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The Kibbutz is Burning (Part 8)

Kibbutz HeftzibahThe dreamlike saga of this new short story, magic-realism in the Holy Land, continues after the battle on the big dining room has ended, and the one for the soul of the kibbutz begins.

 

A heavy, unbearable hush descended from the mountain at that time, and hugged this large group of people. The silence was interrupted once in a while by the sound of muffled cry, coming hesitantly, is if from the collective chest of this grief stricken, yet proud body of people. David noticed that Gideon had wrapped his arm around Dina’s hips, and that she, in turn, had leaned her head on his shoulder. He knew how rough the waters their boat was sailing on were. And yet, he couldn’t avoid thinking that maybe—just maybe—the terrible events of this day would bring a unity of hearts, and a renewed commitment and effort, to his son’s small family as well. And, who was wise enough to know, maybe it would bring them all back to the kibbutz one day soon.

Just as he was thinking that, the oppressive quiet was suddenly interrupted, when someone asked, “Where did we go wrong?” Asked, David was surprised to hear, the same question he himself had asked earlier in the dining room.

It was Zev: He of the Chalutzim who had built this place; he who had planted the first citrus grove in the Jesreel Valley. “We were arrogant,” he answered his own piercing question, “and instead of paving roads for brotherhood, we built fences!”

“We succeeded, that’s our only fault,” called back Yoav, a young man from the third generation to be born in the kibbutz. “Why should we feel sorry for building such a beautiful, successful place?”

David listened quietly to the heated argument that followed. And at the same time he heard again what Jacky Ben-Simon had told him in the dining hall: “Because you have everything, and we have nothing!”

Suddenly, Moshe stood up. He was a kibbutz veteran of the second generation, and a History Professor in the Collage of the Kibbutzim. Very emotionally he gave his own mea culpa, declaring: “From its birth, our movement aspired to lead the camp forward, toward prosperity and equality for all. But we lost our way…“ he went on and on, loosing David’s attention in the process.

But then Moshe paused and looked around, as if in the midst of lecturing his students, before concluding: “This is a crisis of values that we’re facing, because we worship the Golden Calf!”

At first, after Moshe had finished talking and had sat down on the ground, a shock of silence prevailed. But then came a torrent of different voices, protesting loudly, mainly from the young people. They were angry with Moshe for his attack, which in their view not only distorted the true reality, but was absolutely inappropriate for this most difficult of hours. Especially loud and sharp was Ziva the Economist, who stood up and firmly stated: “There is no need to talk about a ‘Crisis of Values.’ Those were different days, back then!”

Yes, those were different days, remembered David. He would give it all back, gladly, if given the chance—the large swimming pool, the new Community Center, his color television and porcelain bathtub—and return to the beginning. To the first days of Aliyah. To the labor-rejoicing of those days. Yes, they didn’t shy away from ideals back then. And the virtue of working the land was sacred, not cursed.

David kept these thoughts to himself. He was not a man of words: he was a man of deeds. Like today, like the forty years he had lived and worked here in this kibbutz, transforming a mosquito infested swamp into a blossoming garden. He had never dreamed, had never believed—there in the darkest of days, when the Nazis had killed his parents and his older brother—that it was possible to create such a beautiful, perfect place to live and work. And now–

“What now?” cried a young voice suddenly, breaking David’s train of thought. “What do we do now?”

Yair was just a schoolboy, who was yet to celebrate his Bar Mitzvah. But he stood up, unabashed, interrupting the older members of the kibbutz who were still immersed in their bitter, acute argument. They finally stopped quarreling and quieted down, listening reluctantly to Yair’s cry: “What do we do now?”

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The Kibbutz is Burning

Short Story – First Segment:

David stayed in bed, not fully awake yet from a terrible dream. He blamed the uneasy feeling growing inside him on the dream, and at the same time resisted a strange need to go back to it. He fought that urge, trying to concentrate instead on listening to the birds outside, a habit of his for many years. They were calling on him to join them, but he wasn’t in a hurry to get up. It was Shabbat morning, after all, and beside him his wife Roza was still asleep, snoring softly. He delayed also going to the bathroom, though the pressure on his bladder was very heavy, as was the case often at this time of the morning. He was afraid, most of all, that he might wake up his dear ones: his grandson, his son and his wife. They were all asleep on the open couch in the adjacent living room; tired, no doubt, from the festivities of last night.

