The kibbutz and I

"A few days ago, for the first time in years, I walked into the dining hall of a nearby kibbutz."

April 14, 2015 20:36
3 minute read.
Kibbutz Merom Golan

Kibbutz Merom Golan. (photo credit: MEITAL SHARABI)


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Kibbutz dining halls always make me uncomfortable. The way the kibbutzniks stare at any stranger who enters, whispering among themselves, has prompted me to avoid them.

A few days ago, for the first time in years, I walked into the dining hall of a nearby kibbutz. I was there to pick up a member of my immediate family whose days are regularly spent in the kibbutz kindergarten. It’s possible the period of those disconcerting looks is gone and it’s all in my head now, but still I had that familiar sense of being stared at. But as I said, it might just have been my imagination.

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It definitely wasn’t my imagination 30 years ago. I grew up with kibbutzniks, sat side by side with them in a school that was attended almost exclusively by kibbutz children. I belonged and I didn’t belong, an insider and an observer from outside at the same time.

The school was very politically-minded, and we were the only kids there who supported the Likud rather than the Ma’arach (Labor). The atmosphere was especially tense around election time. After the First Lebanon War, kibbutz cars didn’t stop for my brother if they saw him waiting at the junction for a lift home when he was on leave from the army. They’d drive on by and leave him standing there. That changed after a while, and anyway, we started driving on our own.

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The characterization of any human society inevitably contains generalizations. The generalization that the Swedes are light-haired, for example, is justified (if we disregard the latest wave of immigration). And so, in the spirit of pseudo-sociological generalizations, I can say that I like kibbutzniks.

There’s something moving and captivating about these genuine, rather naïve, people.

But I can’t say the same about the framework these worthy individuals created. You take a group of good people and put them all together in a pressure cooker known as a kibbutz, and somehow things get bent out of shape.

Back in the day, the kibbutzim, in fact the whole of the kibbutz movement, displayed a sort of hubris. The movement’s security committee meddled freely in the affairs of the army, consumer organizations, the Histadrut labor union, and the omnipotent party. “City bastard” was the worst obscenity you could throw at someone in our regional school, and it wasn’t a reference to their mother’s moral fiber; it was the word “city” that was so offensive. And just like their arrogance back then, so the mortification and desolation that followed the economic collapse of the kibbutz was exaggerated. Both attitudes were excessive.

To return to the dining hall, I was only there for a minute and then, in a surge of communal spirit and socialist fellowship, I walked into the general store, where I was in for a surprise. One of the kibbutz old-timers looked at me and said, “Every time I ride by your ranch and see the sheep and cows, I wish you good fortune.”

It seems invoking God’s blessing isn’t necessarily restricted to one camp in particular, as some people suggested during the election campaign. And there’s nothing wrong with it. On the contrary, it’s always nice to hear. It doesn’t have to be either us or them (or him). The differences between us, if any actually exist, are small, and there’s no question they are negligible compared to the chaos raging around us.

Translated from the Hebrew by Sara Kitai.

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