KIBBUTZ LIFEIN ISRAEL
During the Late Sixties and Early- to Mid-Seventies
Home Page: http://ardeshirmehta.com
This Edition March 2001
Copyright © Ardeshir Mehta
(Written in the Year 2001)
The booklet written below is now mainly of historical interest, since the period to which it refers is more than a quarter-century remote from the present. Moreover the booklet itself was written in 1981, which is two decades ago. It has been revised twice, but the revisions were mainly concerned with the correction of typos and grammatical errors (since the original was written by typewriter), and have not, for the most part, dealt with the changes in the kibbutz situation as it stands at present.
As a result, much of the material given below is out of date, and many of the things said herein should be taken with a pinch of salt.
However, it might still be well worth a read, because literature on the subject of Kibbutzim is very scanty, whether for that period or otherwise, especially on the Internet.
KIBBUTZ LIFE IN ISRAEL
During the Late Sixties and Early- to Mid-Seventies
The following is a factual account of experiences I had in Israel with life in kibbutzim in the late 'sixties and early- to mid-'seventies.
Some conclusions have also been drawn by me from my experiences. The conclusions may be disputed, but as far as the facts go, they are completely true to the best of my memory, and many of them may be confirmed by visiting Israel and seeing for oneself.
I arrived in Israel in January 1968, and after a week in Jerusalem entered Kibbutz Na'an as a (so-called) "Volunteer". This was the title given to those who wanted to work on a kibbutz for a short time without becoming a member. I did this with two goals in mind: in order to learn Hebrew, and to gain experience of kibbutz life and, in particular, kibbutz agriculture.
Kibbutz Na'an is one of the biggest in Israel and also one of the wealthiest. It had at the time about 1,800 persons (men, women and children) living on it. It was founded in the '30s, before Israel got Independence, and by the '60s had developed very highly. Children of the founders were already having their own children on it. One of the members was at the time a Cabinet Minister in the Knesset (Israel's parliament). Another was a famous archaeologist. Many of the older members had fought in the Palmach (one of Israel's paramilitary defence organisations, established before Independence.) Many of the members were officers in the Israel Defence Forces.
The land utilised by the kibbutz was about 5,000 dunams. One dunam is 1/10th of a hectare or approximately 1/4 of an acre. The land did not belong to the kibbutz, but to the Israeli Nation as a whole (as is the case with most agricultural land in Israel), and was leased out to the kibbutz on a long term basis at fairly low cost. All the land was irrigated by sprinkler irrigation. Later they put in drip irrigation as well, on some of the land. Water was supplied by a national organisation called Mekorot which sank tube-wells and tapped other resources all over the country, and piped the water to the various farms in rationed amounts -- rationed, because water is scarce in Israel.
The kibbutz as a whole owned the buildings, machinery and equipment on it. These included a very large factory for making sprinklers, numerous tractors, a dairy of several hundred high-yielding Israeli-Friesian cows, a poultry of several tens of thousands of chickens, residential quarters for all the inhabitants, an indoor sports stadium, many kindergartens, a primary school, a high school, an infirmary, a club, a large laundry capable of washing not only all the clothes of the inhabitants but the bed-sheets and so on of a large nearby hospital as well, numerous cars, a swimming pool, a huge common kitchen attached to two large dining halls, the entire sprinkler system over 5,000 dunams, and many other things. The total value of the property would, in those days, have run into several million US dollars; and today (in the year 2001) would probably be worth more than a hundred million dollars, perhaps considerably more.
People living on the Kibbutz
There were several categories of persons living on the kibbutz. First, there were those who were called "members" (haverim). They were the permanent inhabitants of the kibbutz. They could -- and many did -- live their entire lives on the kibbutz. They were the joint owners of the kibbutz. They also governed the kibbutz, electing from among themselves the various office bearers and taking major decisions in weekly General Meetings. Members were not paid any money for their work. They received, instead, facilities to the extent the kibbutz could afford, to enable them to live in a manner they considered decent.
They ate their meals in the communal dining rooms, which were large enough to serve breakfast, lunch and dinner to the entire adult population of the kibbutz and their guests as well. (On Kibbutz Na'an, children ate separately from the adults). They all had residential quarters allotted to them, small in size but beautiful and neat. Their clothes were washed for them -- repaired also, in case they needed to be. Their children were educated in the kibbutz's own kindergartens, primary school and high school. They had the use of the club, sports stadium, swimming pool, riding horses, and so on.
