Efrats dwellers maintain identity is bound to land

"I never thought I'd be like this," said Chana, 45, the product of a Jewish-socialist family from New York. "I grew up believing in universalism. Now I feel like that was like being lost in the desert and seeing a mirage."

David, from Los Angeles, a rabbi and songwriter in the avant-garde Jewish Renewal movement who lectures and performs widely in Israel and the United States, said he first came to Efrat a decade ago because of its openness to new forms of Orthodox expression.

"It was never a political act for me," he said. "I wasn't even aware it was over the Green Line [beyond Israel's 1967 border]."

Today, however, there is no avoiding Efrat's political significance; Palestinians want it included in their hoped-for future state and Israel has already agreed to cede nearby Bethlehem.

And Efrat residents like the Zellers have been forced to face that they may have to abandon the home they share with four of their five children, or fight to keep it.

David, 49, a self-described "eternal optimist" who takes part in interfaith dialogue meetings with Arab Muslims and who speaks passionately about Palestinian "pain," is clearly the more conflicted of the two.

"I'm a liberal, but I won't just give [my home] away," he said during a late-night conversation around his kitchen table. "Civil disobedience is OK, but it's very hard for me to imagine seeing myself getting violent. That only leads to more destruction."

Chana's position is more hardened. She said she would rather see Efrat destroyed than turned over to Palestinians.

"I felt like a wandering Jew my whole time in America," she said. "Here [in Efrat] I've felt for the first time at home. Either you believe there's some connection between God, land and the Jewish people or you don't.

"If you don't, you can float anywhere on the planet. If you do, you have to behave accordingly. I do."