The patch of grass was the same patch of grass, and the Ficus tree was the same Ficus tree. And there, in that very same place we used to sit under the tree during recess, the Sha’ar HaNegev School staged the graduation party for its 9th graders, my eldest son among them.
A Thai boy from my class whose mother had married one of the kibbutz members would sit on the sill of the now-barred window of our old class on the second floor. He was a nice enough kid, but had the tendency to lose his temper when confronted with a disparaging remark concerning the king of Thailand. He sat there tossing orange peels to the grass below, the pieces spinning rapidly down like tiny flying saucers and threatening to rain down on the heads of the people sitting at ease on the lawn.
The school no longer resembles the one of old, which was small and homogeneous, and the students of which were primarily kibbutz children.
All of the children (except my brother and me) and teachers were supporters of the left-wing Labor party.
From time to time the students (again, except my brother and me) were loaded onto local council buses and driven to Tel Aviv to participate in the political movement’s rallies – an extremely popular outing as a visit to the big city included fries and a soda, and sometimes even a hamburger or steak on special occasions.
“Big-city bastard” was a popular curse at the school. Not much emphasis was placed on studying – neither among the students and nor among the teachers, and it didn’t come as a surprise to anyone to see one of my classmates make it through from 11th to 12th grade with 10 failing grades on his report card. Shortly thereafter, he received a tempting offer from his kibbutz – to operate the giant cotton harvester. He didn’t hesitate for a moment.
A sense of freedom reigned over the expansive lawns, and the young kibbutz girls appeared to observe the world through indifferent eyes. It was a girl from my class who first gave herself to me. “If you really want to,” she said. “No sweat, I don’t care,” I replied. God, I cared so very much.
I watched my son’s classmates as they danced and sang; the talented members of the “Gaza Strip” band – two lead guitarists, a bass player and a drummer, all from the graduating year – provided the music. The girls, as is the way of the world, were brimming with exuberance and grace. The size of the student body had increased markedly, and diversity now ruled.
Girls in mini-skirts, who made a point of kissing the mezuzahs, as observant Jews do, were a common sight. I don’t remember if we had mezuzahs at school when I was there. There were certainly no miniskirts. That I’d remember for sure.
The ceremony was to conclude with a song by the teachers but was cut short by a loud signal warning of an incoming rocket – just to remind everyone where we were, that on the surface everything only appeared to be normal, seemingly just like any graduation party throughout the world. We waited – the rocket exploded elsewhere – and then the joyful children continued to party into the night.
The writer is author of Sharon: The Life of a Leader (2011).