Israel Kibbutz Experience


Israel Kibbutz Experience


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The Short Summer Kibbutz Ulpan

By Maya Lazarovitz

When I first arrived at Kibbutz Kfar Hanassi on June 18, I had no idea what to expect. I knew that a kibbutz was a community built on socialist ideals, but that was the extent of my knowledge. I'd had very little preparation for the kibbutz experience and what it would entail, but I wanted to be in the land of Israel, to experience the unique society of a kibbutz. So, I applied to the Project Oren Short Summer Kibbutz Ulpan program. The Short Summer Kibbutz Ulpan is one of several Project Oren kibbutz programs. Unlike the regular Ulpan, which last four months, the short Ulpan only lasts for seven weeks. However, at the beginning of my stay, seven weeks seemed like an eternity.

When I first set eyes on the kibbutz, and on our living quarters, I was definitely not impressed. The simple, rough, and rugged construction of the buildings were not what I, in my middle class, suburban existence, was used to seeing. Our rooms proved to be even less impressive, consisting of hard vinyl floors, three single beds, two tables, closets, and two fans, one of which didn't work. There are three rooms per L-shaped building, with a shower and bathroom at the end to be shared by all the building inhabitants. While each room can house up to three people, our group was not big enough to make that a necessity. With a couple of exceptions, we had two people per room. In addition, apart from the classroom and our Moadon (clubhouse or rec. room in Hebrew), we had no air conditioning. At the time, the prospect of living without air conditioning and the conveniences I was used to seemed a daunting prospect, but as time went on, I learned to love the place.

Emily Losben, a 22-year-old Jewish educator from Brooklyn, NY, David Levitan, a 24-year-old graduate of the University of Houston, Nadav Steindler, a junior from UCLA, and I were the first to arrive. Since everything, including the kibbutz convenience store and dining hall, was closed, our first dinner was spent eating frozen pizza with the volunteers.

The rest of our group arrived the next day and the program officially began. Our first few days at the kibbutz were a blur of activity. There was registration to contend with, as well orientation, and work and class assignments. We were given a guided tour of the Kibbutz, where we learned about its history from Tommy, one of its founders. Leah, our Ulpan Director, explained the laundry and meal procedures to us, and we were given our assignments. Aside from Barbara Golub, and Sharon Loewenbein, who worked in the Ulpan, and Amy Resnick, who worked in the Lul (chicken house), we were all assigned to work in the Mashtela, the plant nursery. Being a proficient Hebrew speaker, I was assigned to Kita Bet, the advanced beginners' class. However, most of our crew wound up in Kita Aleph, the basic beginners' class.

Within days, we were thrown into a pattern of life consisting of work, study, and early mornings. Kibbutz life proved to be a challenge in many ways. The days start and end early, with work in the Mashtela beginning at 5 am, and ending at 1:30. Class was a bit better; it started at 7:30 am and ended at 1. Halfway through the program, I was moved to the Machbesa (laundry), where I folded and ironed members clothing. I began work at 8:30 am when I was in the Machbesa, the latest that any kibbutz job starts.

Our first week was jam packed with activities, seminars, and two tiyuls (trips), such as the one that took place on Thursday, June 22. We went to Mount Arbel, and Lake Kinneret, both located in Tiberias. The tiyul consisted of a hike up the mountain, and then later a swim. The view from the top of Mt. Arbel was breathtaking, we could see the entire Galilee from it. After snapping a few pictures, the fun really began. We had to climb down the mountain, but instead of going down via the trail, we climbed down the side. There were footholds and rails, as well as rocks to hold on to, but the climb proved both exhilarating and terrifying at the same time. It was the greatest challenge I'd had to face so far, to take on my fear of heights. Nevertheless, I did it; I climbed a mountain, something I never in a million years would have thought I would do. I experienced a major sense of accomplishment. So far our trip was off to an amazing start, and this was only the beginning.

The second tiyul took place on Friday, June 23. We hiked for one hour to the Jordan River, where we waded in the cold, rushing water, and later welcomed the Shabbat. The Jordan River is truly beautiful, wild and untouched by man, the perfect place to hold Kabbalat Shabbat. It is such a peaceful location; one could spend hours sitting on its banks, just taking in nature. It was an incredibly meaningful experience.

