Tag Archives: fire

The Kibbutz is Burning (Part 3)

Short Story — Third Segment

David, breathing hard, was anticipating that his heart would stop beating any second. He would end his life right here and now, he figured, on the big lawn in front of the dining room, on the day after the anniversary celebration to the establishment of his beloved kibbutz. Death will come to him at last.

His body felt very light suddenly. It was possible that it was lifted off the ground, and was carried up on the wings of a peaceful wind. At the same time, the thundering rings of the alarm-wheel faded away, sounding more like the chime of sheep bells. It was as if he flew high above the kibbutz, its full beauty unfolding underneath him like an iridescent peacock’s tail. He landed on the summit of the mountain, flooded with a magnificent bright light, beside the memorial to his best friend: Yonatan.

Yonatan was the kibbutz’s shepherd back in the old days, and David remembered clearly the day he was informed of his death. He was murdered by a gang of Arab Fedayeens, damn them all. Slaughtered like one of his lambs. The kibbutz was in turmoil, its members in shock. The whole country, in fact, joined them in mourning. But what Yonatan would have said, had he known that first, the kibbutz had sold his cherished herd of sheep to Yusuf, the Israeli Arab lad who used to work with him; and second, that it had built a plastic factory where the sheep pen used to stand?

These painful questions remained unanswered. Because the face that David discovered staring at him after he had finally come to, was not that of his old friend Yonatan—but that of his son, Gideon. He was supporting his father’s head, and was helping him into a sitting position. Beside him on the edge of the big lawn, right where David had fallen, was a bucket full of water. David no longer saw Rafi by the alarm-wheel, which was dead silent now.

Gideon asked his father how he felt, and David assured him that he was feeling all right. Gideon was unconvinced, therefore took his shirt off and dipped it in the bucket, then handed it to his father. David wiped his face with it, and immediately felt even better; he felt how his breathing was calming down, while his rapid heartbeats were gaining a quiet, regular rhythm. He could hear voices shouting nearby, and some fiery explosions in the distance as well. He asked Gideon what was going on.

“The kibbutz is burning,” said Gideon. “The guys from the town of Beit She’an had started the fire.”

Maybe his son did not want to alarm him. But it was strange, nonetheless, the calmness with which he had said that. It was almost surreal. So David demanded to know what the situation was, to which Gideon answered that he—David—had saved both the situation and the kibbutz. All able members were getting organized at full speed, and were rushing down to fight the fires and the invaders. Gideon wanted to help them, very much so. It was his home too, after all, even if he had left it some years ago.

These words were like music to David’s ears and soul; sweet and melodic as if he were hearing Brahms’ Hungarian dances for the first time again, back in the small Hungarian village where he was born. He swore he felt strong enough, and to prove his point got up to a standing position. Somewhat dizzy, though, unsteady at first. He couldn’t see his bicycle by the olive tree, but that was all right with him; it was his contribution, he figured, to the kibbutz’s fighting efforts.

He didn’t hesitate at all and sent Gideon away to join the other kibbutz members in their fight. And Gideon, after patting his father’s shoulder, ran down with his bucket of water. Not much help in that, reflected David, but the main thing was: his son’s sincere intentions. Still, he called after him to be careful—remembering well Gideon’s tendency for foolish brave acts—before he saw him disappearing behind the tall eucalyptus tree, guarding the dirt road that led down to the kibbutz’s main yard.

Leave a comment

Filed under Literary

The Kibbutz is Burning (Part 2)

Short Story – Second Segment:

He was down on the ground in no time, and as a young man mounted his bicycle in one easy jump. He rode fast on the narrow pavement, cutting through residential neighborhoods, Libi running by his side barking. They crossed the kibbutz in tandem along a cypress-lined dirt road, all the way down to the main yard. Only there, by the asphalt road that separated the kibbutz from the fields and factories, did David come to a full stop in order to catch his breath. He was dumbfounded to see in front of him, right by the cowsheds, a big fire rising from the main hayloft, consuming quickly the hay bales, lined in straight rows twenty fold high at the very least.

