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(photo credit: Lydia Aisenberg)
As kibbutzim turn toward privatization, the Old Courtyard at Kibbutz Ein Shemer is fast becoming a museum that depicts a way of life gasping its last ideological breath.
Many kibbutzim nowadays have either in-house mini-museums or open-to-the-public larger ones; but Ein Shemer's Old Courtyard offers more than a glimpse into the collective lifestyle of the not-so-distant past.
In this corner of yesteryear, one can roll up one's sleeves and bake bread in the flour mill or muck in during the season with olive oil production using a reconstructed press that began its working days in Jaffa and ended up dilapidated in a Galilean village, only to be rescued by Ein Shemer's own Dr. Fix-it, Ran Hedvati.
Hedvati and his friends also restored an authentic Turkish train that first rolled down a track in 1915, and old farm machinery that has been lovingly returned to working order.
Ein Shemer's original dining room has been turned into a showroom of bygone days. Grainy photographs adorn the walls depicting the first settlers' struggling with the natural and human elements of the area they chose to turn into a home. Toward the end of the photographic exhibition we see a thriving community of veteran members with their kibbutz-born children and grandchildren.
Pictures taken over several generations record the kibbutz's various agricultural and industrial branches - from the early hardships in black-and-white to the peak of communal success in the Sixties and Seventies, where we begin to see things in color.
Mannequins clothed like pioneers of the early 1900s sit around wooden tables laden with eating and cooking utensils made of tin. The cloth flat-capped men sport Russian-style round collared shirts, buttons running down the sides. The women wear blouses, skirts or knickerbocker-style shorts and kerchiefs around their heads.
One can almost imagine them discussing work or guard duties, or some issue that they see as a possible threat to their community. On the other hand, maybe they are just exchanging a bit of gossip.
The first group of Hashomer youth came to Ein Shemer in 1913, but many were replaced by other would-be pioneers when the harsh conditions, rampant diseases and marauding Arab gangs got the better of them.
During British mandatory times in the early l920s, the settlers built a fortified high-walled courtyard with slits in the walls for rifle ports and a two-story stone building. The only way into the courtyard was through a high heavy metal gate. The attractive building, constructed by members of the G'dud Ha'avoda, was built to last.
Apart from the main building, several wooden shacks survive - deluxe living quarters 80 years ago when the majority of kibbutz folk were living in either tents or vebellim, a cross between tent and shack.
A barn and animal pen are the first thing one sees when walking into the Old Courtyard, and the first sound of welcome emanates from a couple of donkeys therein. A long lean-to protects the yellow and green painted harvesters, reapers, balers and tractors that Hedvati and his team restored, now turned on by the flick of an electric switch affixed to a wooden beam.
Ein Shemer was connected to electricity in 1934 and to the national water grid in 1953. Until then, water was brought in from nearby Karkur.
A humorous audiovisual presentation in a side room follows the bumpy path to Zion of one Polish immigrant by the name of Arie-Lieb, who is called "The Little Big Pioneer."
The presentation walks the seated visitor through the kibbutz movement's tough beginnings alongside those who actually banded together to toil the soil, defend their right to do so and develop a community different from all others.
They wanted to live a seemingly impossible dream, and succeed.
Now, however, their grandchildren and even some great-grandchildren are turning their backs on the days of yore, wanting a more "normal" lifestyle akin to their peers in Israeli towns and cities.
A visit to the Old Courtyard at Ein Shemer is high on the list of many junior schools, ulpans for new immigrants and tourists from overseas. And all this can be found in an area the size of a football field, the original courtyard of a kibbutz founded close to an ancient highway, the Via Maris (nowadays known as Wadi Ara or Nahal Irron) near the swamps of Hadera.