Throughout the course of the program, we went on several tiyuls, in both rural and urban locales. Several of them stand out my mind, such as the one we took to the Golan Heights on Wednesday, July 5. We started out in the Nahal Zevitan region of the Heights, where we hiked for four hours, and swam in cool water springs, the remnants of the Nahal Zevitan River, which flows during the winter. We learned about the Six Day War from our tour guide Danny, and had dinner in Mesade, a Druze village.

The Druze are a sect of Arabs, who follow a secret religion that involves reincarnation, and shaved heads for the men. Our host was Hatim, a religious Druze and local artist. At his exquisite home, filled with murals and sculptures, we enjoyed a traditional Druze meal. The meal consisted of labanay, which is soft goat cheese with olive oil and zahatar, a spice, majadra, a mix of lentils and rice, as well as tabouli, stuffed grape leaves, humus, olives, and Druze pita bread, which is big, thin and flat. It was definitely an interesting cultural experience.

Another tiyul that stands out in my mind is the weekend we spent in Hosha'aya, a moshav, or settlement, for Modern Orthodox Jews. We were there for the weekend of July 7 and 8, and we stayed with several host families. Noga Levi, our program madricha (counselor) and I stayed with an American family, the Spinners. On Friday night, we went to services with our families, then had Shabbat dinner with them. At the Spinners', the family welcomes the Shabbat with song and praise, then Ron, the head of the household, blesses each of the four Spinner children. Afterwards, he makes Kaddish, then comes Netilat Yadayim, then the meal, and then benching. The Spinners, like the other families in Hosha'aya, adhere strictly to the rules of Shabbat and Kashrut. Their 19-year-old daughter, Mira, is Shomer Negiyah, as are all of her friends.

I expected the residents of Hosha'aya to be much more devout and close minded, which wasn't the case. While they choose to be observant, the residents are very tolerant of others beliefs. Also, their lives are very similar to my own. Although I found Shabbat at Hosha'aya to be a very peaceful and spiritual experience, I would not want to spend all my Saturdays like that.

A third tiyul that stands out in my memory is the one we took to the holy city of Jerusalem, from July 26-28. Our first day was spent touring the Old City, our second day the New City, and our third day we were actually outside of the city, at Massada, En Gedi, and the Dead Sea.

Jerusalem is truly a special place. When you step into the city, you can literally feel its spiritual energy surrounding you, and pulsating inside of you. The climax of that pulsating energy and spirit is the Kotel. While some people have supernatural encounters at the Kotel, I didn't, at least not that time. However, I have before, when I visited the Kotel in the past. I think G-d only offers you a sign when you need it the most. However, in my opinion, to be in the City is to truly know that G-d exists.

Besides the Kotel, we also went to Hezekiah's tunnel, the Arab Quarter, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, King David's Tomb, and the Minharey HaKotel, which are tunnels that run underneath the Kotel. The Minharey HaKotel have only been open to tourists for a couple of years. You need a reservation just to see them, but it is well worth it to get one. The Kotel itself is huge; weighing 60 tons, with most of it buried underground. Inside the tunnels, you can see the entire wall, including the part that was closest to the Holy of Holies.

Our second day in Jerusalem we saw Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum, Har Hertzel, where Hertzel, Yitzak Rabin, and the rest of Israel's deceased Prime Ministers are buried, as well as Mayah Sha'arim, a neighborhood in Jerusalem where the ultra Orthodox Jews live, work, and study. You must dress modestly to even pass through there, which is why I chose to stay on the bus with the half of our group that didn't go. Nonetheless, now I wish I had gone. According to Danielle Gelfand, a fellow Ulpanist, the bakery in Mayah Sha'arim has a mechitza (divider) down the middle of it to separate the men from the women. In addition, on the men's side is a male cashier, on the women's side a female cashier, so that neither the men nor the women have to interact with anyone from the opposite sex. The buses in Mayah Sha'arim are also divided in a similar fashion. According to the ultra Orthodox Jews, men and women may only come together for one purpose, procreation. Otherwise, they must lead totally separate lives. Thinking back, it would have been interesting to witness what to me are very strange customs.