And for all this -- and more -- they did not pay a single penny. In fact, it was uncommon for anyone to walk around the kibbutz with money in their pocket, since it was never needed. One simply took what one required, and one was trusted to take no more. The trust extended even further: for instance, homes were not locked up; nor was there any sort of "police force" to see to it that people did not misuse their privileges, or otherwise behaved themselves.
Secondly, there were candidates for membership. These were persons who were not yet accepted as members but wished to become members. They were living on the kibbutz for a year or so in order that the members could judge whether they were suitable for membership. No qualification of any nature was laid down for membership -- or for that matter, for any job. The only criterion was acceptability by the others. A vote was taken, if necessary, and a person acceptable to the others was elected member after the one-year period, or sometimes even sooner. As candidates they did not have the right to vote. They also had no "right, title or interest" (as lawyers express it) in the property owned jointly by the members. Except for that, they were entitled to all the privileges and responsibilities to which the members were entitled.
Thirdly, there were a few who were married to members but had no desire to become members themselves. One particular case known to me was that of a young man who was the father of the child of one of the members. Neither he nor the mother of the child wished to get married to each other, though they got along very well with each other (at least as far as I could tell). Nor did he wish to become a member of the kibbutz. He lived off-and-on on the kibbutz; and did work, naturally, as did everyone else, while he was there; at other times he would go off the kibbutz -- I don't know where -- for appreciable periods of time. He had no voting rights, nor was he a joint owner in the property of the kibbutz. When he was at the kibbutz, he lived with the mother of his child. All this was accepted as quite normal by the other members.
Fourthly, there were the "volunteers". I was one of these. They were temporary residents of the kibbutz. They wished to stay on the kibbutz for a while -- generally less than a year -- to see what it was like. They were mostly from other countries, and most of them were therefore not even citizens of Israel. (To become a member of a kibbutz it was necessary to be a citizen of the country). They had no voting rights, nor did they share in the ownership of the kibbutz's property. They were entitled to their basic needs of life in return for 8 hours work a day, or, as in my case (and that of a few others), 4 hours work plus 4 hours Hebrew language study. They -- or maybe I should say, we -- were entitled to the meals in the dining room, getting our clothes washed in the laundry, a small room generally shared with another volunteer, and such-like basic needs of life.
All volunteers were "adopted" by a member family who generally saw to our needs of companionship -- as far as it was necessary -- and guidance into the way of life of the kibbutz. I was "adopted" by a cousin of the Cabinet Minister, and his wife.
When I joined as a volunteer I was not asked to sign any document, nor did I ever sign any document binding myself in any way during all the years I was at kibbutzim. Generally, on a kibbutz, a person's word was considered to be his or her bond. (That was then; I have no idea what it is like now, in 2001. I do hope, however, that things haven't changed too much.) I was introduced to the kibbutz Secretary by one Mr. Sprinzak, a son of one of Israel's noted pioneering personalities of earlier days. Mr. Sprinzak knew me only through some letters I had written from Italy (where I had been living before I came to Israel) to Rabbi Jacob Amsel in Jerusalem. Therefore, essentially, I was accepted as a volunteer with the barest of introductions. I have personally known a person accepted as a volunteer with no introduction at all.
Atmosphere on the Kibbutz
Kibbutz Na'an was distinctly irreligious, even anti-religious. There was no synagogue, nor were prayers ever conducted (at least to the best of my knowledge). Sabbath was not celebrated except by taking the day off. If necessary, people worked on the Sabbath also. Nobody wore a kipa (Jewish skull-cap). I remember someone telling me that he did not like Rabbis.
The atmosphere on Kibbutz Na'an was (and I daresay still is) very austere. People did not, as a rule, wish each other "Good morning", etc. Once, during my first days there, someone said to me "Boker tov." I did not know what that meant, and I turned to a person who knew English and asked for a translation. He replied that it meant "Good morning" in Hebrew. He added: "These are the two most useless words in the language".
