I made Aliya in 1982, to Kibbutz Tuval, which at the time was but one year old. While Israel was a developed country, life on the hilltop was like living on the frontier. When I arrived, we were not connected to the electricity grid. We had a generator with limited capacity to provide essential electricity, but that was it. There were no trees to break the ferocity of the biting wind which whipped at our clothes and caused our cheeks to burn, and our knuckles to ache. And when it rained, together with the wind, umbrellas were useless. We were always wet. We had wooden boardwalks placed on the ground that would shift in the mud, causing us to lose our balance and slip in the mud. The mud stained everything. We used kerosene heaters to keep warm. The houses reeked of it and your sinuses dried up, as they sucked all the moisture out of the air. Many a wet sock was scorched on the heater’s grill.
I was a Zionist pioneer. Not in conditions as extreme as the Gedud Haivri road builders had it, but it was a pioneering life nonetheless. While my friends back in South Africa were starting their careers as lawyers, accountants, and engineers, I was toiling in the sun, erecting hothouses. While they bought furniture for their apartments I was sharing a 30 sq. meter, one-room cubicle, and made couches out of Tnuva boxes and Sochnut mattresses. While they went to bars after work, I was prying rocks out of the mud to prepare fields for planting. Later, while they lay on their towels on Clifton beach, I lay on my stomach on the dank earth, with the cold seeping through my uniform, as we lay in ambush in the Baka’a valley in Lebanon.
Early days on Kibbutz Tuval. Clearing the fields of rocks before planting crops. (Kibbutz Tuval archives).
I embraced the life, despite the hardships, because it had a purpose. I never saw it as a sacrifice but as part of a long-term ambition. There was something romantic, deeply satisfying – even gratifying – about being a pioneer, about literally building your home and being a part of a project bigger than yourself. Having the opportunity to do that, and to be a part of molding the society you live in, is a privilege few are given and fewer take – and I appreciated my hard life, deeply. This was fundamental Zionism, in its most elemental form. And I embraced it all because I believed in it; I believed in Israel and Zionism, and the fundamental justice and goodness that characterized Israeli society.
I have dedicated 41 years of my life to Israel. I made my destiny one with the country. The life I chose to make; the Spartan lifestyle I chose to live, eschewing luxury and comforts; volunteering for the army and fighting in a war; and everything I did since – I did it because I believed in Israel. The Israel I knew, with its inherent pursuit of justice and its inexplicable ethos of brotherhood, solidarity, and fundamental unity. And the visceral belief in the people, warts and all.
41 years for the Israel I love.
But I have a confession to make: as much as I was inspired and determined to realize my Zionism in the most fundamental way, I was relieved to leave behind me the deeply ingrained injustice and racism of Apartheid South Africa. My enthusiasm to make Aliya was predicated on Israel being democratic and essentially a just society, that respected its minorities and their equal rights.
I never envisioned, back then in 1982, that I would once again face the prospect of living in an inherently unjust society, ruled by a regime of Supremacists, whose intent is to usurp the democratic nature of the country and turn it into a regime dominated by them.
If I had known then that this was the path Israel would take, that this was what our government was determined to transform our country into, I probably would never have made Aliya.
For 41 years, I have given everything I have. And I can never forgive Bibi for what he has taken from me, these 41 years of my life, my visions, and my hopes.
Israelis block the Ayalon highway in Tel Aviv during a protest against the Israeli government’s planned judicial overhaul on March 25, 2023. (Courtesy of Times of Israel. Photo by Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90 ).
And that is why I will resist with everything I have. Because I WILL NOT let these 41 years that I have dedicated to this country be for naught. I will do whatever I must to preserve the Israel I made Aliya to and love, so deeply. If you want to know why I am out protesting the judicial takeover by this government – for the fourteenth week now – this is why. And THAT is my Zionism today.
Paul Mirbach (PEM), made Aliya from South Africa to kibbutz Tuval in 1982 with a garin of Habonim members. Together they built a new kibbutz, transforming rocks and mud into a green oasis in the Gallilee. Paul still lives on Tuval. He calls it his little corner of Paradise.