David couldn’t understand why the cowmen weren’t outside, even if they were busy milking the cows inside the dairy building. Libi was already there, and as if reading his mind, was calling on them to come out. But they didn’t hear her, how come? Nor did they hear the fire, which was very loud as it devoured with great appetite the hay and straw bales, including also the wooden structure of the hayloft.

At the same time, to his astonishment, he saw the first orange flames flaring up from the roof of the plastic factory. And not so far way, where the white granary tower stood tall and proud, as if guarding the kibbutz, he noticed a funnel of gray smoke spiraling high up into the clear azure skies. Not only that—though here David was beginning to doubt whether he was seeing straight, or was just imagining things—he thought he saw the shadows of people running between the various structures of the kibbutz’s main yard. Some shouting voices, as well, he thought he heard.      

He was back on his bicycle in a heart beat, rushing toward the kibbutz’s dining room and the big lawn in front of it: his most cherished, greener lawn. For many years now, since tractors had replaced horses and had forced him out of the fields, that David had been taking care of the landscape of the kibbutz. The lawns, the trees and the flowerbeds were his soulmates; he knew every corner, turn and path in this old camp of his, even with closed eyes.

It was easy for him, therefore, to find the alarm-wheel not far from the Community Laundromat. It was still hanging by a thick iron chain on a rusty crowbar, under the ancient olive tree. “A real museum piece,” his son used to say, going back to the old days of the first Jewish Chalutzim. With it, against random fires, or the occasional attack by Arab Fedayeens, the alarm was sounded for the members of the kibbutz to take up arms.

David almost fell when he came to a sudden halt by the olive tree, stumbling off his bicycle and letting it fall down on the ground. Better it than me, the thought flashed in his head, just as he grabbed the iron bar that was lying neglected on the ground for many years, and began hitting with it on the wheel. He couldn’t understand how, and where from, did he muster the power to hit it so hard. But he did. And at first, the sound his strokes had produced was so pleasing to his ears, because it reminded him of long past days.   

Back then, everything had started and had ended here, near the big dining room. From here the farmers had departed before dawn to the fields and orchards, and from here members of the kibbutz had left late at night, at the end of the General Assembly, after the endless arguments regarding the future of the kibbutz had finally ended. At the small hours of the night, young lovers had stopped by here to grab something to eat, after making love out in the fields and vineyards.

Remembering those things energized David to continue hitting the alarm-wheel, even though his ears were ringing by now, and his fingers were burning with pain. He instructed himself to continue at it, no matter what, the same way he had used to hit the hard, stubborn soil of this valley with his wide hoe: with all his might and inner conviction. And if his strength would take leave of him shortly, or his heart would stop beating suddenly, and he would collapse on the ground dead—so be it. It was all the same for him anyhow, whether he would live or die. He did his best; he did his duty.

But then Ephraim arrived. He was the man responsible, back in those bygone days, for the discovery of the fires, and for the equipment to fight them off. He carried his seventy years on his back like a sack of potatoes, but still, day and night, was attentive at all hours to the sound of the alarm-wheel. Yet David, pushing seventy himself, refused to let go of the iron bar. Instead, he sent Ephraim down to the main yard, to the granary, to the factories and the cowsheds. So he did with Yariv, a reserve paratroops colonel who came running barefooted, still trying to put his shirt on. The high school kids began arriving soon, but David shook them all off and sent them away to the center of the fires. He was glued to the alarm-wheel as if, this lifesaver of the kibbutz, were a limb of his body.  

Only when Rafi arrived, and gently but firmly extracted the iron bar from his hands, did David finally give in. After all, Rafi was his adopted son, and was still in the army, though his commander had sent him home for the festivities. He was a kid from the rough side of town, fatherless when he was brought to the kibbutz. Maybe he was paying David back for all those years of dedication by saving his life now. He helped him down to the soft lawn a few meters away, then continued hitting the alarm-wheel himself.

Leave a comment

Filed under Literary

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under Literary