A person was admired for working well. If a person was reputed to be "a good worker", that was regarded as high praise. A person was also accepted for being straightforward and sincere. If a person was suspected of insincerity he was ostracised. This was a painful punishment. It seemed to me that people went out of their way to give an impression of sincerity. In most cases, in my judgement, it was not merely an impression. They really were sincere.
Most of the founding members had originally come from Germany. Hence German punctuality was the rule. On my first day at work I was to come to a certain location to catch the Jeep taking workers to the orchards at 6.00 a.m. I happened to arrive at 6.01 a.m. and found the Jeep gone. I had to walk to the orchards. You may be sure I never came late again, by even so much as a minute.
Even though the kibbutz as a whole was earning vast sums of money -- and much of it in foreign exchange -- conspicuous consumption was frowned upon. For instance, no one wore a suit and tie, and indeed I doubt if anyone even possessed such a thing. In hot weather everyone -- men as well as women -- wore sandals, shorts and shirt. Residential rooms were small. Furniture was simple. Food, though plentiful, was simply cooked, with the emphasis on nutritional value rather than taste. However, expense was lavished without stint upon the children's education and rearing. In fact, in my opinion, the closest thing to paradise on earth must have been to grow up a child on a kibbutz. Nothing was too good for them.
However, austerity did not mean that pleasant things did not exist; only conspicuously expensive personal items were discouraged. One of the "traditions" on the kibbutz was the afternoon tea at the house of one's "adoptive" parents, often with sumptuous cakes. These were baked, usually, by the women: men normally did not do much cooking. All clothes were extremely clean, and so were the living quarters; and moreover the entire residential area was landscaped and gardened by a team of gardeners, giving the entire place the appearance of a well-tended park, with small houses scattered among the flower beds and lawns. People took pride in little things of beauty which they made themselves.
Alcohol was generally frowned upon, and at Kibbutz Na'an wine was not served even on the Sabbath. Tea with lemon was the common drink, even with meals. Plenty of fruits, vegetables (raw as well as cooked), milk and eggs were available. Chala (a traditional Jewish Sabbath bread) was baked for every Sabbath and distributed to all. Meat was not plentiful, but was available in adequate quantities. It appeared that the members made it a point to see that no one went hungry. Three square meals a day were pretty much a "must", and at times it even came to five. What with the physical work, one worked up a good appetite.
Food was therefore given great importance. So were the kitchen and dining rooms, which were beautifully constructed in modern architectural style, and equipped with the latest and best cooking equipment made of stainless steel. There were steam-heated cooking pots big enough to hold an ox, and cold storage rooms -- essentially refrigerators -- of vast dimensions. Automatic dish-washing machines capable of cleaning hundreds of plates, cups and cutlery sets at a time, did the washing-up.
Money was lavished upon things and facilities which were to be used in common. These included sports facilities (Kibbutz Na'an had a nationally-famous sports team), an out-door amphitheatre where shows were held regularly, and so on. In particular they encouraged things which the members could use collectively for the development of their physical and mental personalities. Unnecessary ornamentation was discouraged, but genuine beauty encouraged, in all walks of life.
Cleanliness was almost a religion, and no one went without a shower every day. In cold weather one had the luxury of unlimited amounts of hot water for a shower after work, which was often taken in a common shower room, particularly by the youngsters. I was informed that ever since the establishment of the kibbutz, common showers were given great importance; and in the old days, everyone went to the common showers after work, which became as a result intensely alive social gathering places. One person was recorded to have said during the weekly General Meeting: "I have been saying this in the showers, and I am saying it again here ..." By the '60s, of course, most members had their own private showers in their living quarters. Some of the old-timers, however, could still be seen with the towel over the shoulder going every evening to the common showers.
Work on the Kibbutz
Work was generally eight hours a day, six days a week. Everyone did at least that much; some people did more, a few much more. No extra pay was received for more work; sometimes one did not even get the approval of one's fellows for more work. It was done because the person concerned felt he or she had to do it. If one did one's eight hours, though, it was sufficient to be called a "good worker", provided that during those eight hours one really worked and did not slack off. I am happy to say that after a month or so I was considered to be a "good worker". I did only my allotted share.
