Tag Archives: kibbutz

You Won’t Believe This

Below is the third segment of a new short story—’You Won’t Believe This’—never before published. As I say at its beginning, I’m telling you this incredible story to: “Test your core belief in the divine, or your firm conviction in reality and reason.” Enjoy the ride.

She was just another bad joke playing at my expense. So I lowered my eyes and continued my humble, defeated walk into the confines of the building. I was nevertheless followed, in a purposeful, tormenting kind of way, by the cloud of her perfume. It reminded me of the blossom of cyclamens on my mountain of youth, where my kibbutz was nestled on the slope so naturally, so securely, and where I’d left behind my happy childhood. It encouraged also an intriguing, disturbing thought: Perhaps she was—that unidentified woman, that arrogant beauty—the last person to see me alive.

With that thought buzzing in my head, I first checked my mailbox, as if it still mattered to me what I would find there. Bills galore, that what I found, which I swore would remain unopened and unpaid forever. But the most glaring envelope, a frightfully familiar brown one, did catch my eye and my attention. Here we go again, I told myself: the army is calling on you, oh eternal soldier. A reserve duty is coming your way soon, like it or not. You have a problem with that? You have better things to do with your time? Screw you—the army doesn’t care. It’s time to defend your country, man. It’s time for uniformity and patriotic songs. Another good reason to just disappear from the face of this earth. Maybe I should look for my old Uzi, hidden somewhere in my apartment. A weapon meant, originally anyway, to be used against a potential terrorist attack from the sea. I might as well use it against myself.

Oh boy, how much I hated the army. Why did I ever volunteer to the Paratroops’ Brigade? Why did I ever go to the damn Officers’ Training Course? Why did I become a young lieutenant, now a captain already, old and bruised? Why? My life was forever cursed by these terrible, patriotic, youthful mistakes. And this duty call was probably an emergency draft to do with the impending war up in the north, in the Galilee Mountains, where the border with Lebanon was heating up once more, generating winds of war that blew hard all over the country. There was no escape from the imminent storm they were ushering, I concluded, but death.

I felt sick to my stomach as I climbed laboriously upstairs to the third floor. Above me lived the daughter of my landlord, a film editor, together with her girlfriend, a model of some sorts. I dreaded meeting her, or hearing the sound of her running footsteps, as my monthly rent was now more than two months overdue. Not to mention the general house maintenance dues, which as a renter I refused to pay on principle, since I’d moved in here over a year ago. I was a man of principles back then, you see, still relatively young and naïve in the ways of the world. No wonder Dostoyevsky’s The Idiot was my true bible. I should open it one more time and read some pages, the idea occurred to me, before closing the book of my life.

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The Absurd Regions

Below is the complete reportage — published here in English for the first time on my literary website — that was published originally years ago in Hebrew, on the pages of ‘Iton77;’ the literary, cultural Israeli magazine. It was titled ‘The Absurd Regions’ back then, and was comprised of twelve separate vignettes, reflecting my lyrical impressions of the ‘First Lebanon War’ of 1982-85, in which I participated. So here goes:

First Gathering
No smiles on the rough faces. The regular questions: How things? How’s life? The answers are heavy, occasionally harsh: shit, life’s in the dumpster. Ninety percent of our battalion’s command personnel identify with the ‘Peace Now’ movement. Objecting to the war. Objecting to the stay in Lebanon. Detesting what’s require of them to do next. One of the officers demonstrated yesterday in front of the Prime Minister’s house in Jerusalem. Before that, he marched from Rosh HaNikra up north to Tel Aviv. His wife advised him not to come this time. Refuse to go. But he is here—of course he is. Maybe because his friends are here. Who is he that he will allow them to be fucked with this shitty job without him. Maybe for the sake of democracy he came. The democracy Sharon and Raful crushed when they started this war. It’s been proven already before that there are more important things than this war: you, me, son, daughter. Life.

