In Anatevka we had a tradition for everything, what to wear, when to eat. Here on the kibbutz, we have a committee for everything: a planning committee, an education committee, a cultural committee, a welfare committee, a security committee, a work assignment committee, a nominating committee, a smokers committee, even a landscape committee. And we even have a tradition about committees.
You think I’m kidding? Let me tell you what happened when I received my first honor to serve on a committee.
As Jonathan warned before we left Russia, the kibbutz is not very committed to our religious traditions. Still, I was determined to maintain my own level of observance and to persuade the rest to fulfill as many of God’s six-hundred and thirteen commandments as possible.
Since the chaverim recognized me as a learned man, Menachem, the chairman, invited me to be a member of the education committee. Of course, I said, I would be honored.
“What’s the matter with you?” Menachem replied angrily.
“What do you mean, what’s the matter with me? You asked me to be on the committee and I would like to be on the committee.”
“But you’re not supposed to say that you want to be on it.”
“Then why did you ask me?” I said feeling thoroughly confused.
“Obviously, because we believe you have the ability to contribute,” Menachem said.
“So why shouldn’t I accept?” I shouted, thinking he was trying to make a fool of me.
“You don’t understand. Here, no one is considered more important than anyone else. No one aspires for prestige.”
“So I should not feel honored that you asked.”
“Maybe I should feel insulted.”
“Not exactly. But when you are asked to join a committee, you should say, ‘I don’t want to.’”
“But what if I do want to be on the committee?”
“Then you say, ‘I don’t want it.’”
“And that means that I really do want to be on the committee?”
I was beginning to understand why Menachem was chairman of the education committee.
“So,” I said to him, “what do I say if I really don’t want to join the committee.”
“No one on the kibbutz turns down the opportunity to serve the community; it would mean placing one’s own desires above the needs of the whole.”
It all became perfectly clear. And that is how I ended up on the education committee.
This excerpt is from Mitchell Bard’s new novel, After Anatevka – Tevya Goes to Palestine available now in paperback and on Kindle.