The work was organised by a person called the "Work-Organiser". He was one of the main office bearers of the kibbutz, along with the Secretary, Treasurer and Farm Manager or Estate Manager. The office bearers were elected by the General Meeting, and held office for limited periods of time only, generally a few (three to five) years. Then one was expected to step down and give others a chance. No extra pay or other benefit accrued to the office bearers, nor were they considered to be any "better" than their fellows. They did a job like any other.
The Work-Organiser made sure that (a) everyone had some suitable work every day, and (b) all jobs that had to be done were done by someone. This was not always easy, since most people had preferences as to the work they wanted to do. As far as possible, these preferences were given consideration, and work allotted accordingly. If this was not possible, the Work-Organiser made it clear to the person concerned that unfortunately he was not able to find work according to the preferences of the person concerned at the time, but that as soon as possible he would do so.
If no one wanted to do a particular job, it was decided that it would be done by everyone in turn for a week or two. This applied, for instance, to dishwashing and serving at the tables in the dining room. Since few people were required for this, one's turn came up rarely: only once or twice a year or thereabouts. Even Cabinet Ministers and top brass in the Armed Forces were expected to do this; and they actually did as they were expected -- with pride.
The Work-Organiser wrote out each person's duties on a card and displayed it at the entrance of the dining room the previous evening, so that everyone would be able to read it off and appear for work at the proper place the following morning. Of course, most of the members had a regular job and did not need to look at the list.
If one was ill one did not have to appear for work. It was better to inform the Work-Organiser beforehand if possible, but it was not always possible. Then the poor Work-Organiser had to arrange a stop-gap arrangement quickly somehow. This was not easy for him. After a year or two as Work-Organiser the poor fellow generally felt it was time to do something else.
Other Office Bearers of the Kibbutz
The Secretary's job was to deal with the world outside the kibbutz, and generally to represent the kibbutz to the outside world. This was also not easy. However a person was not normally elected Secretary unless he had a flair for this kind of work, so as a rule it worked out all right. The importance of the Secretary -- or maybe I should say, his unimportance -- may be gauged by the fact that during my entire stay at Na'an (about four months) I never found out his name (though I knew him by sight). Nor did I ever think it important enough to ask. This was the "Main Man" of the kibbutz!
The Treasurer's work was to keep the accounts. Fictitious accounts were kept for the "branches" of the kibbutz -- of which I shall speak later. These were fictitious because no money actually changed hands. However, it was still necessary to know whether the "branch" was working efficiently or not. These fictitious accounts helped judge the efficiency of any given "branch". Real accounts were kept for dealings of the kibbutz with the "outside world". The Kibbutz was in law a sort of corporation (its exact legal title, translated into English, would be something like "Kibbutz Na'an Ltd."). Nevertheless there was a difference between it and an ordinary corporation or company, especially as to its internal workings: money was not paid to its members, who owned the entire organisation jointly. Externally, however, like any other corporation or company, it sold its produce on the open market and thereby realised an income. The annual turnover of Kibbutz Na'an at the time of which I speak must have been in the region of 50 million Israeli pounds. At the time the exchange rate was about 4 Israeli pounds to the US dollar. (This, of course, was 'sixties dollars, so in today's money it would be vastly greater.) The Treasurer had to manage all this money. A Treasurer also did not stay on the job for more than a couple of years, or three at the most. Most kibbutzniks have a distinct aversion to paper work.
Work was done by "branches". The dairy was a branch, so was the poultry, and so also the factory and laundry and gardening team. Each branch was headed by a person called in Hebrew merakez. This word cannot be translated accurately into English. Literally it means "One who Brings Everything to the Centre", or, if a word may be coined, "Concentrator". The merakez had a team of persons working for the branch. He himself had to work harder than anyone else in the team, since the success or failure of the branch was mainly his responsibility. Not, of course, that the others did not feel equally responsible; collective responsibility was quite a common attitude on the kibbutz. However, the merakez was sort of like the conductor of an orchestra, making sure everything worked in sync.
