About 16 hours before, on a cold day in New York last December, the Jaspers, along with their five small children, had boarded a plane with some 230 other Jews from North America making aliyah - Hebrew for "going up," or immigrating to Israel. They had said an emotional goodbye to family and friends and left behind a comfortable life in America to fulfill a years-long dream of making a life in Israel. Banners and speeches at both John F. Kennedy International Airport and Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv had honored their journey as noble and historic.
As the Jaspers and their tired children - two boys and three girls, none older than 7 at the time - climbed down from the van that sunny afternoon, three women from the community waited to greet them. Through a wrought-iron gate, past lemon and fig trees and tomato plants, the Jaspers trickled in the side entry door to the first-floor apartment they were renting in a simple two-story house. The door was decorated with signs in English: "Welcome home Jaspers!" and "Welcome to Israel."
The apartment, with its bare white walls, cold tile floors and four small bedrooms, was a far cry from the expansive home they'd sold back in Pikesville. There, they'd had a library, a circular driveway, a two-car garage. Here, with most of their possessions yet to arrive, they had only what neighbors had provided: some beds, a crib and desk in the bedrooms, a table and some plastic chairs in the dining room, some eggs and vegetables in the kitchen.
The previous tenant had left something too: a bumper sticker on a bedroom door. In Hebrew it read: No Arabs. No bombs.
It was a stark reminder of the reality of the new life they'd chosen. By becoming West Bank settlers, they were entering the heart of the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict, aligning themselves with a movement seen by many as a major roadblock to Middle East peace. And they were doing so at a time when more unrest was likely: the Israeli government plans to move more than 8,000 settlers out of their homes in Gaza this summer and remove settlers from four small West Bank settlements.
Palestinians and human rights organizations say the settlers have taken land not legally theirs and displaced others by doing so. But for the young couple from Pikesville, whose religious convictions had intensified over the past few years, the politics of the moment mattered far less than the ancient mandates of their faith. Like many of the almost quarter-million Jewish settlers in the West Bank, they believe it is land promised to them by God long ago.
Acting on those convictions puts the Jaspers among a tiny minority of America's 6 million Jews. Of that number, a few thousand at most immigrate to Israel each year. A mere handful of those immigrants end up in settlements on the West Bank.
Less than a decade before, Glenn, 33, and Gilla, 34, wouldn't have imagined moving here. On their first trip to Israel together in 1997, suicide bombers set off explosives on the same block in Jerusalem where they had eaten lunch just minutes before. When the bombers blew themselves up, they killed four other people, injured nearly 200 and left the visitors from America stunned. Glenn and Gilla spent most of the rest of their visit inside, afraid to leave their hotel.
Now, seven years later, they and their children would make their home here. As in Pikesville, they would live in a close-knit Orthodox community, but behind a barbed-wire electric fence, and with one of their bedrooms outfitted with a heavy steel door to double as a safe room. Glenn would commute to a white-collar job at a public relations agency in Jerusalem, but would have to pass through an Israeli military checkpoint each day to get there. They would live alongside Palestinians who chafe under Israeli military control.
Before they left Pikesville, Gilla tried to calm her fears about living here. She told herself that anyone entering the settlement would have to pass through security. That the Palestinians working construction there would be constantly watched over. She hoped her home would be far enough inside the fence that any suicide bomber wouldn't reach it before blowing himself up. And she said she would never leave the settlement if she felt unsafe.
As she took in her new surroundings, that feeling quickly took hold.
"I love the apartment, and I love the people," she said after looking around. "But I'm never leaving."
Glenn, too, understood this new life would be a challenge. But God, he says, "will take care of everything."
It had been a long journey, and the Jaspers were drained. The children went to a neighbor's house to play, and Gilla began trying to make their new house feel like home. The first thing she hung was a small wooden plaque in the shape of a house. A poem was written on it in Hebrew:
In this house, there should be no sadness.
In this apartment, there shouldn't come any difficulties.
Within this door, there should be no panic.