An Ode

Alas my time here is near to the end,
And ‘tho I have had a wonderful time, I will not pretend
That I am not very excited to move to the west end.

The friends I have made here and the people I’ve met have all been so great,
The adventures, the experiences – school, the kibbutz, the travel- all were first rate,
But to pack my suitcase and move to my new home? Its getting hard to wait.

“Why?” You ask, “don’t you love us, don’t you want to stay?
Don’t you love the swimming pool and the freedom of the kids to run around and play?
Its so friendly, so communal, so welcoming on the kibbutz – that is our way.”

Yes, the family, the friends, the ease of life, I love you so,
I love the atmosphere, the camaraderie, the communal-type living – even if it is a little slow,
But my new home awaits, and I really must go.

I will miss the childcare where all the kids go every day,
I will miss the dining hall (although not the register where we pay),
I will even miss the cow shed, where the smell is more than hay!

(Ah yes the dining hall, where we all go to eat,
Were dinner is make your own salad and they add way too much salt to the meat,
and the pricing scheme is really screwy – you pay – individually – for every radish on the balance sheet!)

I will miss the beautiful landscape, the mountains that surround,
The acacias and the wadis and vistas that astound,
Every day is full of sunshine and hiking trails abound.

I will miss ten o’clock meal , and four o’ clock meal, and all of safta’s cakes,
I will miss lazy Friday afternoons, when of the computer the children do partake,
I will miss our friends – old and new – and our family. For all of these things my heart will ache.

But the place we live right now, it is so very small,
Just two bedrooms, a living space, and do you call that a kitchen? Not at all!
And I’m sure what to think about the cracks that have appeared in every single wall.

Sharing my tiny bedroom with my husband’s home office has NOT been a treat,
I hate the cramped entryway, and the ants that I can’t seem to beat,
And I wish we had some insulation to help keep out the heat!

Every whisper in the living room, it sounds like a roar!
The echo on the cement is so loud you hear us outside the door!
Add to all the echo, the air conditioner, the kettle and the radio, and I can’t take any more!

Most of the time the water runs just fine, although about once a month it does not,
And did you want cold water? Sorry, in the summer all we have is hot.
The electricity… well its pretty good. I guess that’s something that we’ve got!

Now, I’ve learned so much about Israeli culture during my time,
Most of it is truly great, and I will miss it just fine,
But there is one thing Israelis really must learn: my dear, its called a LINE.

How many times have I been waiting, patiently in the store or dining hall,
And someone stepped in front of me – cut me in line – and thought nothing of it at all.
Waiting at the bus stop, the airport, or the tramcar at Masada, they push you out of the way, and almost cause a brawl!

Its a simple lesson, that everyone must learn,
You line up in order and each one gets a turn!
Then your business get completed, and your anger will not burn!

I’ve heard that the country where I will live, they take it to extreme,
Lining up is more important than you could ever dream,
and I guess I can understand how that could make me scream.

But, I’ll take my chances with order and with lines,
And with cold, wet weather – they say its sunny sometimes.
And, of course, an abode with much larger confines!

My new dwelling, away up in the north, it has amenities galore,
Insulation, big bright windows, constant water and a mail slot in your door,
But the best thing it has: is a toilet on every floor!

Yes, its, true, the grass is always greener, in this I do trust,
And I am sure we’ll discover many things which will make our old home seem a plus,
But best of all, when we move north our husband and aba will once again live with us!

Playing Tour Guide

In the last few months we’ve had several visitors here to the Kibbutz. For almost all of them it was their first visit to a country they had never expected to visit. One friend commented that Israel was “never on my radar.” And I empathize. Israel was never on my radar, until I married a man who was born here. To be honest I only vaguely knew where Israel was on the map when I first met my husband-to-be. I never told him that…but that’s another story, for another blog post.

Playing tour guide to my friends in my temporary home has been an experience. Its shown me what is important to me, and what stands out to me.

I live in the very south of Israel near the border with Egypt. To describe it (which I have in past blog posts) I tell people I basically live in a northern extension of the Sahara desert. It is all sand and rocks and dryness and heat. Here it is April and we’re almost reaching 100 degrees Fahrenheit every day. The barren mountains are exposed with all their peaks and folds. And the sun beats down on it all almost all day, almost every day. The first thing I want people to react to is the total alien-ness of the landscape. How completely empty and dry it is. And how captivating. I have always lived in the northern United States, and, in comparison, the landscape here is… astonishing, enthralling, confounding, amazing. And I want all of my friends and family who come here to feel these same things. And actually, they usually do.