The merakez was elected, like the other office-bearers, and also held office for a limited number of years. It was a tough job, so after a few years the merakez was only too glad to give up the responsibility to someone else. The merakez was in no way a "boss", giving orders to those under him. His was a position, not of enhanced authority, but of enhanced responsibility alone. He was also not necessarily more knowledgeable about the job than other members of the branch team. Often the merakez of a branch would be a young fellow, much younger than some of the other members of the team. He could not, of course, order the members of the team around -- that is not possible with any Israeli, much less a kibbutznik. So he had to use a good deal of psychology to get all the members of the team to work together harmoniously. Later, on Kibbutz Tsor'ah, I worked many years in a branch with an excellent merakez, one of the best I have ever known, so I picked up the art to some extent.
There was a merakez for the whole kibbutz also. He is one I have loosely described earlier as the Farm Manager or Estate Manager. (Where the entire kibbutz was a farm exclusively, and there was no factory -- as there was on most kibbutzim -- the term "Farm Manager" is perhaps more suitable than "Estate Manager"). His job was to co-ordinate the work of all the branches. He generally stood between the Branch merakzim (plural of merakez in Hebrew) and the Treasurer and Secretary. His was a great responsibility also, and generally he too did not stay in office longer than a few years.
The above mainly goes to point out that on a kibbutz persons holding jobs of great responsibility were not necessarily given a higher social or other position, and certainly not more pay or other benefit. Work was done for the sake of the work itself, in general -- i.e., because those who did it liked doing it. And also because it had to be done, and because these people were among those who could do it.
Every week there was a general meeting of all the members: or to be more accurate, of all the members who cared to come. Not all came; some were quite happy to stay a home with their children or friends, and leave the running of the kibbutz to the others. But many did come, and discussed any point worth discussing, which was afterwards put to the vote. Voting was by show of hands. Majority decisions carried the day. These decisions were then left to the office bearers to be implemented. There was no restriction on the matters that could be brought up before the General Meetings. Major decisions, of course, were discussed at great length. However, these were not the only matters discussed at the General Meeting, and all kinds of minor matters also came up before the General Meeting. So there was full participatory democracy: probably closer to the ideal than in any other organisation in the world.
In addition to the weekly General Meetings, there was of course the close contact the members had with each other at mealtimes. As a result, a large amount of gossip was always floating around. So after a while one got to know the inner workings of the kibbutz quite intimately.
Due to this factor, perhaps, in order to protect their privacy, the more permanent members were somewhat stand-offish, particularly at first. It took quite a while to win their confidence. The native-born Israelis were not only stand-offish but even positively rude. This is why they are called sabras. Sabra is the Arabic name for the fruit of the cactus tree, which is thorny outside. The heart of the fruit is sweet, however, once one gets to it. The native-born Israelis are like that too.
I found the rudeness and "stand-offishness" quite disturbing during all my months at Kibbutz Na'an, and it was one of the reasons I was not very happy there. There were also other, more private reasons, however, which I would rather not discuss here; and under other circumstances no doubt I would have been quite happy.
Eventually my Hebrew Language Course came to an end, but I had not learnt sufficient Hebrew to begin studying agriculture at the University, which was why I had come to Israel in the first place. So I left the kibbutz for more advanced course in Hebrew at a special school for university students in the Negev (Israel's desert). The kibbutz members took my leaving as an affront, I think, for they did not accept me back later when I again applied to work there. This possibly was also because they do not value a university education. Or rather, they value the education but not the degree; and many kibbutzniks go to university for years on end, but as a matter of principle refuse to sit for the final exam. They would, of course, get excellent grades if they were to sit for the exam. But they do not want the indignity of a tail behind their name.
After a year and a half, therefore, during which time I learnt Hebrew better, and also filled in some gaps in my high school education to prepare me for entrance to the university, I found myself with about nine months free before the opening of the university year. I therefore joined again as a volunteer, this time on Kibbutz Tsor'ah, which is about mid-way between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. (Na'an is closer to Tel Aviv).
Some Other Kibbutzim
During this year and a half, I had visited a few kibbutzim and had come to know more about them. I had visited David Ben-Gurion on Kibbutz Sde-Boker, which is situated in the desert. It is a small kibbutz, having, I was told, less than 100 members. Ben-Gurion, the first Prime Minister of Israel, lived on the kibbutz for many years. I was told however that he had never become a member of the kibbutz. (Other Cabinet Ministers who lived on kibbutzim were members of the kibbutzim they lived on). Ben-Gurion had a small wooden hut to himself on Kibbutz Sde-Boker. He had a single armed guard at the door, which was understandable, since a lot of people would have been only too glad to assassinate him, even in retirement. However, this armed guard was the only sign that there was anyone of importance living in that hut. And other Cabinet Ministers living on kibbutzim lived like everyone else, without anything to show that a Minister was living there.
