Saturday, June 11, 2011

Kibbutz by the Sea

Last week, standing on a cliff overlooking the Mediterranean, I watched as the sun began its slow descent into the sea. The air was quiet, the colours of the kibbutz slowly changing into an evening hue. Fourteen years. Fourteen years mixed in the salty air, the sound of seagulls, the faint sound of a tractor in the distance. Fourteen years, as I looked over to the row of white houses built into the steep hill running down to the beach below, our house second to the right.

I have visited many beautiful places in my life, and have also been fortunate to live in two of them. One of them is where I am living now - Midreshet Ben Gurion, perched high above Wadi Zin (Zin Valley) in the Negev Desert, reaching towards the red mountains of Jordan.  And the other is Kibbutz Palmachim, resting on the Mediterranean Sea, squeezed in between Tel Aviv and Ashdod, with Rishon Le Zion sneaking in from the rear.

“How could you have left a house on the sea?” people ask me. Yet no one asks anymore, “How could you have left the kibbutz?”

I never expected to leave the kibbutz, but then, I never expected to be there in the first place. And if it hadn’t been for my reading of “Walden Two”, I probably never would have.

For a long time, I identified with Thoreau’s “Walden”: isolating myself from society, both mentally and emotionally,  in order to obtain a more objective understanding of it; my way of achieving self-reliance. But Skinner’s “Walden Two” suggested an alternative: a utopia of communal interaction where self-reliance is attained at the community level. In such a community, one must become  a participant, as well as an observer.

Like most things, this would have never gone beyond philosophical masturbation had it not been for a friend of my sister who told me about the ulpan program on the kibbutz.  Not only was there suddenly a place offering itself as a testing ground for such theory, but it was a place I could easily go to for six months.

I don’t know what I expected to happen once I was on the kibbutz. I certainly never expected to spend the next fourteen years of my life there. But I felt that I had found my place. Milking cows, learning to drive a tractor, moving irrigation lines, going to university, starting a teaching career, teaching myself computers in order to computerize the kibbutz school, marriage, three children, and filling most of the key administrative positions on the kibbutz - fourteen years may not be a lot for some, but it was a key period of my life.

It wasn’t an easy decision to leave the kibbutz. My wife, who was born and raised on the kibbutz, had already wanted to leave for a number of years in order to try something new. But it wasn’t until I filled the delicate position as the head of the members’ committee that I was faced with such discrepancies between what the kibbutz was and what it professed to be, that I decided it was time to leave also.

It was while being on the kibbutz that I discovered that I could be both a social hermit and an active participant in the running of the community. So, it was only natural, upon discovering the Internet in the early nineties, that I use this tool to create virtual communities through which the members would provide mutual assistance, while I remained in the background, helping to run things quietly. In my English Teachers Network, which contains over 1,700 members, I have personally met only a few members face to face, although I answer scores of messages every day. I am sure that there are those who believe that I am simply a virtual creation who is online 24/7. And you know what?  I am quite content with that assumption.

Standing on the cliff, looking out over the sea, the last half of the sun slowly sinks into the sea. I do not feel sad that we left. Some of the memories I relive, some are totally forgotten. But there are things that are not lost... a Canadian, a kibbutznik... things that I still take with me.


  1. David, for good or ill we take ourselves with us everywhere. And bring ourselves to everything. There is no escaping. I guess that's why the change we want has to be an inside job......

  2. So where do you feel that you belong? Where is your Ithaca? Or does it just keep shifting on you every time you happen to find it? I, too, relate to you... born a minority Greek in Istanbul, moved to Australia and now an "Australian" in Athens, but always a hybrid.

  3. I think there came a point when I realized that I would never find a place where I belong. And had to come to terms with who I am, a stranger in a strange land.

  4. I have to say, I think this is an absolutely beautiful post. And I know nothing about living on a kibbutz! You have a new fan :)

  5. Thanks for the words of appreciation, JoJo. It is always good to hear that someone is enjoying my posts.