Tag Archives: kibbutz

You Won’t Believe This

Below is the seventh 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.

Suddenly, I felt a pull of unbearable sorrow deep inside me. It forced me to look back at the sea, still desperately searching for answers to my life’s big questions. I saw how the sun was kissing the sea goodnight, and concluded that everything streams into darkness, and every soldier must die alone, as we’d used to sing in the army. When darkness comes, I decided then and there, I would walk barefoot to the beach and enter my sea of sadness completely naked. I would swim deep and far, and plow the dark waters all the way to the “Voice of Peace” boat, or even deeper and farther than that, why not, in search of the dying sun, as I’d used to daydream as a child. I would go after her, yes I would: into the heart of darkness, into the depth of sea.

I stretched my hand to grab my lemonade glass, intending on giving it one more try, and that when the telephone rang. It shook me up all right, I tell you, since I didn’t expect anybody to remember I still existed. Hard to believe, but I didn’t have an answering machine back then, or a long enough cord in order to bring the intruding instrument out into the balcony. It could be my mother, I thought at first, inquiring whether I tasted her chicken already. Or maybe my father was calling, demanding to know when, if ever, I intend on coming back to the kibbutz. It was possible, also, that my son was the caller, eager to tell me about his new school. Even that semi-producer, what was his name, was perhaps calling me to ask if I did the rewrite already.

Either way, whoever was calling me was persistent enough to force me, after about three rings, to get up and finally stepped back into the living room, close by the sliding glass doors, and pick up the receiver.
“Hello…” I said.

The reply came from a different direction altogether. You won’t believe this, I know, but I heard a loud, strange noise coming from the balcony. And as I looked back, still holding the receiver to my mouth and ear, I saw a large cinderblock falling down from the ceiling above my balcony, landing heavily on my beach chair. It gave wings to a cloud of dust, and a fan of debris that was spreading around, shaking the lemonade in my glass.

Automatically, repetitively, I kept saying “Hello” into the mouthpiece. But here’s the kicker, my friends: no one answered back. Nor did I hear the hanging up of the phone on the other side. No static or heavy breathing could be heard, either, just dead silence. The kind—you know what I mean, don’t you? —that makes one certain that someone is actually there, on the other end of the line, listening to you very carefully.

Slowly, ever so slowly, I hung up the receiver and stepped back into the balcony. Dumbfounded, I stared at my beach chair, crashed to the floor under the weight of the cinderblock, right where I’d been sitting before the phone had rung and had called me away. I looked up at the ceiling, but saw no naked women there, just an empty hole, opening up into the darkening skies.

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You Won’t Believe This

Below is the sixth 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.

A blast of bright sunlight, full-faced, and a strong sea breeze greeted me. Exposed and spread in front of me was the familiar, yet still magnificent expanse of the Mediterranean Sea, stretching wide-open all the way to the end of the world. May it will come soon, that end, I whispered a prayer; a hypocritical prayer, mind you, coming from the mouth of a devout nonbeliever. Maybe a jump down to the busy road below would do the trick, and would bring me that desired finale.

But wait a minute, I remember telling myself: here, my friend, was the sea. Your sea. Blue all right, with whitecaps and silver brushstrokes here and there, sailing boats, surfing boards, wave riders, paddle boards, flying seagulls and cresting, rolling waves breaking into foam on the sandy beach. You name it, beach-wise I mean, it was there. Including the hill of the Independence Gardens on the right, and the marina by the Seaside Hotel on the left, creating a triangle-like bay, which opened up wide into the sea.

The beach itself, normally crowded to capacity, was relatively roomy and airy that late afternoon. And therefore much more enticing. Give me a good reason, I challenged myself, why I shouldn’t go down for a swim; see if the waves still remember me. And then, fair game, pursue a careful study of the half-naked girls lying there on the sand, sun-worshiping. With any luck, I may bring one home with me. I had dinner to offer her, an aphrodisiac courtesy of my mother, which would surely smooth her way into my bedroom, and stimulate the lovemaking to follow.

Yet even that intriguing idea inspired no urgency in me that day. I felt no vitality in my veins; no rush of blood anywhere; no burning desires or uncontrolled urges were left in me. I dropped down on the beach chair and stretched my tired legs forward on the floor. I could still see the sea, peeking at me through the peeling cement rails lining my balcony. And though I searched for answers there, I found only sadness reflected back at me from the waves. It was magnified by the sun: a big ball of fire coming down for a swim. She was blood-red, just as I imagined the heart of the world to be. One has to witness such a sunset at least once, I was convinced back then, before one dies.

I took a sip of lemonade, but it tasted not as it had tested yesterday, or the day before. It was bitter, not sweet. For some reason—unclear to me at the time—I looked up at the ceiling above me in the balcony and stared hard at it, as if seeing it for the first time. I saw that, like an abstract painting, it was full of cracks. Deep cracks, mind you, deeper than what I’d noticed before. And over on the other side, I deliriously imagined, my landlord’s daughter and her girlfriend were nakedly embraced, soaking up the last sunrays of the day.

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You Won’t Believe This

Below is the fifth 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.

In a personal act of defiance and protest—probably my last such act—I tuned instead to the “Voice of Peace,” Abie Nathan’s radio station, which he operated in those days from a boat out in the sea. It faithfully transmitted, at all hours of the day and night, golden oldies and classic rock, mixed with messages of peace, directly through the air and over the waves of the sea at the window of my bedroom, and at the balcony of my apartment.

Next, I glanced in dread at my writing desk, situated strategically in a shaded corner of the room. On top of the desk, beside my green Hermes typewriter, rested my latest screenplay: Love under the Eucalyptus Tree. (You may laugh, why don’t you, I’m laughing too.) The one about the kibbutz, where my father, good health may always be with him, still lived. He deserves a call, too, I was thinking, and a mention in my final writing paper as well. After all, this screenplay was in large part about him: A Holocaust survivor, a socialist, an eternal idealist and dreamer. A curse and affliction I no doubt inherited from him. No wonder I turned out so screwed up.

True to form, and to that conclusion, I was planning on directing the film myself. It was supposed to be my film, you see, my singular work of art. I would finally create a splash here in the city, and make a name for myself to go along with it. Would rescue my future, hopefully, from the jaws of my past. Would prove to all those city-type people that I, a farm-boy from the Jezreel Valley, was capable of more than just these lousy video magazines. Even though, cut to the naked truth here, the copies I’d made so far of my screenplay, with considerable costs (money originally set aside for my monthly rent), kept coming back to me from those pretentious, brainless producers, and their fake production companies. Always rejected.

Rejected and dejected was how I felt that afternoon. I couldn’t go through another rewrite. No way. Even that, sitting at my desk writing—the one thing I liked doing the most—was too much for me on that ominous, albeit sunny day in Tel Aviv. Instead, I put my hand on the phone, resting on the broken, small black & white television set, intending on calling my son. See how he was doing. Yet I hesitated, my phone anxiety taking over big time, as I realized I would probably have to speak with her first. His mother. My wife still, officially. It was the worst, talking to her. I just couldn’t bring myself into doing that. Not now—not ever.

I opened the two sliding glass doors that separated my living room from the balcony, parted them wide and stepped outside. I placed my cold lemonade glass on the small round table, standing by my old beach chair, and raised the dusty green shades all the way up. It was like raising a curtain, as they used to do back then at the old, grand Tel Aviv Cinema Theater in town, before the screening of each film. Let it begin; I was ready for the end.

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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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