Once upon a time ago when all my friends decided to spend their year in Israel learning in a yeshiva, I instead volunteered on a kibbutz. At 17, it was my first trip ever to Israel and I was not going to spend it cooped up in a classroom. I wanted to really live, experience, work the land, get my hands dirty, drive a tractor, relate to the salt-of-the-earth Israeli and see far more than the few tourist attractions, which my peers took part in as students. I wanted to be up before dawn, literally labor with the sweat of my brow, feel the strain in my muscles, and afterwards collapse exhausted on the lawn in front of the modest sized room that I shared with two other volunteers, and then – have the luxury of never missing a sunset.
I had a plan. I always had a plan. My life was mapped out since the age of 12. I was a little neurotic back then. I soaked up every book on Israel that I could get my hands on. Okay, I was more than just a little neurotic. While my friends read Harlequin romance, I was reading about the Irgun. The blinders were glued on. I saw nothing else.
The kibbutz was going to be the first step. It would provide the first glimpse into a country that I loved from a distance. It would intimately acquaint me with the land; bring me that much closer to making my dream a reality.
Back in the day, kibbutz was not a popular choice for American teens unless it was part of a short summer program. But the program I joined was considered Sheirut Leumi and I was in the country on a national service visa. My identity papers attesting to such were the most precious papers I owned. The sentimental person in me kept them to this day. There were nine other American volunteers and we all had to prove our worth to the Israeli members of the Kibbutz as none was optimistic about our usefulness. They assumed we Americans were spoiled, soft, unaccustomed to demanding physical labor, and in some measure, they were right. But they also assumed we were there out of a sense of adventure rather than a sense of purpose. We proved them wrong on both accounts.
It wasn’t all rose-colored idealism. The reality was evident, as right outside my room stood a bunker. Prior to the 6 Day War, my kibbutz was Israel’s border. No one ever bothered to fill the bunker with earth. It remained as is, perhaps as a reminder or…just in case? I used it as a private place for contemplation, meditation or just wiling the late afternoons away. Often I would see army trucks transporting military equipment to the north. Friends that I made on kibbutz left for reserve duty into Lebanon and when they returned, it took them awhile to shake the stench of battle from their souls. Several months into my stay, Arabs infiltrated the orchards of the kibbutz. No members were hurt. Not long after, a major Arab terrorist attack took place on an Egged bus driving down the coastal road. That time, there were casualties – 38 of them. It made it all the more harder to leave when the program was over. At the risk of sounding over-dramatic, I felt like I was leaving my fellow soldiers behind on the battlefield.
I kept to my plan, however. But as “they” say, people plan and God laughs. I didn’t think it was complicated though. I figured I’d go to college, get married to someone like-minded and then move to Israel. What would be so hard about that? Well, I did go to college and I did get married. Four children and 19 years later, we made aliyah. It was the 19 years that I hadn’t planned on – among other things. But, I’m here today – with two of my kids married, one in high school and one in the army – and I’m standing strong – on my own. Plans may have changed but my idealism remains a constant and I bless each morning that I wake up to this incredible land.
Two years ago, I visited my old kibbutz to bask in a bit of bittersweet nostalgia. I had planned to make a feel-good afternoon out of it; Perhaps I would have a chance to see some old familiar faces. However, you know what they say about making plans. The kibbutz enterprise in general had changed much since those earlier days. From communal to privatized, from agriculture to industry, from Jewish labor to foreign labor. The communal dining hall was no longer in existence as members now dined in the privacy of their own homes. My old room was vacant and showed signs of years of neglect; the bunker that I called my own was overgrown with brush. My enclave, my spot of meditation – That was the most unkindest cut of all.
Or was it? Things change, plans change, and sometimes…even people change. Israel is still evolving. And, so am I.
We adapt, we acclimate, we revise and we find new ways. The kibbutz enterprise adapted to the societal and economic changes of the country. While its okay to be nostalgic from time to time, change and taking strides forward can certainly be viewed as something positive. What worked years ago, well…that was then and this is now. Sometimes life and all the stuff in it just needs to be reworked. Even the best Gibson guitar needs fine-tuning from time to time.
The kibbutz movement, initially founded on a pure socialist plan is not that way anymore. And the old friends I did bump into that day were more than happy and content with their lot. So at the end of my excursion into nostalgia, I hopped back into my car to head home. Time to chuck the plans, I thought. Change is good. Opening the door wide open to possibilities is something to celebrate. Let come what may, allow for the unpredicted and the unintended, and look at each day as an entirely new mind-blowing adventure.