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The International Writers
Magazine: In Israel
The kibbutz was, to
me, the symbol of Israel, so on my first visit to the country, I asked
my husband, a native Israeli, to arrange a visit. Rueven, his uncle, picked
us up at the train station in Ashquelon and took us to his home, Kibbutz
Ziqim. The roads there were dusty and dry and we were greeted at the entrance
by a guard house and a fenced gate. I was beginning to doubt the authenticity
of the relaxed local attitude when Reuven said, "Dont worry,
its just a formality." Inside, the scene was much different.
I was first greeted by a statue made by their "house artist."
It was a menorah fashioned out of the missiles that had fallen on Ziqim.
I asked Reuven how long it took them to collect all eight. He said he
guessed about six months. I was again struck by their ability to make
fun of their dire situation. On past the menorah we went, on foot. On
the fringes of the Negev Desert there are scrub brushes and hearty grasses
but mostly a lot of dry dirt. But the center of the kibbutz was a well
kept oasis. The lawns were still green and showing only a tint of summer
yellow, flowers were blooming, and fruit and olive trees dotted every
yard. A sense of peace blanketed everything. Couples were enjoying morning
coffee on their porches, inviting neighbors to join them. Not a single
house had a fence around it, not a single dog was tied up or caged, and
not a single child was mindful of the road.
Even When Your Heart is Breaking
fall everyday here," he says, "but they dont always
hit something." He is referring to the missiles launched from
Gaza into the neighboring areas of Israel. Derot is the biggest
city the Palestinians can hit from where they launch and it gets
hit frequently. Half the city is destroyed and currently evacuated
due to the constant attacks. Near Derot, there are several kibbutzim
that receive what they call "friendly greetings from their
neighbors." They maintain a jovial attitude about their situation
despite the uncertainty that plagues them daily.
The houses were arranged in a large circle facing the center of the compound
in which stood a building Reuven referred to as "the children house."
In this kibbutz, children are raised more by the group as a whole than
by his biological parents. At age six, children cease to sleep at their
parents house and go to live in the childrens house. Their
parents still get to see them, of course, virtually anytime they want,
but they are encouraged not to develop too strong a sense of individuality.
Each person at the kibbutz must support the whole and no one gets to have
anything unless everyone else gets to have it too.
As the tour of the kibbutz begins, Reuven points to a mid-sized field
between his house and the childrens house. He says this is where
all the children were playing several months ago when a missile fell there.
Amazingly, no one was hurt. Doors were blown off the hinges of neighboring
houses and everyone present was terrified, but not a single child was
injured. After that, they had an alarm system installed. The system is
based on radar so when a projectile enters the zone, a mechanical voice
says over the loudspeakers, shahar adom, meaning "red horizon."
Residents were instructed to take cover upon hearing this, but some immediately
began to ask, where? They had a few old bomb shelters scattered around
but often the alert gave them only 15 seconds to find shelter. This was
when they began installing a bomb shelter in every house. These shelters
conveniently added an extra room that most families now use as a guest
bedroom, a convenient addition because the guest bedroom is the staple
of Israeli culture, even more so than bad driving. Motels and Hotels are
rare in Israel because most people know someone in every city and take
any and all chances to visit friends. If economics dictates aesthetic
taste, then Israelis are minimalists. But even with every resource strained,
all apartments are equipped with a guest bedroom.
Rueven talked continuously as we walked along the gravel road that runs
all the way around the kibbutz and soon we were at our first stop: pinat
hei. Literally translated, it means "life corner" but when Israelis
translate it to English for me, they say "animal corner." In
the U.S. it would be called a petting zoo. Animal corners are very common
in Israel and can be found in many parks and kibbutzim. The animal corner
at Ziqim had a plethora of species but was in general disrepair and it
was clear the animals in the petting zoo hadnt been pet in quite
a while. Rueven explained that in the information age, not even kibbutznik
children are as interested in animals and the outdoors as they used to
Go to the Mattresses
Kibbutz Ziqim supports its residents with a mattress factory and a dairy.
At the mattress factory we were alternately greeted warmly or ignored.
This is common Israeli behavior. When not on the phone or in the car,
Israelis are without exception friendly and talkative, sometimes excessively
so. But unfortunately, Israelis spend a great deal of time in their cars,
on their phones, or both.
On our way to the dairy I was at once excited and anxious. I love animals
and wanted to see all the animals at the kibbutz, but I had heard horror
stories about how animals are treated at commercial dairies or ranches.
At this dairy, cows were divided into three groups and each group took
its turn at each station every day. The stations were: rest, shower, milk,
eat. The cows moved contentedly between each station, seeming especially
eager to reach their turn at the milking station. When the shower was
turned off, the cows would form a line on the ramp to the circular milking
platform and as the platform revolved, a new space would open up and the
next heifer would take her place. Machines were then attached to the udders
and a digital display would light up that recorded all the information
about that cow for the day. I stayed to watch this process long after
my companions had lost interest.
Reuven left us after the dairy to attend to his own business and we were
free to explore the kibbutz on our own. As we left the dairy, I found
two dogs sitting on a porch and stopped to introduce myself. One was what
appeared to be a Great Dane/German Shepherd mix and the other looked like
Pit Bull/Golden Retriever. Both were shaved for the summer but still retained
a tiny poof of hair on the tips of their tails, which made them vaguely
resemble lions. This is also a common Israeli phenomenon. Nearly all dogs,
large and small, Poodles or Pomeranians, are shaved for the summer but
allowed to keep that small part of their former hair: their lion tail.
After lunch at the cafeteria, Reuven drove us to the beach and gave us
what seemed like simple directions for walking back. Directions are never
simple with Israelis. When inquiring about the best train to take or the
best road or the proper bus route, for best results, take a scientific
survey of at least ten people. The most common answer just might be the
correct one. It just might. And when all else fails, do not follow road
signs. About 40 minutes into what was supposed to be a 10 minute walk
through spacious fields, we were lost on red dust road outside an army
base. My husband managed to get the attention of a lookout in a watchtower
and yelled up to her to get further directions. A shouting match later,
we were instructed to go back to the last highway sign and take the road
opposite of what it said to take. Miraculously, this got us back to the
kibbutz, albeit exhausted, sunburned, and, for some reason, missing one
half of my swimsuit.
I was relieved to finally be back and allowed myself to relax for the
rest of the walk. As we entered the housing area, a yellow dog trotted
past us wearing a ridiculously wide grin. The back half of her body was
covered in what looked like mud but smelled like sewer waste. She gave
a woof over her shoulder to her partner in crime, a Collie that seemed
to be on its way home too and promptly fell over to nap in her yard. This
seemed a perfect analogy for Israeli culture: they can be waist-deep in
shit and still smile.
Tomi Laine Clark is a shifty, fickle and dangerously curious San Francisco-based
writer. She dips her hand indiscriminately into all the arts, including:
poetry, prose, essay, photography, knitting, scrap booking, drawing and
painting. She hopes to one day try all the arts, languages, and foods
the world has to offer.
Lola Haze firstname.lastname@example.org
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