Lisa Fliegel
Trauma Specialist

Dayenu: A reflection

I wanted to return the Jewish People to the means of production like I learned in my Zionist youth movement, Young Judaea: the imperative from Ber Borochov and socialist Zionism to make the desert bloom, as illustrated in the Jewish National Fund centerfold hanging above my teenage bed next to the picture of a shirtless Israeli soldier. Dayenu?

I thought, arriving at Ketura, our small, not yet five-year-old kibbutz would be enough. I hadn’t considered that a desert offers different weather than Massachusetts and that my physiology could not handle the heat. The only sand I knew was Cape Cod. As the wind picked up on my walk up the front path from the Arava Road, I comforted my anxiety by whispering a joke to myself: Nice beach, they just forgot the ocean part. What a stunning landscape. The color pallet of the mountain range on each side of the road changing minute-by-minute with the sun’s movement through the sky. It was so beautiful I had to become an artist so I could paint it. Dayenu?

I was a failed agronom. I got tangled in the irrigation hoses meant to be unrolled in straight lines through the rows of melon fields so the precious drops of water dripped directly onto the planted seeds. Relieved to find some white, square boxes below the trees bordering the fields, I took a seat during a harvest break. Suddenly I was whisked off the boxes by an agitated kibbutznik, who pointed out I was sitting on the pollinators. Dejected, heading up the hill back to my house I passed the brightly-painted gardening shed, its door emblazoned in glorious colors with, “Noy (gardening) is Joy.” And yes, the flowers growing around me in stark reds and yellows spoke boldly, amidst the contrast of beige sand. Let’s face it, I was lousy at sewing and reaping. But I discovered watercolors and felt the joy. Dayenu?

Aliyah – ascent in a spiritual and ideological manner – is the word used for moving to Israel. For my cohort, that ascent did not stop with the unpacking of suitcases as we moved into our Israeli homes. We were peace activists and women’s rights advocates against sexual violence, we were social change agents and pioneers in Israel’s green movement. We infused our unique brand of religious pluralism into kibbutz life and throughout the land. Dayenu?

It turns out that there are many ways to make a desert bloom. I was studying for my teaching degree in Tel Aviv, evenings filled with homework and activism. My major was in Hebrew Literature for Middle School. I was enamored with the canon of Hebrew literature and the blooming of it, and began writing and publishing Hebrew poetry, translating female poets, and working on my first book. One weekend I hosted my professor, Lily Ratok, at the kibbutz. She was also a national radio personality, whose program, “Words That Strive to Teach Us,” was a popular broadcast. I must’ve invited her to come down and give a lecture, because I recently discovered an unfinished watercolor in my journal from that year, 1985. In the bottom left corner I painted a quote, Professor Ratok’s impression of Ketura: “On Lisa’s kibbutz there are one hundred people who believe they are redeeming the world (each in his own way), and most importantly – they enjoy it.” Dayenu?

In my final years on the kibbutz, I worked toward a degree in art therapy, was a journalist covering the Oslo peace process, and was active in human rights and reconciliation programs. Dayenu?

With my return to the US, I developed my specialty: embedded, real-time trauma treatment and advocacy. After the October 7 massacre, I flew to Israel and deployed to Eilat to support survivors and train local teams. It was emotionally grueling, taxing the heart. But a half-hour north, Kibbutz Ketura was taking in hundreds of evacuees, while still operating their Arava Institute’s programs of environmental diplomacy. On my day off, I came home to Ketura and was resuscitated by a life-long family of friends. After 50 years, we are still trying to soothe, improve, repair the world. I may have failed at becoming a plowing pioneer, but this will always be my community. Wherever I am in the world, I find deserts of hurt and try to be that drop of water targeting seeds of hope. That crazy, tenacious belief in the possibility – that’s my anchor of resilience. That’s my kibbutz. While I have not been a member for years, I will always belong. We’re a special breed.

Dayenu, Dayenu!

About the Author
Lisa Fliegel is a Boston-based trauma specialist and American-Israeli writer who has worked internationally, including in Ireland, Israel and Palestine. She is a special clinical consultant to The Louis D. Brown Peace Institute, a grassroots non-profit serving survivors of victims of homicide.
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