Becky was the queen of the class. Actually, she was more like the queen of the school. The teachers adored her; she was beautiful, vivacious and clever. She had it all.

Despite being considered a “snob,” everybody would seek her approval. If Becky complimented, “I like your hairstyle,” the recipient would glow for a week. If Becky said, “Oh, it’s so hot today, I’m thirsty,” then 10 girls would scramble to make it first to the water fountain to bring her a drink.

Becky was nonchalant about her social standing and popularity. At 6 years old, she was accustomed to receiving it.

Her father was a tall, handsome man with a mustache who had a remarkable presence even when he didn’t say a word. His uniform was heavily decorated; it was whispered that he was the most senior officer in the Israel Defense Forces.

Becky’s mother was no less impressive. She was smart, elegant and well-spoken with a tinge of a foreign accent. Her older daughter, Miriam, was beautiful, with long flowing blonde locks and a “devil may care” attitude.

It wasn’t unusual for Becky to come to school boasting a new acquisition. Our eyes would be wide in wonder as we surveyed the new gadget or toy with admiration. Of course, we were never allowed to touch it.

We were all envious of Becky; I thought she was the luckiest girl ever.

One day, she came to school with a Polaroid camera. We could hardly believe it when she told us its function. She then proudly exclaimed: “I’ll prove it! Whoever climbs to the top of the tree first will have a photo from my camera.” After that, it was pandemonium, with girls climbing on top of each other. Determined to get to the top before any of the others, I fought off my clamoring classmates. Scratched, bruised and sore from head to toe, I mustered enough energy to triumphantly call, “I made it, I won!”

Becky took a picture with her shiny camera and said, “Well done!” Until today, I have that photo in my album. In the 1970s in Israel, there weren’t many opportunities to have pictures taken, so it was a real feat.

One sunny June day, Becky came to school declaring: “I’m getting a new doll, the biggest doll in the world. She can open and close her eyes, and if you press on her belly, she says ‘Mama.’ ”

This was too much for us, and shouts were heard—“It isn’t even your birthday; why would you get such a present?” “You’ve already got dozens of dolls, why do you need another one?” “Wow, you’re so lucky! You always get the best presents!” “There is no such thing as a doll that can talk! That’s ridiculous.”

Becky’s radiant happiness was unmarred. She said, “My dad has gone to America, and he’s going to bring me back a massive doll. I already know what I’ll call her. She’ll be blonde just like me.”

“America? What is America?” we demanded.

She told us it was a faraway country that had everything in it, and that her father had gone there to get her the special doll because she was so special.

That night, I lay in bed with dozens of questions probing my mind: “America? Is that even a real place?” I imagined it like a different planet, bouncing happily in the vast sky. A place with sweets and candy instead of grass, chocolate logs for trees, streets lined with toy stores and blue skies with a sun that never stopped shining.

I wondered whether one day I could also go to this America and witness the wonder for myself …

I did have a doll. Frankly, she was a poor excuse for a doll, as somewhere along the years she lost her left arm and shortly afterwards one of her legs. She was quite small and would have been headless too, as one of my jolly brothershad ripped it off in a taunt. After many tears and yelling, the blonde little head was reinstated atop the armless, legless plastic body. She didn’t have a name, but she was the only doll I owned.

Every week, Becky and the gang of girls at school would wait for the return of her father from America so we could see the doll and maybe even be lucky enough to hold her. Weeks passed, her father’s trip was delayed, and one or two of the more jealous girls would secretly sneer behind her back: “There is no big talking doll; she probably just made it up.”

Four weeks on, and to our surprise, Becky walked into school with the biggest doll any of us could ever imagine. I thought she was almost as tall as me, and I was big (I was nearly 6 years old)!

Becky explained that there was a delay in receiving the doll because America is a faraway place, and they had to wait extra time because the doll needed a battery to make her talk. From that day, none of us doubted she was telling us the absolute truth about that magical place, about the abundance of toys there; all of us wallowed in jealousy.

Why couldn’t we have a dad that went to America? I remember feeling the pinch in my heart, as I thought. “Nothing like that ever happens to me. I’m just Simmy, an average girl. I’ll never be the teacher’s pet; I’ll never have Becky’s sparkling command of the social scenes. I’ll never be popular … maybe because I don’t have a huge talking doll that closes and opens her eyes and can say, ‘Mama.’ ”

From then on, the parcels from America were a fortnightly occurrence. Every couple of weeks, she came to school with a new toy, a new marvel, a coloring book, a puzzle or a new set of pens. One day, she received a massive railway and train set that her sister helped her build on the dining-room table.

When Chanukah came, a dozen more presents were sent from America, but the bearer of the gifts never delivered them in person. Either her mother or her sister, Miriam, brought the wrapped boxes to the sparkly-eyed Becky.

By the time Purim came along, her father still hadn’t returned from his travels. Becky’s mother seemed to have lost that essential glow she always had; she seemed gray and old and sad.

One day, I quizzed my parents about America. I asked my dad: “Will you go to America and bring me a big doll like Becky’s?”

“America??” puzzled my dad. “Why are you asking about America?”

“Well, yes, America! Becky’s dad went there, and she got so many wonderful presents. Will you go to America, too?”

My father looked at me sadly and sighed, “Oy, darling child, don’t you understand? They have just substituted the word ‘heaven’ for the word ‘America.’ Officer Berkowicz was killed in war. Her father, sadly, is not coming home. He’s not in America; he’s in the Afterworld.”

That incident will remain in my mind probably for the rest of my life. It was my first experience of extreme jealousy. It was also my first encounter with death. After that, whenever I felt jealous of anything or anyone, I’d remember Officer Berkowicz and the big life-size doll that opens and closes her eyes, and says “Mama” when you press on her tummy.

The Torah cautions us against the futility of jealousy, which only brings heartache and bitterness. When I remember Becky and my 6-year-old old self, I realize that I don’t always understand the whys and wherefores of life. When I look around at what others have and question why things don’t go the way I wish, I realize that I simply need to trust that G‑d is behind everything—every movement, every penny, every action.

Even every doll and train set.