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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
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