Traveling
The visions passing by us reflect a mixture of the bizarre and the absurd. Beautiful countryside, on the one hand: the small villages are cuddled by the rolling hills, while the mountains merge so nicely with the scenery and don’t bite at it, like some of our mountains do back home. On the other hand, dirt and filth everywhere. Ecology is a nonexistent word in the local jargon. Here, one does as one pleases.

It’s harvest time now. The small fields in the bottom of the hills are harvested using sickles, and the sheaves are gathered by hands. An old combine then sorts the wheat grains apart and fill the air with golden dust, fog like. Peaceful cows are grazing in the meadows. The shoulders in the narrow roads are littered with potholes. And with old cars, scattered about here and there. One of them, you know that, is a death trap waiting for you.

Lawless Country
In Lebanon there are no taxes; no licenses; no one pays for electricity. Teenagers drive the cars on the roads. Kids drive the tractors, with dark covered women walking beside them, majestically balancing sacks of wheat grains and tobacco leaves on their heads. New, shiny vehicles zoom by, passing by old ones whose guts are exposed.

Muslims, Christians, Druzes, Shiites and Khomeini supporters coexist in this country side by side. Mixed multitude. And there are, of course, the Christian Militia and the Chadad Falangists. The latter are the road-robbers of this country. They reside under the shade of the Israeli Army’s camps and wear its uniform. “Tell me who your friend is, and I will tell you who you are.” So say the soldiers here, who play bad cops in this grotesque drama.
The circle is rounded and closed with the UN soldiers from Holland, France, Senegal, Ireland… you name it. Some are friendly to us; some hate our guts and look down on us. A black soldier wearing blue uniform and brown overcoat stands in attention in a remote, forgotten ravine. His rifle is erect in his arms. No enemy in sight, though. He belongs, like all of us, to a different world.

The Village Women
Before sunrise the women of the village go out into the small tobacco fields that close in on their houses. They pluck the green leaves and put them in their brown sacks. After that, in full morning light, they carry the sacks on their heads to the houses. There, with their children, they sort the leaves and hang them on thin ropes to dry them up in the hot sun. Later still, they will milk the cows, lead them out into the field to graze, feed the children and clean the houses. They shoulder their responsibilities with primeval dedication.

The husbands, meanwhile, will enter their Mercedeses late in the morning, and will drive to town to attend to their businesses. Maybe visit the coffee house in a nearby village. Play backgammon there with friends and smoke the narghile. In the evening they will return home and receive from their dutiful wives what they’re owed: food, love, and respect. The Bible, in certain terms, is alive and well here.

Yoel The Handsome
Dead. Was killed in an accident on a treacherous road in one of Lebanon’s regions. A meaningless Lebanese accident—just like that. Those demonstrating in front of the prime minister’s home can add him to the list of the fallen. We spent six months, the entire army’s ‘Combat Officers Course’ together. He was the handsomest among us. In his kibbutz, Ayelet HaShahar (Morning Star) he left behind four orphaned children and a pregnant wife. They too, are among the casualties of this useless war.

The “Status of the Logos”
On our daily patrol we pass by the spot where three soldiers from the reserved battalion that preceded us on duty here were killed. One short burst of gunfire slaughtered them all. Luckily, we are still alive. For how long, though, it’s hard to say.

Back at our base, from the radio blaring in our kitchen tent, comes the voice of a scholarly literary critic, talking about the “Status of the Logos,” the “Sacredness of Art,” and “Esthetic Beauty.” It sounds as if the voice comes from a faraway country, whose residents, so it seems, are unaware of what their sons are up to here. “Dust to his feet we are,” so says the critic in regard to the poet he is talking about. And so are we, in regard to our country, our elders. So we climb on our armored vehicles. Load our guns. And off we go.

A Hand for Peace
The local population, so the papers back home told their readers, received the Israeli soldiers with cherries, flowers, and kisses in the air. The other side of the story is a lot less celebratory, and a lot more depressing. We don’t even receive smiles anymore. Only the kids, inexperienced in war and in politics, sometimes raise a hesitating hand for a wave as we pass on the road. They stand on the roads’ shoulders, littered with burned armored vehicles. Above them, swarms of bloodsucking mosquitos constantly hover.

