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Paradise has corners

What makes my home so special? It's how my pulse slows and my heart settles; serenity pervades my breathing, and I am content

Our home has a promontory which overlooks the Beit Hakerem Valley. In medieval times it was a prominent trading route, transporting all sorts of goods and merchandise from the port of Akko to the ancient cities of Safed and Hazor. Standing on a rock, right on the edge of the cliff, I have sometimes imagined or visualized tracking the journey of caravans from on high, a long train of horses and mules, packed with produce moving slowly below, with the merchants wearing jellabiyas and kaffiyes on their heads and across their faces, to protect them from the harsh sun, as they travel east. I imagine the colorful textiles and the glinting of the scimitars at their waists. Perhaps they would stop right below me and set up camp, and I imagine, although I know it isn’t possible, that the strong aroma of coffee would rise and fill my nostrils.

Beit Hakerem valley

This valley has history. The village of Majd el Krum (translated: Watch house of the vineyard) was the capital of grape produce for wine since the Ottoman Era, a fixture of the valley since 1596. Right below us is the skeleton of a Mandate Period police station, with thick walls and the utilitarian design which characterized British architecture; so out of place in an Arab village, whose buildings seem to blend into the mountainside. It was built there, following the Arab Revolt against Mandate rule in 1938. It has now been turned into a restaurant, and I eat there quite often. While sitting, waiting for my order, I would survey the buildings and notice the pockmarks of bullet holes in its façade, untouched since it was attacked in the battle between Haganah forces and the Arab Liberation Army, led by Fawzi al-Qawuqji, in the War of Independence.

Majd el Krum police station, now restaurant.

On a clear day after the rains have driven away the haze, and the sun shines through the last vestiges of the clouds, you can see the entire valley, from the Bay of Haifa all the way to the mountains which cocoon the Kinneret. Opposite are the mountains of Misgav and the city of Karmiel, which never seems to stop growing. It is a tapestry of geometrical shapes, with dark brown rectangles of newly ploughed fields, and the dusty green of olive orchards placed at intermittent intervals along the valley floor. Interspersed in the colorful vista, are the red rooftops of Jewish settlements. This is the view which continues to enchant me, like it has done for the better part of 37 years.

There is one spot on the ledge, which is the southern extremity of our yishuv, which we call the Tzuk (cliff). The view from that point is breathtaking. It has been developed, with a rock stairway taking you easily through the rocks and brush, right to the end, and there is a bench for you to sit. We tamed the wild terrain there, in memory of three of our members who died in the First Lebanon War. I knew them briefly, having arrived to Tuval a few months before the war broke out. On a rock is inscribed “The wind and the rocks will be here, with you forever.” In Hebrew, the word “ruach” means both wind and spirit, thereby adding a sentimental double meaning to the inscription. In the summer, the Tzuk used to be a popular rendezvous for romantic meetings — if you were prepared to brave the wind. Personally, I prefer it as a place for solitary contemplation.

The promontory

A friend once visited me here on Tuval, and asked me what makes Tuval so special. We took windbreakers and a bottle of Glenlivet Single Malt and went to sit on the bench on the promontory, as the sun descended into the Mediterranean. We sat in silence and watched the afternoon turn into evening, and the colors of dusty green and brown, fade in the dusk until they were replaced by the glow of lights from houses opposite and below us. The lights lining the Akko-Tzfat road, glowed orange-yellow, running like a winding snake along the valley floor. Below us, the lights of the Arab villages, seemed like a clump of dancing fireflies, piercing the darkness. Opposite, the lights of Karmiel, and the lights of Misgav settlements shone in the distance, ordered in circular and elliptical shapes, representing the circumference lights of the settlements. We sat, sipping our whisky and listening to the silence, punctuated by the rush of the wind and the occasional swish of the traffic on the road below which rises up, when the wind momentarily dies down. Your pulse slows and your heart settles, as a serenity pervades your breathing and you feel at peace. Undisturbed, you float, unaware of time or presence and you feel content.

I came to Tuval in 1982. At the time, it was a fledgling kibbutz, a year old. There were about 50 young, idealistic men and women, hailing from Israel, England and South Africa. Tuval was rock and mud. The rain was so cold, it hurt in your knuckles. The wind was so strong, that the rain slashed down at an angle, seeping through your coat and blowing the hood off your head. There were no trees. With a sense of purpose, we toiled and braved the harsh weather, tearing rocks from the earth to prepare fields for crops, working together, until the sun went down. We would do “giusim,” which was when a group project which required a lot of people, working together was called. In this way, we constructed hot houses and the structures for the chicken farm — and then only months later, we worked through the night, loading the chickens into cages to send them to market.

We lived in “kubiyot,” which were kind of bachelor apartments, converted from army dorms. We lived two people per “kubiya.” They were so small that two people couldn’t stand together in the kitchenette, which was also the entrance to the room. We made furniture for our rooms out of wooden planks and milk crates. In the beginning, during the winter months, before paths were built, we had boardwalks leading to our rooms; ribbons of wooden slats, placed upon the uneven ground. Invariably, the wind or the rain, or the slippery mud would make the paths shift and we would have to put a foot off the path to steady ourselves. The floors of our rooms were stained brown from the mud and no matter how we cleaned it, the color remained. So, we would leave our shoes outside the front door. In the early days, we took turns doing guard duty at night. It was also the guard’s job to wake people up in the morning for work. You learned to recognize people’s shoes, and that was how we often found out who was hooking up with whom. After all, we were all young. And single.

The ‘kubiyot,’ where we lived. Now converted into guest rooms.

Many of my friends and comrades found that the dream of a pioneering life and the reality of living it was incompatible, and left after a while. But, the social experience was intense, people were warm and caring and we depended on each other. We formed bonds for life from this incredible common experience.

The years passed. Gradually the singles became couples and the couples became families. Trees grew and the garden flourished, bringing color and beauty to where once the brown of the mud and the grey of the rocks dominated the landscape. And then, there were more children than trees and their strident, playful voices conquered the howl of the wind. When the number of children overtook the number of trees on Tuval, I felt a deep satisfaction. This is the point when a yishuv turns the corner and its permanence is ensured.

Now, when I walk my dog, I often stop and look around me, remembering Tuval and what it was like in the beginning. I wonder at what we have built and how we have flourished. I take a deep satisfying breath and consider what a profound privilege it was to build my home, in the most elemental sense of the word.

And with my loyal companion beside me on the promontory, while I look again upon the Beit Hakerem valley, and see an olive grove extending for what seems like forever into the distance, laden with olives before “mesik,” I feel a contentment, a serenity that this is my little corner of Paradise. Paradise is not Gan Eden. It is not where everything is perfect, with no hardships and difficulties. It doesn’t mean that there is nothing more to wish for. Rather, it is where you feel you have achieved a kind of emotional perfection, to which you aspire.

Paradise has corners. It can be anywhere. I’ve found my little corner of Paradise. I wish for you to find yours.

About the Author
Paul Mirbach 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 to a green oasis in the Gallilee. He served in infantry during his army service, serving in both Lebanon and the West Bank, including on reserve duty during the first intifada. Paul still lives on Tuval with his wife and two sons.
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