Wednesday, August 26, 2009

When the Kibbutz was a Kibbutz

Sent 26.Aug.2009

An article written in Hebrew by Amnon Shamosh, "When the Kibbutz was a Kibbutz", was translated into English by Trudy Greener and Amnon Hadary. The article was a nostalgic journey into the idealic experiences and environment within the Kibbutz of Past memories. The article made the rounds of my Habonim 9th Workshop friends. (We spent a year together at Kibbutz Gesher Haziv in 1959). Via a few email postings a number of our group began wondering whether in 1959 we were still part of “the Kibbutz that Was”, or was it all something before our time.

One of our group wrote:
............ I do not think it was all [past] history- I remember many such [experiences} when I arrived there. I think the bigger changes started in the 70’s with the most dramatic changes in the 90’s- aaron, would you agree?

This was my reply:

Your question is a loaded one which will probably be argued for years to come by fine sociologists and anthropologists. Some say the demise began with the conception. Some say they never saw it coming. Amnon Shamosh’s wonderfully picturesque description of “what-once-was” embraces scenes of a process from before Statehood and up to some realities that still exist today in a very small number of kibbutzim.

My own recollection of Gesher Haziv as a “kibbutz” while on Workshop is fairly vague in retrospect. I don’t think I ever managed to really assess or view the inner workings of the place, nor the community “soul” that made the place tick. I enjoyed working in bananas and I liked the people there. I liked my family and remember well how Rachel and I visited them often. I remember the Sidur-Avoda and the laundry. I remember the chadar-ochel and the half of a boiled egg, and the jam instead of sugar for our tea, and the mashed potatoes and gaining weight. I remember Purim but other holidays are absent or vague (was I sober on Purin and drunk on the others?). and I remember well that the kibbutz was in sad shape economically/financially with serious management problems (running the bananas was someone from elsewhere; the Merakez-Meshek was an outsider foisted on the kibbutz).The rest of my memories of that year are from the Workshop itself, things we did, our relationships, kibbutz members who were involved with us, and a younger crowd (garin and older high school bnei-meshek) who got closer to some of us than to others.

Back in Washington D.C. after workshop I decided to return to Gesher Haziv…….Not because I fell in love with the “soul” of Gesher Haziv. I hadn’t really met with it during our year together……But because I surmised that going to a kibbutz with problems, one in need of new blood in order to re-vitalize it’s mission as a “successful experiment in true communal living”, is indeed the real pioneering challenge of that day. Did I make a mistake? Should I have expended my young ideological energy by joining a completely new kibbutz or one with a solid economic future? No matter. I deal with the reality of past and present as stepping stones into tomorrow, rather than muse on the possibilities of various parallel realities. For the last thirty some years I’ve had a small slogan (in Hebrew) above my desk saying something like this:

“It’s good to die for an ideal, but don’t hurry, because ideals tend to evolve and change, and you may be dying for the wrong stage of its evolution.”

With notable but few exceptions I think I’ve adopted the slogan as a method of wading through a variety of surrounding changes in our world, including the process that changed what we saw as “The Kibbutz That Was”.

I began learning what Gesher Haziv is all about only after arriving in ’65 married and with child. I knew things were different than expected when during our first month we had a get-together with a group of young adults (army and post-army age) who grew up in G.H. ….They were totally confused as to why young Jews would leave America to join them in G.H……were we freaks or something? But it took a number of years later, around the Bar-Mitzva of our third son, to realize that the economic collectivity of our community was on a downhill disintegrating slope. Our gizbar told us to keep all bar-mitzva gifts (money) and put them in our own bank account. (By our fourth son it was no longer a question). That was about 27 years ago. (today it all sounds so trite.)

In truth, the “Kibbutz that was” in G.H. held onto an outer shell made up of many of the colorful institutions and behaviors as described by Amnon Shamosh in his article. But within the shell, throughout the years, those ideals of social and economic collectivity were slowly breaking down and emptying out till the shell itself had little to lean on and began totally cracking-up in the 90’s. By then treasure hunters would have great difficulty finding remnants of “the Kibbutz that was” in G.H.

p.s. “this guy” Amnon Shamosh is one of Israel’s prolific and honored authors. With roots in Syrian Jewery and a sturdy trunk in the Kibbutz, his branches extend to many books on Jews in Arab lands, children’s books, poetry and social topics. He was one of the founders of Kibbutz Maayan Baruch. Among those founders was also a group from American Habonim, joined later by olim from South African Habonim.

Best wishes,