A Dog Burial
A puppy was killed on the road. For the whole day he was lying dead on the roadside, and was beginning to stink. At the end, we were the ones to bury him. After a short hour, his mother found his burial place. She burrowed and excavated her dead puppy; exposing him again to the beams of the sun and the eyes of the world.

One of our soldiers committed suicide in a checkpoint. Those who knew him claimed he brought his troubles from home. Another soldier was sent to the “soul-health’s officer.” Those in the know said he brought his “mantel-sickness” from home. Last night, a soldier in the Border Brigade was killed in an ambush. Those who knew him said he loved the army more than he loved his home. His funeral service and burial followed the required Army protocol.

Settlement Number One
One of our provisional bases has turned into a settlement. The details, of course, are secret. But in principle, what has begun as a temporary position on the sideroad meant to protect soldiers from guerillas, turned into a permanent basis. They took possession of an olive orchard despite the local owner strong objections. Tents were raised and stakes were hammered into the ground; a fence was stretched and a flag was raised; showers were installed and latrines were dug; armed positions were built and weapons were placed in them. The commander of this new base, who comes from a left-leaning kibbutz, found it difficult to acquiesce. But his superior commander has decided so. And the silent objector, though his conscience has kept bothering him, hasn’t refused the order. That the way he was brought up in his kibbutz.

To See and To Live
A roadside munition exploded not far from here. Two soldiers were killed and sixteen were injured. Two of them critical. The mother of Amir from kibbutz Shamir—who was killed in that attack—was also killed by terrorists. Amir hated this war. He sensed it would kill him. But he didn’t refuse to come. He enlisted and died. On his bed, in his small room, he left his guitar…
A respected journalist from a very popular newspaper arrived at the sensational terrorist attack’s location, where the 70-killograms roadside explosion threw a truckload of soldiers 20-meters away. She came to see the charred remains of the truck. There was hardly a word about the dead in her report. She now sips cafe au lait at a breezy, trendy coffee place on the boardwalk in Tel Aviv. Maybe noshing on a cold watermelon.

My Commander
My commander is 50-year-old. His head is balding, his eyes are in need of glasses constantly. His reserve duty service is voluntary. In his civil life he is a high-school principle. He leads by personal example: stands on duty-guard at nights with his soldiers, goes out on patrols, sweeps the yard, and washes the dishes. He never raises his voice. Sometimes he is on the point of losing control of his nerves, but quickly regains control and resumes his duty. My commander is truly an exceptional person. He hates the war in Lebanon. He even said that much to a governmental security committee inquiring about the war. He stated that what’s being done to us here is equal to the Biblical story of “Uriah the Hittite.” Generally, he hates army life and wars. So why the hell is he here?

Finale Party
Darkness. True darkness. Our replacement soldiers are here with us already. The night is full of stars. The skewers are on the fire. The coffee is on the coals. The dog is yelling. She senses that we are leaving. The Georgian and the Bedouin are brothers; the Persian and the Yemenite are brothers; the American and the Moroccan are brothers; the Ashkenazy and the Sephardic are brothers. It is a true situation—believe it or not.

The jokes and the laughter fly with the burning sparks into the night. We sing “How beautiful the nights in Canaan,” and “Hey to the South,” and “My flak-jacket is my Lover.” Since the war-songwriters didn’t write any war-songs this year, only the wrath-poets wrote wrathful-poems, the soldiers are forced to write their own songs. So we sing the most known soldiers’ song of this war, with one additional stanza of mine:

Go down on us airplane, take us fast to Lebanon; we will fight for general Sharon, and come back home in a coffin.
How it happened that the conquest, suddenly turned into defeat; you should ask the pawn, deep in the king’s carton.

At the ‘Finale Party’ of the previous company they didn’t sing. They didn’t tell jokes and didn’t roll laughter into the air. At their ‘Finale Party’ they stood in attention. A moment of silence for three of their comrades who got killed.

