In Anatevka, the papa made decisions for the family. Here, everyone gets to have their say and then the whole kibbutz votes. Whatever the majority decides, the rest of the chaverim must accept. And we must decide very important issues, such as whether men and women must share showers, why the taste of soap remains in the dishes after they are washed, the construction of a bench for older people to sit on and the amount of time each of us will be allowed to stay in the bathroom.
You probably think I made up that last item, but it was on the agenda. Since so many of us share living space, the lavatory is one of the few places to find privacy. Sometimes you have to stand outside waiting, for hours it seems, for the person inside to come out.
In case you’re wondering, the debate on this subject went on for hours. Some of the women argued they needed more time than men. The men insisted that they be given equal time. We had votes on five minutes, six minutes, seven, it was ridiculous. Finally, a majority agreed to limit visits to the bathroom to nine minutes. The best part is that the assignment committee now has to find someone to keep track of how long people stay in the water closets. You can bet there’ll be a fight for that job.
Adapting to the kibbutz philosophy has been particularly hard on Golde. She can’t get used to the idea that what’s yours is mine and what’s mine is yours. All her life, she made clothes for her family, but here that is the job of the people assigned to work as tailors and seamstresses. The women are given one good dress every two years and a plain dress every other year. I am privileged to receive three pairs of Sabbath pants and four shirts. But you don’t get to keep the same clothes. When you pick up fresh clothes from the laundry, you are given whatever is on the top of the pile. Sometimes I send a shirt and pants that fit perfectly to the laundry and get back those belonging to a chaver six inches shorter, so the pant legs reach just below my knees and my arms barely fit through the shirt sleeves. On other occasions, of course, the sizes are too big.
This excerpt is from Mitchell Bard’s new novel, After Anatevka – Tevya Goes to Palestine available now in paperback and on Kindle.