barbara sofer 88.
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For a newly married couple, the idea of moving to a kibbutz with a little healthy space from their families sounded like an adventure. So when Yiska and Moshe Sadovksi, from Bnei Brak and Jerusalem respectively, heard that Kibbutz Beit Keshet north of Mount Tabor was seeking a kashrut inspector for a new food industry, they decided to give it a try.
Yiska found a job as a kindergarten teacher in Afula, and four years ago they moved into a small apartment on the kibbutz. That they would be the only Sabbath-observing Jews would be a challenge they welcomed. Or so they thought.
After they unpacked, Moshe headed to the kibbutz grocery store to pick up a few items. The shopkeeper stared at him. Certainly, he suggested, the young man with a black kippa and ritual fringes was looking for religious Kibbutz Lavi near the Golani Junction?
"When I insisted that I lived in Beit Keshet, he just shook his head and advised me that he didn't sell to the religious." Another neighbor told him "I hate religious people, I hate God and I hate you."
Kibbutz Beit Keshet, literally "House of the Bow," was founded in 1944, the first settlement of the Palmah, the clandestine pre-state fighters and associated with Hakibbutz Hame'uhad. "House of the Bow" was drawn from King David's instruction to teach "the offspring of Yehuda the use of the bow," and typified the fighting spirit of the pioneer soldiers. Indeed, fierce battles raged around Beit Keshet during the War of Independence.
Many of the Palmahnik members graduated from the nearby esteemed Kadoorie agricultural school. On the kibbutz they plowed for wheat, cotton and potatoes, tomatoes and corn, raised chickens and cattle. They opened an electronics factory specializing in scales. In recent years, Beit Keshet has been undergoing privatization, revising its strict communal structure so that the kibbutz will become part of a larger community village.
"The kibbutzniks had decided to hire a mashgiah," said Yiska Sadovski, her long wig gathered into a pony tail. "But somehow they didn't realize we'd be here on Shabbat and holidays."
Despite the obvious odium, Yiska and Moshe decided to stick it out. After all, they both had jobs, Yiska was pregnant, and the High Holy Days were approaching.
NONETHELESS, it was a new and awful feeling to be so disliked.
"I wasn't quite sure what to do," Yiska said. "So I started baking honey cakes. I brought them as holiday gifts to my neighbors and to different people I had contact with."
Neighbors thanked her politely, but to her surprise and embarrassment, one of the rather hard-bitten kibbutz old-timers burst into tears. "He said he couldn't get over that I was giving him something on my own initiative, but maybe it touched some moment in his past."
As the old expression goes, you get more bees with honey cake than with vinegar. The Sadovksis felt some of the initial resistance to their presence flagging. When Yiska gave birth to her first child, lots of helping hands and tips were proffered, particularly from grandmas who had run the kibbutz baby houses of yesteryear. Moshe and Yiska soon discovered that many of their neighbors weren't indifferent to religion - many wanted to try out on them their ideas on Judaism and spirituality.
"Where we grew up, we took belief for granted," said Yiska. "Suddenly we had to find the language to explain our belief to ourselves and to people who claimed they didn't believe in God. It challenged us to come up with better answers."
And so, gradually, they became integrated into the community of Beit Keshet. The shopkeeper changed, and the new shopkeeper insisted it was no trouble to stock the more stringently kosher brands Yiska sought. She and Moshe enjoyed the community spirit in holiday decorations and celebrations.
For the High Holy Days, few were interested in a full day of prayer, so they imported their own minyan of yeshiva students. Nonetheless, their presence inspired an upgrade of yiddishkeit: pre-holiday study sessions and the addition of a professional shofar-blower tooting out all 100 required blasts.
IN THE four years they've lived at Beit Keshet, no one has become a returnee to the faith, but several have koshered their kitchens so they can host the affable Sadovskis. Both Moshe and Yiska teach Torah classes. On the week before Rosh Hashana this year, some 70 residents of Beit Keshet hired a bus to take them to Jerusalem to experience selihot at the Kotel. Their secret? "We never argue with anyone," says Yiska. "We're available if anyone wants information or help."
Indeed, Ze'ev Ellman, a kibbutznik for the past 43 years and the contact for potential new residents, says the Sadovskis' congeniality is their greatest asset. "They're pleasant and never force their ideas on anyone."
Trying to attract new members to the Beit Keshet community, the kibbutz described itself on the Internet in the following way: "Beit Keshet is largely a secular community. We have a small synagogue and a liberal Orthodox rabbi who lives in the community with his family. Some members of the community have enjoyed being invited to celebrate holidays together with the rabbi and his family."
I asked Ellman about the ad. "We like the idea that we're open-minded."
Non-coercive Judaism combined with the transformative magic of a honey cake. What a winning combination.