Yes, that was a real celebration, he affirmed to himself fondly. Sixty years, as the youth were so fond of saying these days, don’t go by foot. And as for the old, like David himself, they should be proud of themselves for a day or two. Here, on the slope of the biblical Mount Gilboa, where King Saul and his son Jonathan fought the Philistines, and where once only an infested swamp existed, now stood a beautiful, successful kibbutz.

This accomplishment was the basis and main theme of the colorful pageant performed last night at the new Community Center: The first days of Aliyah, and the struggle and triumph that followed, as the new Jewish immigrants conquered Eretz Israel. Of course, the presentation was done with the best that modern equipments can offer, including audio-visual effects. And yet, it was the pure voice of the choir that had melted his heart so easily, singing those old pioneer songs. What a pity his son Gideon wasn’t among them; he always was such a fine singer. But that was before he got married and left the kibbutz. Before that city-girl of his snatched him away from here.

A short cough came out of David inadvertently. He tried to strangle it but was too late. Roza mumbled something first, then turned away from him and went back to sleep. He hoped his cough hadn’t waked up little Asaf: he needed the sleep, so he could grow up and be strong and healthy. And who knows, David thought wishfully, maybe one day he would be the one to come back to the kibbutz.

He closed his eyes, trying to imagine such a favorable scenario. At the same time, the irresistible temptation of that bad dream came back to haunt him. It was possible, he couldn’t tell at first, that he did go back momentarily to visit the realm of that dream. Because suddenly—just as he felt how the mask of sleep was beginning to veil him again—he found himself in the bathroom, trying to relieve his urinary pressure. He stared at his bathtub while at it, trying to help things along by counting the tiles. Who would have believed back in the old days, he asked himself rhetorically, that one day we would have private bathtubs? What happened to the old Community Shower? And where are we heading, anyway, that we have houses with color televisions and personal telephones in them, and separate kitchens with refrigerators and oven toasters? What will be the end of it all?

And suddenly—again, he was unsure how it had happened so quickly—he found himself planted in the middle of his garden, wearing his black working shoes, his khaki shorts and gray undershirt. Apparently, he had drunk already his strong black coffee, and was “ready for wars,” as his son used to say. The kibbutz was still asleep, to be sure. And why not, it deserved it after last night’s big celebration. Only he and the birds were awake. For them, it was a morning like any other morning: the Sixty-Year Anniversary of the kibbutz meant nothing to them. The same could be said about Libi, his neighbors’ dog, a Border collie who kept running around his pecan tree for some reason. Right where his old, red bicycle was leaning on the trunk.

He stooped over his beloved daffodils, and in spite of the pain that was tormenting his lower back lately, began to methodically extract the wild weeds that were threatening to suffocate them. It was not so hard: only the crab grass fought back, as it had done for almost forty years now. It was a war without winners; it was a war without end. Like the war…

He straightened up abruptly, smelling smoke. His nose was especially sensitive to such smells, as Roza his wife had pointed out not once. Yet he looked around and saw no sign of smoke, or fire for that matter. Not even a garbage barrel burning. The kibbutz was secure and serene as ever, and so was the mountain above it, with the Children Orchard nestled in the bosom of its slope. A pine tree for every child of the kibbutz was planted there, including for his own son and daughter. Luckily, Dalya was still living in the kibbutz. But how come she was yet to get married? Was yet to bear him grandchildren to play with in his old age?

There was still hope, he believed, as he picked up the black hose and turned on the water. He placed his thumb on the mouth of the hose, so skillful at it, and created a perfect umbrella of silvery drops. He watered his garden with easy, calculated moves, up and down, left and right. He always liked watering his garden this way, before the rainy season, as he expected, would start in earnest. It made him feel alive, and so in tune with nature, especially when the soft morning breeze blew a few drops of water at his face. All his anxieties were gone by now, left behind in the house.

But then, just as he was raising the water hose high in order to reach the row of hawthorn bushes framing his garden, he thought he saw smoke rising from somewhere. He threw down the hose and grabbed his old, reliable wooden ladder. Next—and again, it was so fast he couldn’t understand how it had happened—he was high on a branch of the pecan tree, together with the black birds. He looked over the roofs and trees, far away toward the valley below and its flat brown and green fields, bordered by placid fishing ponds, glistening in the morning sun. He then turned his eyes over to the plastic factory and the cowsheds, all the way to the main yard of the kibbutz. Where he saw—clearly, he didn’t need his glasses—a column of black smoke rising.

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