We were lucky so far, but for how long…

The next day, late at night, we passed the Rosh HaNikra checkpoint at the border, crossing from north to south, from Lebanon to Israel.

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The Absurd Regions

Below are three more vignettes—published here for the first time in my literary website—that were published originally years ago in Hebrew, on the pages of ‘Iton77;’ the literary, cultural Israeli magazine. Next month, I will revisit this reportage, which was titled back then ‘The Absurd Regions,’ and publish the last piece of this lyrical impression, which I wrote during the First Lebanon War of 1982-85. So stay tune, and here goes:

Settlement Number One

One of our provisional bases has turned into a settlement. The details, of course, are secret. But in principle, what has begun as a temporary position on the sideroad meant to protect soldiers from guerillas, turned into a permanent basis. They took possession of an olive orchard despite the local owner strong objections. Tents were raised and stakes were hammered into the ground; a fence was stretched and a flag was raised; showers were installed and latrines were dug; armed positions were built and weapons were placed in them. The commander of this new base, who comes from a left-leaning kibbutz, found it difficult to acquiesce. But his superior commander has decided so. And the silent objector, though his conscience has kept bothering him, hasn’t refused the order. That the way he was brought up in his kibbutz.

To See and To Live

A roadside munition exploded not far from here. Two soldiers were killed and sixteen were injured. Two of them critical. The mother of Amir from kibbutz Shamir—who was killed in that attack—was also killed by terrorists. Amir hated this war. He sensed it would kill him. But he didn’t refuse to come. He enlisted and died. On his bed, in his small room, he left his guitar…
A respected journalist from a very popular newspaper arrived at the sensational terrorist attack’s location, where the 70-killograms roadside explosion threw a truckload of soldiers 20-meters away. She came to see the charred remains of the truck. There was hardly a word about the dead in her report. She now sips cafe au lait at a breezy, trendy coffee place on the boardwalk in Tel Aviv. Maybe noshing on a cold watermelon.

My Commander

My commander is 50-year-old. His head is balding, his eyes are in need of glasses constantly. His reserve duty service is voluntary. In his civil life he is a high-school principle. He leads by personal example: stands on duty-guard at nights with his soldiers, goes out on patrols, sweeps the yard, and washes the dishes. He never raises his voice. Sometimes he is on the point of losing control of his nerves, but quickly regains control and resumes his duty. My commander is truly an exceptional person. He hates the war in Lebanon. He even said that much to a governmental security committee inquiring about the war. He stated that what’s being done to us here is equal to the Biblical story of “Uriah the Hittite.” Generally, he hates army life and wars. So why the hell is he here?

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News Flash—Old and New!

In February of 2012 I was fortunate enough to be declared the winner of “Moment Magazine Memoir Contest,” awarded for my short story entry titled, “The Sweet Life.” The award ceremony was held at the Spertus Institute in Chicago, with participation of Moment Magazine’s editor and publisher, Nadine Epstein, and the author Shalom Auslander, who was the contest judge.

Only a few weeks ago, totally by chance, I discovered that a radio station in Chicago, WBEZ 95.1 (NPR Affiliated) had broadcasted the award ceremony and reading that came with it. And so, if you have some minutes to spare—and you really want, rather need to get away from the depressing news of these days—take a listen, in particular as I read from my award-wining short story.

Here’s the link to the radio broadcast

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The Kibbutz is Burning (Part 10)

Kibbutz HeftzibahThe dreamlike saga of this new short story, magic-realism in the Holy Land, comes to an end after the battle on the big dining room was lost, but the one for the soul of the kibbutz was won.

Among the dancers was David as well, his left hand holding his son’s hand, his right arm hugging his grandson. Even the high school kids danced; and not because their discothèque—built where the old hen house used to stand—was burned down to the ground. There was a different reason to everything now. A reason that caused the people of the kibbutz to dance and rejoice again with enthusiasm and dedication they experienced only in those early, first days of Aliyah. All the pain and anger of that terrible day were pushed aside momentarily, as joy and yearning for a new beginning took over completely.

