Like a Wildflower
Performed by Chava Alberstein
Words: Rachel Shapira
Music: Nachum Heimann
* * *
It is a hot August afternoon in 1979, and I have just showered, after coming home from work in the turkey shed. I have closed the shutters to keep the room cool and I don’t bother putting on the lights. I like sitting alone in the shaded room. It is a safe place to feel my feelings.
My boyfriend is in the army. At the end of the week, some of us from the kibbutz will take a car and go visit him. In the meantime, I am enjoying this quiet time alone. I have come to cherish these afternoons by myself, before I go to eat dinner in the noisy communal dining hall. Afterwards, I’ll go to the clubhouse and sit around with friends. The next day, it starts all over again: work, dining together, hanging out in the evening, gossiping, arguing about kibbutz issues, discussing politics.
As I take off the towel that I have wrapped around my hair and put on a clean, loose T-shirt and shorts, I imagine once again, that one day, maybe soon, I will be leaving the kibbutz to study. I just have to get up my nerve to do it. I take out Chava Alberstein’s album “Like a Wildflower,” wipe it with the foam thingy my boyfriend has for keeping records clean, lift the needle, and place it on the title track. This has become a daily ritual for months now.
Immediately the music and words flood over me.
Tomorrow I will be so far away
don’t search for me
Those who know how to forgive
Will pardon me for loving
Time will heal all
I am going my own way
He, who loved me will return to your fields,
From the desert
And he will understand that I lived among you
like a wildflower.
(Translations throughout are my own – I have tried to stay as close as possible to a literal translation.)
As far back as I can remember I have felt like an outsider. Probably because I spent my childhood crisscrossing the ocean from America to Israel, to America again, and then back to Israel, all before the age of 15; learning and relearning languages, fashions, behaviors; making and leaving friends and always trying to fit in. The literal translation of the name of this song is “a wild plant.” Something uprooted, in the wrong place that doesn’t quite belong.
Before coming to Israel the last time, I had been a member of the Socialist Zionist youth movement Hashomer Hatzair. We spent our summers together at camp in upstate New York hiking up mountains, swimming in the lake, learning Hebrew songs, talking about Israel, Judaism, and Marxism; pooling our candy together and then dividing it up meticulously to the last M&M, in order to live our ideal of socialist equality. For a few short years, I had finally fit in.
In the summer of 1973 after living in Jerusalem for three years, my friends in America wrote that they had formed a “garin,” the Hebrew word for seed, a group with the purpose of settling on a kibbutz. They would start arriving the next year to Kibbutz Harel. I had just graduated high school and before I was drafted into the army, the Yom Kippur War broke out. During this period, friends from the garin came to volunteer on Harel and I joined them there. In December I went into the army and by then the kibbutz treated me as a prospective member giving me a room and a small budget and doing my laundry when I got leave. Without really making my own decision, I found myself beholden to the kibbutz. I began to assume, like everyone else, that I would join the garin when they came in the summer.
I spent my last six months in the army on Harel and after that stayed and tried to make a life there. But I was restless. Most of my American companions arrived in Israel after having completed a college degree. I came straight out of the army and after a few years began to realize that I really wanted to study, but I didn’t know what. However, I did know that I wasn’t about to let the kibbutz pay for it or to allow the community to decide what I should study. So somewhere in the spring of 1979, I announced that I was leaving Harel.
But I just couldn’t do it. Harel had become my home. I had friends there that I had known since I was ten. I was living with my boyfriend who was about to get drafted, and he certainly wasn’t prepared to leave the kibbutz. But worst of all, even if I was becoming increasingly disillusioned with communal living, I had trouble admitting it. The thought of leaving the kibbutz felt like colossal failure, in the way that I have heard friends describe the breaking of a marriage. It was a betrayal of all my deepest beliefs.
I wanted to open my eyes
To grow at my own pace
I spent many nights dreaming
The dreams devoured me.
On August 22, I turned 24 and it felt to me like the end of the world. I thought: I am not married, I am not a mother, I have no profession, vocation, or college education. The world was passing me by and if I didn’t get my shit together, I would die without accomplishing anything.
I wanted to comfort
But my desire rebelled.
There was childhood magic but also a storm
In my arms
I know that a foreign flame lit up
One day, in September, right after work, I put on Chava’s album, and I started packing. That day, my boyfriend, who was in the army and who never came home in the middle of the week, that day, he broke his glasses and got a 24-hour leave to fix them. I saw his face fall as he walked in the door and took in the boxes and suitcases on our living room floor. I told him I wasn’t leaving him. I could be a student in Jerusalem with a boyfriend on the kibbutz.
There were evenings of yearning
And tumultuous days
There was a hidden pain
And bewitching moments
The next evening, after kissing him goodbye, I didn’t go to the dining room for dinner. My sister who lived on the kibbutz came to see how I was. She saw me on the floor surrounded by half-filled boxes and piles of clothes, just sitting there and crying. She knelt next to me, took both my hands in hers and said, “Elana sometimes you just have to do what is right for you.”
She told me that I could come back for my things in a few weeks, but right now I needed to make the break. She waited as I packed an overnight bag and walked with me, down the dark road leading off the kibbutz to the bus stop. There we waited in silence until the bus came and I boarded it to Jerusalem, where my mother lived.
I will remember a glance
The feel of a hand on my shoulder
I will be like a shadow passing through your fields
A hidden secret
Farewell, I lived among you
like a wildflower.
In Jerusalem, I started anew, and my boyfriend, after his army service, came to join me there.
Only later did I learn that this song was written by the poet Rachel Shapira for the movie Dodi VeRe’ee (My Beloved and My Friend), based on a book by Naomi Frankel. The story is about a young woman who comes to join her boyfriend on a kibbutz and marries him. However, while he is away in the army, she falls in love with his friend who is home from the army, injured. The movie is very understated and when the husband finally reveals that he knows she is having an affair, he is not angry, only sad. The last shot of the movie is the woman holding a small suitcase walking down the road that leads off the kibbutz. In the background, Chava sings “Tomorrow I will be so far away, don’t search for me…”
This essay is part of ‘That Song,’ a collection of writings about that one Israeli song that rocked someone’s world. Click here to find more ‘That Song’ essays.
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