Next I want them to see what a “normal” place it is. By normal I mean, we don’t spend all our time running to bomb shelters, and fearing for our lives. Mostly, here, in the south, we just do our stuff. Its true, three or four times in these past 9 months there have been a couple of rockets launched at Eilat from the Sinai Dessert in Egypt. Once they rang the air raid siren here in the kibbutz. But thats like saying, in the past 9 months there have been a few shootings in Boston or Chicago, and one time you drove passed the police cars responding to such an incident. Life is just… normal. We don’t spend all day arguing about the “Palestinian conflict” or dodging Arab people. We wake up and go to work and eat together in the dining hall and enjoy coffee together in the afternoon. Whats hard, though, is the constant reminders that violence is – could be – very prevalent here. And I find myself reminding my visitors that violence is – often – very prevalent in the US.

I am not a Zionist. I am not Jewish. I am not sure what I believe about the complicated issues of land and government and control here in Israel. But I do find myself pointing out to my visitors again and again the basic ingenuity of Israelis. How time and again, in their struggles, when they thought they could rely on allies from abroad, they have been forced to do it all alone. When the French stalled on delivering promised airplanes during one conflict or another, the Israelis just said “fine, we’ll make our own.” And they did. Israelis invented the Uzi machine gun, and their “iron dome” missile protection system actually works, well (which is more they we can say about the one developed for a lot more money and time in the US!!).

But excluding armed conflicts, the amount of innovation in this country – a place with a landmass about the size of New Jersey, and a population of less than 8 million people – is amazing. Instant messaging was invented here! The sheer number of technology companies and technology start ups is overwhelming. Some of the newest and most innovative technologies in smart irrigation, and water desalinization have been invented and improved upon here.

And, in the same vein, and even more impressive, I think, are the settlements out here in the dessert. Some one came out here, stopped and said ”yeah, I think I could live here.” And they did. They built a whole way of life way out here, far away from everything they knew. And they encountered a whole set of obstacles that they had to get around. And they did! Getting power and water, and building and expansion and sustenance. Plus they are farming here. When we lived in Boston we could buy our tomatoes in our local grocery store from the Arava region of Israel! And they keep innovating as they go.

AND ON TOP OF THAT they started a whole new experiment in community living. The Kibbutz movement is something special, if not unique. They have developed an entire, self-contained, small society, providing for the needs so of the members, so the members can provide for the needs of the society. Communal living and dining, education and the equal value of work are all under-lying tenants of the Kibbutz movement. The Kibbutz movement was not only a way to settle the land in some far flung out-posts, but it was a way to help create a new society, and new bonds to hold together people who had immigrated from all over the world. It helped tie the people to the land and to each other. And it has worked. The people I have met here, even those who may not have been so willing to come, love this place. They love the landscape and the heat and the community. They are proud to be from here. And I want my visitors to see that, and see why.

Lastly, I find my self continually pointing out the layers of history. So many societies have been through here. Every major society in western history has been here. And their stories are laid out for us in layers, one on top of the other, every where you go! I read an article that they were trying to build a highway north of here in Beer Sheva, and they uncovered the most complete Byzantine mosaic floor ever discovered. All they wanted to do was build a road! And the old Ottoman police station – which was first a Roman structure – is just down the street from here. This ancient structure is so common, there isn’t even a sign post saying what it is, or a lock on the gate! I am constantly amazed that people have been walking around here, living their lives for thousands of years. The weight of the history here, is great. And I want my visitors to feel that weight as we travel.

Now, I come from a pretty distinctly American point of view. My own country has been around for more than 200 years and the values and struggles from which my own country was formed are receding into the past for me. (I’m not saying they are not important, just that they are not foremost in my day-to-day life in the US). But Israel is relatively young, and, some could argue hasn’t even finished establishing its borders yet. And they are still very much struggling with their founding principles and the foundations of their society. And I am intrigued by these struggles, just as I am intrigued by the landscape so different from my own, and intrigued by the history upon which they are building their society. And I am eager to share these observations with my visitors.