After a while, David resigned to his place on the old mountain rock. Only Libi, his neighbors’ dog, noticed him there and joined him. She squatted on the ground beside him, resting her head on his foot. He could still see in the dark below some remnants to the fire, flaring ablaze here and there.

His thoughts centered on Rafi, his adopted son, who was injured while defending the kibbutz. Maybe Roza was back home already from the hospital. He could swear he heard her voice calling him just now. It was the kind of voice she had used only when trying to wake him up from a bad dream.

But this was not a bad dream: it was a good dream. And David didn’t want to wake up from it. He continued to sit motionless on the rock, drenched with the most expensive bright light, courtesy of the rising moon, shinning down on him from above the mountain. He stayed there even after the last of the kibbutz members, exhausted from the events of the long day, had left. Just as his own family had done, too, believing that he had gone home already. But he had not. He remained, like the rock, quiet and still.

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The Kibbutz is Burning (Part 9)

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.

No response was possible. And no attempt was made to give one. It was the most difficult hour of the kibbutz since the Chalutzim had arrived here sixty years ago in a small convoy of horses and mares. The first to come were all enlightened people, intelligentsia from Germany, professors of humanities and scientists of physic and chemistry; musicians and writers were among them too, as were industrial engineers. Later, in their footsteps, came the people from Eastern Europe, Holocaust refugees from Hungary, Poland and Czechoslovakia. They all arrived here to the slope of this biblical mountain, to kibbutz Hephzibah, their hearts beating with the hope of building a true commune; a utopian society; a paradisaical safe haven for the Jewish people.

And now, after fulfilling their dream, and after seeing it almost destroyed, here came a schoolboy and had shaken them all up with a simple question: “What do we do now?” A question they could find no answer to. Only silence and sadness they could offer, which had cast a terrifying shadow over them. At the same time, drops of sap began to slide slowly down the trunks of the pine trees in the Children Orchard, bringing with them moisture to David’s eyes and cheeks.

And it so happened just then that a sudden, divine sound was heard. It came as if from another place altogether: a fairytale kind of place. It was difficult to trace at first the source of that unearthly, sweet melody. It was a simple song about the joy of working the land, which the Chalutzim had used to sing in the early days. Other generations as well grew up singing that tune. As was Orr, a son of the kibbutz who had come home for the anniversary celebration, and was playing it now on his little silver harmonica. Just as he had done in the old days, with a bunch of friends on the lawn by the swimming pool, on Erev Shabbat, tired after dancing the Horah for hours on end, singing till dawn.

A low humming was now ascending hesitantly from this crowded group of people, as the tune got stronger, defying the heavy, painful silence. And then, as if Franz—his soul rising from the ashes of his burned piano—was conducting the choir again, a spontaneous, yet coherent singing by the kibbutz residents was heard, as they sang in one voice the old Chalutzim song.

David joined in the singing, raising his voice high. His grandson Asaf woke up startled, staring at him. But David continued to sing, even though he could remember clearly only the last stanza: “Shovel, pickax, hoe and pitchfork; unit together in a storm. And we will ignite again—again this earth—with a beautiful green flame!”

Gideon and Dina sang too, and so did Dalya, his daughter. They sang the songs of good old Eretz Israel being conquered and built anew. It was a natural progress then, when Sarah, the veteran teacher of generations of the kibbutz’s children, appeared as if out of nowhere, and in her arms an accordion. She took the gentle tune that Orr had started with his harmonica, and transformed it into a more powerful sound. The people of the kibbutz didn’t need any instructions in order to surround her, young and old, as they began to dance the Horah. Arm laced arm; hand held hand; and feet bounced off the ground with an effortless ease.