Instead of going to Mayah Sha'arim, I chose to venture to the Arab Quarter alone, in search of a market we passed the day before, a move which later turned out to be a big mistake. Being in the Arab Quarter was an eye opening experience to say the least, as well as a little frightening. It's a shame to say it, but the world is still a very chauvinistic place, where men can do as they please, but women must always be careful.

On July 28, the final day of our Jerusalem tiyul, we awoke at the painful hour of 3 am to hike Masada. The plan was to get there by sunrise, so we could see the sun touch its golden rays across the ruins, a beautiful sight to behold, or so I've heard. I myself got sick and never made it to the top. Nevertheless, I did go on the second hike we had that day, the much shorter one in En Gedi, where we waded in mountain pools and watched Ibexes, or mountain goats, frolic amongst the rocky cliffs. Later on we cooled off at Mineral Beach, a private stretch of the Dead Sea, where we caked ourselves with mud at the lowest, and saltiest point on earth, and where Barbara, Shelby Hiles, Sarah Kimmel, Jaime Flesh, the volunteers and I bathed in the 39 degree Celsius sulfur baths. It was the most relaxing part of our day, and possibly of our whole tiyul, which was, in all honesty, very tiring. Exhausted, most of us, including myself, slept the entire four hour ride back home.

Home. It's strange, but in the seven weeks that I spent at Kfar Hanassi, it did feel like a home. At first, I was homesick, sad, and a little lost-it took me almost two weeks to find my way around the kibbutz! However, once I got over my homesickness, and moved into my very own single room, it was smooth sailing. At one point in the beginning, I was tempted to just go back to the States, but now I am so glad I stayed. Its said that home is where the heart is, but it takes people to give you that heart. At Kfar Hanassi, I met and got to know so many wonderful people such as Seth Bloom, a "free spirit in search of something of substance" and one of the best friends I have ever had, Noga, who was always there for me, for us, when we needed her, Barbara, Sharon, Amy Resnick, also known as Amy Resh, Shelby, Jaime, Sarah, Danielle, Emily, Nadav, David Levitan, also known as Texas Dave, Cora Monahan, Seth "Sethorius" Jacobs, Kiki Yardeni, Oren Richman, Jenn Lieberman, William Stonberg, Simona Neufeld, and Amy Alter, along with the other Daves, David Grad and David Sager, known as Canada and Long Island Dave, respectively.

There are so many special memories, too many to even mention, such as Hebrew class with Simcha, Kitah Bet's Hebrew instructor, who always gave us a good laugh; teaching Marat and Artzyon, two young Russian immigrants, to speak Hebrew with Canada Dave; dancing and drinking at the kibbutz pub Tuesday and Friday nights, chilling at the pool with the volunteers, watching movies in the Moadon, sitting on the porch and chatting with David L.; hanging out and listening to a cassette of Seth's band, The Caltones; bad dinners in our dining shack, good meals in the kibbutz dining hall, The Underground at Jerusalem, going out to Rosh Pinna on Nadav's birthday, going to the Chocolate Cafe for mine, barbeques, friendly kibbutzniks, speaking Hebrew, our last Kabbalat Shabbat, and our farewell dinner at the Abu Saleh eastern restaurant-the list goes on. All of these memories I'll cherish forever.

The summer I spent at Kfar Hanassi changed me as a person, made me stronger and more capable of dealing with life. All the adventures that I had there, both good and bad helped shape me into the person right now. I remember when we went rappelling on my birthday, and how scared I was at first. Nevertheless, it was an amazing tiyul, which taught me that I can learn to conquer my fears, and that nothing is impossible. When I first arrived at the kibbutz, I would never have imagined that I would learn to love nature, or hiking, or living in the middle of nowhere, but I did. The north of Israel is so beautiful, and when you look up into the sky on a clear night, you can see almost every star. The kibbutz is almost a magical place, set apart from everyday reality, where material possessions are secondary in importance, where everyone knows everyone, and where you are truly free to be the person that you want to be--yourself. Although kibbutz life is hard, it taught me that I can rise up to any challenge that comes my way.

In a way, being in Israel was like coming home. For the first time in my life, I felt like I truly belonged, like I truly fit in. Israel is home to me in a way that Orlando can never be, and I am grateful that I was able to be there, to have what has turned out to be the best summer of my life.


from the Febuary 2001 Edition Jewish Magazine

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