, I became much more aware. It wasn't that I began identifying myself as a Jew, it was that others did it for me. So I decided I'd better learn what being a Jew was all about."
His exploration culminated in a March of the Living/birthright israel trip in 2002. "For me, the trip was earth-shaking, a life-changing event," he says of the tour that took about 50 young people through the devastation of Jewish Poland, then on to the Jewish state.
"There was a kind of magic on that trip, something that happened among the whole group of us, leaders and students. It's hard to explain, but for all of us, it was momentous.
"Of course, it didn't hurt that I met the girl of my dreams on that trip," he says, referring to his fiancee, Chagit Edery, who was born a sabra but is living with her parents in Brooklyn. "Because the whole experience was so intense, Chagit and I weren't sure our relationship was solid until we got together again, afterward, in Brooklyn. Then we knew."
"I came home from the trip, and my life had changed. Now my objective was to study medicine, become a doctor, and live in Israel. Then another miracle happened, and I found BGU's Columbia Program, which permits me to study medicine, in English, in Israel. It's another dream come true - now I can become the kind of doctor I want to be, live in Israel, and be with my wife, after we marry."
But things didn't happen instantly.
"I spent two years living in Brooklyn, working as an EMT, emergency medical technician. I lived in Mrs. Weiss's basement apartment - she's a Holocaust survivor - and worked in the medical field, all the while being close to Chagit and her family. Those years proved my initial decisions were right.
"After I was accepted by Nefesh B'Nefesh, I started wrapping things up in Brooklyn and Salisbury. I made the good-bye trip, seeing people I cared about. My family has been wonderful, my mother, father and younger brother Benjamin. They've been completely supportive - not just understanding, but actively supportive.
"I didn't send a lift, and I didn't have much to get rid of - I was really just a college kid. I gave some things away, stored a few items with Chagit's family, and made aliya with just a backpack. It was a big backpack, I admit. But I knew I could get whatever I needed in Israel."
"We were met by Ariel Sharon," Clark says, laughing. "It was NBN's biggest aliya day - two planes of new immigrants, one from New York, one from Canada. There was a huge 'welcome home' celebration with speeches, music and a lot of happy people. I can't say enough good things about NBN. They've really made me feel that I've come home - and they're still there, offering help with anything I need.
"I came directly to Beersheba, straight into another warm, welcoming community. The Anglo community here reaches out to the students in the Columbia Program, to help us feel at home. I feel like I've been adopted - I haven't spent a Shabbat alone yet."
"I get up at about 6:30, eat breakfast - I miss grits, I can tell you that. Then I just walk across the street to the University. I spend every weekday in class or studying, so that on Shabbat, I can take a break. I shop, cook a little - I'm a 'pescaterian' at home, I guess that's a word. I eat fish but not meat. But when I'm invited out for Shabbat, I eat whatever anyone serves me - it's always great, home cooking."
"My life here is full of people - my classmates, for starters. We're a big class, and most of us are very close. My roommate is from Indiana, in the Program, too. Chagit also has family here, and they've been very helpful. I have my own family, too - cousin Jonathan is in ulpan. My friend Ira - he was on the birthright trip, too - is also here, studying in yeshiva. Then there's the whole Anglo community of Beersheba. Life is great."
"I have a military obligation, and my one hope is that I'll be able to contribute something useful. I'm hoping I can defer my service until after I have my medical degree, so I can offer something of value to the army. Am I looking forward to it? Well, let's just say I'm looking forward to fulfilling my obligation to the army."
"I had some savings, not much. So I'm living on both private and governmental loans. NBN helped some, but I live knowing all the loans will have to be paid back. But that's the way medical school is, wherever you are.
"I live very simply, anyway. During the holidays, I traveled around Israel, which is what I wanted to do. The rest of the time, all I really do is study and go to classes. That doesn't cost much."
Just a few days ago, Clark moved into an apartment so new the number isn't even on the building yet. With two bachelors, the spacious apartment with a view is a bit bare, but sports a new black couch, loveseat and coffee table. A colorful painting stands on the kitchen counter, waiting to be hung.
"My roommate has a few more things," Clark says. "He even has a desk."
"I'm many things: I'm an American. I'm an Israeli. I live in Israel. I'm just a kid in medical school."
"I started learning Hebrew from Chagit and her family in Brooklyn. Here, we had an ulpan, and now we study Hebrew four hours a week. My classes are in English, and I associate mostly with English speakers, so it's going to take me a while to become fluent. But I'm getting better."
"I'm not where I want to be, but I know where I'm going," Clark says. "Sometimes I think it's like being a single note in a symphony - you don't really know where you fit in. And then, for just a split second, the music jumps off the page, you hear the whole symphony, and everything is clear. I'm making my way to the whole symphony."
First, a wedding in Israel.
"Chagit is still in Brooklyn, finishing her degree in Speech Pathology, but she's coming in January, and we'll make wedding plans, probably for next fall. It's important to have the wedding here - my grandparents planned a trip for their 50th wedding anniversary, but my grandfather became ill, so they didn't come. Now I want my grandmother here, at my wedding.
"Along my journey, I've gained both love and appreciation for my history and my culture. What better way is there to pass that along to my future children, than by living every day in Israel?"
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