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An Unexpected Treasure

G.G. as Anna Karenina

Watching the latest version of Anna Karenina on the big screen lately took me back to – of all places – the kibbutz where I was born. How could it be, you may ask. Well, here’s how: At the end of summer a couple of years ago, while a last heat wave was sweeping the Sacramento Valley, my yearlong love affair with Anna Karenina had come to a sudden end as well. I had spent almost a year huddled with her on my lap, and when she jumped down to her tragic end, she had left me behind sad and lonely, yet so much richer and complete. I knew her ending from the beginning, of course, but I had no way of knowing that my journey with her would lead me back to my birthplace, a kibbutz in northern Israel, and to the discovery of a completely unexpected treasure.

It took a while, though, because that’s how I love to read: slow and easy. And because I could never understand why book-reviewers, especially here in America, always gave the biggest compliment to a new novel by saying it was a real “page-turner.” Not my cup of tea. With that in mind, I grabbed a copy of a newly translated edition of Leo Tolstoy’s novel from my bookshelf, determined to finally give the eight-hundred-plus-page classic its due. I hesitated to take this plunge, among other reasons, because I’m a Dostoyevsky fanatic. It was his novels, with their gripping plots and possessed characters, that had accompanied and guided me when I left my kibbutz and moved to the city of Tel Aviv. I tried Tolstoy once or twice, but it never affected me the same way.

But with Anna Karenina so many years later, slow reading became the name of the game. I would read just a few pages sometimes, but most often a chapter or two. On occasions, I would go back to a previous scene and reread it, just as I did with the one where Anna is being torn apart from her beloved son, knowing very well that she would never see him again; the horrible shadow of her tragic end hovering above her, waiting patiently to carry her to her last station.

And talking about last stations, halfway through the book I took a break from reading one rainy Sunday and went to see the movie by that same name: The Last Station, about Tolstoy and his wife Sophia in their later years. I was struck by Sophia’s words when, on a most beautiful horse-drawn carriage ride, she tells Tolstoy’s young secretary that the most ardent followers of her husband don’t understand his writing: “He writes about love and family, not about the Russian People and their social and political system.”

Humbly, I beg to differ. And by doing so, I return also to the hidden treasure I alluded to at the beginning. Sophia was only partly right: the horses in front of her were, indeed, Anna and her lover Count Vronsky. But the carriage she was riding in was carrying the story of her husband and herself, Levin and Kitty, and by and large the more important story: that of the Russian people. Kostya Levin (Leo Tolstoy himself, no doubt) was writing about changing the Russian class system, the injustice treatment of the peasants, his agricultural experiments, and last but not least, his wish to give all his wealth and land away to a working-class commune.

How amazing it was for me to discover the origin of the place where I was born and grew up in, hidden in the pages of Anna Karenina. It was Tolstoy then, who had first put the foundation to the idea that years later would create the Israeli kibbutz. That small place, which the scent of the sweet peas blooming in my balcony at spring reminded me of so much, was founded as a commune of people working the land—poets, writers and musicians among them; great dreamers all of them—where there wasn’t even money to be found as I was growing up.

Looking back, it was a place only a Russian Novel can accurately depict. And so I praise slow reading, it enables one to discover certain truths; a fit no page-turner, no Kindle device would ever be able to accomplish. It is entirely possible that because of my slow reading, because I read carefully and didn’t rush to reach the end, that I was able to discover this great secret: It was not Karl Marx, not Lenin or Trotsky who gave birth to the paradise that was the place of my childhood and youth. It was Tolstoy.

* Appeared first on The Times of Israel

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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 (Part 7)

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.

Dusk was descending on the kibbutz, whose residents had gathered on the slope of the biblical mountain. The sun had set down already—just as it had done so many years ago, after kissing the dead bodies of King Saul and his son Jonathan a last farewell—far behind the red Edom Mountains, high above the Jordan River. But the Jesreel Valley below was still drenched with her majestic golden light. A thick blanket of smoke covered the kibbutz, hanging low and heavy, while every few minutes or so, in a last rebellious attempt, an orange flame would flare up through the dark gray screen, only to die down soon.

Under the Children Orchard, untouched by the fire, they all huddled and sat down. The elderly were there, the veterans who came to this place when it was nothing but a swamp; parents with their children where there, even babies; the guests, too, sons and daughters of the kibbutz who had returned home to celebrate the anniversary, and had stayed to fight the fire.

