Bracha Ben Avraham 88 22.
(photo credit: Wendy Blumfield)
With a professional life that has included agriculture and pest control, preschool education and music, technical writing and translating, the parallel passions of Bracha Ben-Avraham are Irish music and socialist Zionism.
Disenchanted with the kibbutz movement as it evolved in the past 15 years, she now lives in the pastoral Moshav Ben-Ami in Western Galilee.
She grew up in a secular Zionist family in Chicago, strongly influenced by many years in the Habonim youth movement. "I had a strong identity with Israel and Judaism and the Habonim ideology of pioneering aliya." In 1968 at 18, she spent a year on a Habonim workshop at Kibbutz Urim in the Negev, part of the vision of Ben-Gurion. "I wanted to work in agriculture, not child care, and I spent much of the year in the cowsheds," she reminisces about her work routine, milking the cows early morning and evening and her leisure hours at the pool. "Eventually I had to take my turn at child care and actually enjoyed it."
This change of interest led her to later study pre-school education as a profession. "I had found my niche, but my parents wanted me to return home and consider my options for another year," she says.
She could not wait to return and in 1970 made aliya. While looking for a kibbutz that would suit her, she studied preschool education at Oranim and the David Yellin College. She joined a garin (core group) at Kibbutz Haruv but this eventually fell apart. She applied to Kibbutz Adamit on the northern border, and on the day she arrived for a meeting with the reception committee, war broke out and she could not leave. Fortunately she was accepted and during that war worked with soldiers serving in the area. It was at Adamit that she finished her teaching degree, married and had two children, eventually staying there for 21 years.
"There was a very liberal attitude to gender stereotypes at that kibbutz," she says. "Men and women shared equally in the service and caring professions as well as in agriculture, production and organizational jobs."
She was at peace with the concept of the communal children's houses and disagreed with the proposal to change to family accommodation. "I had real quality time with my children during those afternoon hours and Shabbat," she explains. "I also felt that my children were safer in a well-guarded children's house on that vulnerable border than in my own house on the kibbutz periphery."
She said that she feared infiltrators far more than the rockets that bombarded her daily in the Second Lebanon War.
"From an ideological viewpoint, women were much freer to work in jobs of their choice when the children did not sleep at home," she says.
The kibbutz was comparatively late in changing to family accommodation in the late 1980s. She attributes this to the decline of the kibbutz. "It was a one-way road and it took away equality for mothers." Nevertheless she confesses that her daughter does not agree. As a young mother herself, she questions the practices of that time. "How could you have left us at night?"
By the 1990s she felt that the kibbutz movement was losing its soul. It was time to move on and in 1994 she relocated to the Western Galilee moshav. And so began her passion for Irish music.
Although she had a teaching degree, her early years at the kibbutz were spent in agriculture. At Adamit among other crops there were apples, pears and plums grown in orchards worked mostly by women.
"I began to specialize in integrated pest control," she says. "I wrote articles and leaflets for the Ministry of Agriculture and researched the eradication of the coddling moth [worms in apples]."
She loved the work though it was physically exhausting. During that time they planted 8,000 trees. She also dabbled in beekeeping and attained a license as adviser on healthy pest control.
Leaving the kibbutz ended her career in agriculture, but she turned to her other talents. Always musical, she had learned classical piano from the age of six and guitar from the age of 12. To supplement her emerging musical career, she taught music and took on a more secure day job by establishing a technical writing and translating business.
She had always enjoyed folk music and political songs. She was active in the movement against the Vietnam War. Her father also played folk and political songs on the guitar.
She developed a love for Irish music and with other musicians of this genre formed a group, Wild Mountain Thyme. They played at the Carmel Folk Club and gained recognition. They contacted the owner of Uri Buri, the fish restaurant which was then in Nahariya, now in Acre, and would play there for their supper. They were soon joined by some Irish UN officers who urged them to come to Ireland to learn more and to play at festivals.
This fired her enthusiasm and she acquired a bodhran, bones and her first Irish bouzouki.
At that time Black Velvet was the vanguard of Irish music in Israel. It is described by Ben-Avraham as a very professional instrumental group, but when she returned from another visit to Ireland in 1996, she auditioned for a new group, Irish Cream, which included a vocal repertoire.
From the year 2000, Irish Cream performed on the main stage at Jacob's Ladder and there were several reciprocal trips to play in Ireland and have Irish players visit them and play here.
"Tel Aviv was buzzing with Irish music," she says, recommending that enthusiasts to go the Molly Bloom pub on Friday afternoons.
Irish Cream broke up in 2003, but she still plays in groups and solo. "I run a Ynet forum for Irish music which is small and very specialized for young people learning to play," she says.
Her parents made aliya in 1983, learned Hebrew and live in Tel Aviv. She has a brother living in Hawaii. Her daughter, an occupational therapist, lives in Givatayim and has a four-year-old daughter. Her son, also in Tel Aviv, is a hi-tech sales executive.
She is an ardent peace activist and runs a daily blog which she started during the Second Lebanon War. "I stayed put at the moshav and the writing was therapeutic," she says, proud that she was asked to read it on Israel Radio's English news. "It got rough at the end, I couldn't lift up my head," she says, describing the daily bombardment of Galilee.
She is now preparing a memoir of how she has lived her Zionism.
"I am more Left than ever," she says, but declares that she nevertheless detests the Jewish self-haters and Israel bashers who twist facts and quote out of context.
"We have to remember that the first Zionists had very lofty ideals and try to live by them, but we must recognize that there have been mistakes along the way. We may regret some lost opportunities but then the other side have not done anything to encourage compromise."
She has not lost sight of her quest for equality and Zionist socialism in Israeli society. Discussing poverty and corruption in politics, she regrets: "What would have been deplorable in the '50s and '60s is now accepted," she says. "But I would not live anywhere else."
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