Judy Halper
Left is not a dirty word

Cognitive Dissonance, part I

credit: Judy Halper

Cognitive dissonance is that state of mind when your attitudes clash, your actions don’t match up with your ideals, your perspectives don’t fit into a seamless whole. You feel it when the world around you changes and yet you believe you’ve remained the same; when marketers try to sell you an ideal that never existed; when your body ages and your mind doesn’t keep up; when you realize the democratic Jewish state you moved to when you were young no longer exists, yet you can’t bring yourself to give up the dream; when denial wears too thin.

Before I can talk about what I see as our collective cognitive dissonance, I need to expose my personal sense of slipping reality.

The above building, from the 1940s, is near my house on the kibbutz. It’s the old cooling house built to store vegetables before they’d be sent to market. In a city, this little crooked hut would have trash or old tires piled in front. It would only have survived next to the bus or train station or under a bridge. On the kibbutz, where every leaky, dusty building is used for storage, office or studio space, it is a gently crumbling reminder of a past when members trudged in behind the tractor to unload the crop before changing out of their muddy clothes and showering in the communal showers next door. A bit too authentically moldy to be quaint, it is nonetheless a comforting vision that ties my past (I, too, crawled in melon fields, tossing ready fruit up to a tractor) to my present.

The cooling shed, showers and next-door laundry formed an internal passageway between the fields and cow sheds, on one side, and the living and communal areas – dining room, children’s houses, rooms – on the other. They enabled members to move from work to social and family life and back again, separating the muddy and smelly from the clean.

Take a step back, and the scene changes.

credit: Judy Halper

The structure looming across from the old cooling shed is the corner of a new logistics park, built on the remains of an orange crate plant. It replaces a 60-year-old concrete silo that sat just across from the midline. For the record, the new units enable us to pay off the debt incurred during the economic crisis of the 1980s, which had crippled the kibbutz for years. Yet the corrugated sheet metal slapped on the building’s outsides screams impermanence; and the entire logistics park turns its back on the kibbutz. Agricultural products go around, not though, the area’s paved roads.

You hear and see the dissonance on the road leading into the kibbutz. The dusty eucalyptus trees that were once de rigueur on a kibbutz entrance road are gone; trucks taking the curves too fast on the new traffic roundabouts slam on their brakes coming up behind tractors and milk tankers; the newly-plowed fields lining the road are brown and dry.

credit: Judy Halper

I have lived long enough to see the transformation complete – from socialist dream to utter real estate. I’m not some grandma bemoaning the good old days. I’m an older person looking at both sides of the road and wondering if either of them is real. Has our socialist ideal turned ghost? Will this logistics park, enabling people to buy more new fridges and outdoor kitchens, stock up on scented candles, paper, pasta, face cream, disposable diapers, electronics, and imported goods from China and Bangladesh, be around in forty years? Or are they both, to borrow an old concept, vanities?

The view from another side of my house leads to a 3,000-year-old archaeological site. It reached its height around the time the author of Ecclesiastes sat down to look back on his life with a critical eye, but it had been inhabited until 1948. The idea of all those long-gone people tending their orchards, weaving cloth and trading in Wednesday markets used to give me comfort. I felt I was a stray indigo cotton thread woven into a long sash of sage and ochre wool; I could conjure those others on summer evenings when the sun’s long rays blurred the edges of the hillside; I could rest assured that this, too, will pass. Last summer’s fire that destroyed part of the site will be, with time, no more than a thin black layer for archeologists to puzzle over. But it’s another vanity: Parts of that sash would be stained by bloody destruction and torn to shreds by earthquakes. Other parts would clash with my adamant work-shirt blue.

credit: Judy Halper

How, then, do I continue to adhere to the idea that my home is a safe, green, bubble, despite the obvious chinks and missing pieces in that picture? To tell the truth, the banging from the construction has not yet drowned out the birdsong; I’ve learned to live with it. The monstrous buildings are on their way to becoming the daily view from one corner. I bemoan the dream that slid away, even as I see, in hindsight, why it slithered off. Despite myself, I adapt, reason with myself, hope for the best, invent excuses.

Nonetheless, I’ve come to prefer the discomfort brought on by my sense of cognitive dissonance to the alternatives, which, as I see it, are complacency or denial. I’ve stopped standing in the middle of the road, looking to either side while waiting to get run over. Vanities be damned. I’ll continue to say one thing and do another, refuse to act my age, view my neighborhood from all sides and be incapable of weaving the images into a seamless whole. I still cling to the water-logged raft of my ideals, of my love for my home, even as it gets battered on the rocky shore of reality.

About the Author
Judy Halper is a member of a kibbutz in the center of the country. She has worked as a dairywoman, plumber and veggie cook, and as a science writer. Today she volunteers in Na'am Arab Women in the Center and works part time for Wahat al-Salam/Neve Shalom.
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