No one spoke. The atmosphere was thick with smoke and sorrow. Only the random burst of embers trying to reignite the fire, and the occasional wailing of sirens by the fire engines, ambulances and police cars, coming or leaving the kibbutz, occasionally broke off the dreadful, monotonous silence.

David was sitting high on a mountain rock, at the edge of this crowded group of people. His grandson Asaf was on his lap, secured by his tired arms. Close by on the ground his son Gideon was sitting, together with Dina his wife. David’s own wife, Roza, had been driven to the central valley hospital to be with Rafi, their adopted son, who was wounded in the battle. Their daughter Dalya was there as well, busy with other women in handing everybody sandwiches, fruits and cold lemonade. A donation from the nearby kibbutzim.

Amos, the Secretary of the kibbutz, was the only one to stand up. His grave looking face, with a bloodstained white bandage crowning his forehead, had told the story of the day before he even opened his mouth to speak. David heard his voice, but absorbed his words only partly. Some words registered in his mind immediately, and permanently, while others disappeared as if they were never uttered.

Yariv, the leader of the kibbutz’s resistance, was killed in the battle of the dining room. He—a veteran of the Six Days War, the War of Attrition and the Yom Kippur War—had died defending his kibbutz. Ephraim, the veteran firefighter of the kibbutz and David’s old friend, was dead too. His heart had failed him. Because, David knew for certain in his own heart, he was unable to extinguish the fire and stop the destruction.

The people from Beit She’an had suffered heavier losses. Six were dead, among them the brothers Jacky and Sami Ben-Simon, who were fired last week from their work in the kibbutz’s plastic factory. The firing was the result of an ordinance issued by the Kibbutzim Movement, explained Amos apologetically, to employ only kibbutz members in the fields and factories whenever possible, and not “hired labor.” Maybe that was the reason, David now realized, why the brothers were so angry at him.

The list of damaged working places and burned down buildings was infinite to the ears of the kibbutz members, so they asked Amos to be brief. There was no need to pour more oil onto the fire, they said, it was still burning. So he switched gears, as he so laconically had put it, and told the somber crowd that they may find some comfort in the knowledge that their kibbutz was not alone in this predicament. The chief of police from the town of Afula had informed him, in full confidence, that two other kibbutzim from the Republic of the Kibbutzim—“His words, not mine,” stressed Amos—were attacked in a similar fashion: One in the Galilee Mountains, up north, the other in the Negev Desert, down south. They were also the victims of an attack from nearby development towns. The police, as was customary in such situations, had already assigned a name to the events of the day: The Red Shabbat.

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The Kibbutz is Burning (Part 6)

(The dreaKibbutz Heftzibahmlike saga of this new short story, magic-realism in the Holy Land, continues when the battle on the big dining room comes to an end, and the one for the soul of the kibbutz begins.)

When David saw that, he rushed down to the equipment-shed, which stood adjacent to the old Community Shower—now serving the women as a beauty salon—and got hold of the longest water hose there. He hooked it to a faucet and turned on the water, and began fighting the fire. Other kibbutz members joined him in this fight, using water hoses and buckets of water, which they moved quickly from hand to hand. Some resourceful women brought towels and blankest from their beauty salon, and began beating the bushes, which by now caught fire as well. Everybody was at it, as one body, in a supreme, desperate effort to save the trees and, by and large, the kibbutz.

When at last fire engines from Afula, the capital city of the Jesreel Valley had arrived, together with police and ambulances, there wasn’t much that could be saved. The fire had been contained, to a degree, but the dining room was consumed down to its concrete base. The adjoining large kitchen, the bakery and small warehouse, were also lost to the fire. The thick belt of trees and bushes enveloping the dining room had survived, however thin, due to the persistent, heroic effort of the kibbutz members.

There were casualties, of course, injured and dead. But at that hour of fatigue and grief, when David and Gideon were slowly walking up toward the mountain, dripping of sweat and water, it was unknown yet who and how many.

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