Except for the armed guard and a radio communication tower next to his hut, Ben-Gurion lived like any other kibbutznik, to all intents and purposes. Kibbutz Sde-Boker is such a sharp contrast, standing as it does with its trees and lawns bang in the middle of a desert stretching for miles around in every direction, that the first sight I had of it will always remain in my memory. It symbolised for me the Israeli reputation for "making the desert bloom".
I also visited another kibbutz in the desert, Ein-Gedi. This is also a small kibbutz, situated on the shores of the Dead Sea, close to a natural oasis which is often visited by tourists. It had a beautiful little round dining hall.
Among other kibbutzim I visited were Nir Eliyahu, Hazorea and Ein Ha-Shofet. (This was all before I joined Tsor'ah; afterwards I visited dozens more). At Nir Eliyahu I spent a week-end with a friend. The atmosphere was much more friendly than at Na'an; they also had a traditional Jewish Sabbath service on Friday evening, with lighting of candles and wine in the traditional Jewish manner. It is a much smaller kibbutz than Na'an, though perhaps not as small as Sde-Boker. It was at the time much less developed. It had, to the best of my knowledge, no factory at that time.
At Kibbutz Hazorea I attended a dance performance given by a friend of mine from Jerusalem. Hazorea is in the Jezreel Valley in the North of Israel and had (I thought at the time) the most beautiful dining hall I had ever seen. I spent only one evening there, unfortunately. I spent a weekend at Kibbutz Ein Ha-Shofet with my friend the dancer, who had been a volunteer there for some months. In this way I had come to know some other kibbutzim besides Na'an. Na'an was, however, the wealthiest one I had seen so far.
I also visited Kibbutz Kfar Ha-Nassi with another friend. This friend was born on the kibbutz but wanted to leave it -- at least for a while -- and live in Jerusalem. When I visited the kibbutz I found it very nice indeed. It was populated by many people from England. The intellectual calibre of the members appeared very high, and the atmosphere too appeared friendly. It was beautifully landscaped and tended. I said to my friend: "I can't understand why you want to leave this fine place!" At the time I was also looking around for a kibbutz to work on till university started, but I preferred it to be near Jerusalem, while Kfar Ha-Nassi is very far to the North. My friend had friends at Tsor'ah, so that is where I went.
About half the population of Tsor'ah was from South Africa, and the rest were mostly Israelis. The atmosphere was therefore distinctly Anglo-Saxon, and particularly South African. I found it very much to my liking. English was spoken quite often, and so was Afrikaans sometimes. It had about 400 inhabitants -- men, women and children -- when I joined. It was therefore much smaller than Na'an. It was considered to be a "poor" kibbutz when I joined; and indeed, compared to Na'an, it was. However, this only meant that they still ate in the old dining hall put up some years after the foundation of the kibbutz, and had some older equipment compared with that at Na'an. It was founded around 1950 -- that is, after Israel achieved independence. So it did not have huge trees and extensive orchards as Na'an did. (Most trees on kibbutzim were planted after their establishment, by their founders; originally, almost all kibbutzim were established on barren land).
Tsor'ah was, however, distinctly more friendly than Na'an; people used to greet each other pleasantly in the morning, and stop by for chatting in the gardens rather than passing by in glum silence. The oldest member of Tsor'ah was, at the time, around 45 years old. The Secretary was a lady. The office was in a wooden hut. The garden was nice, but not groomed to perfection like at Na'an. Punctuality was not stressed to the extent it was at Na'an. Almost half the population of the kibbutz -- or maybe more than half -- was at the time children. It was exceedingly pleasant to see all the little faces. They were everywhere; they used to turn up at work, and at tea time and dinner time and all other times. They all seemed very healthy, vivacious and cheeky. They used to accost newcomers with the question "What is your name?" and they all wanted stamps to collect.
They all had bicycles, since Tsor'ah had at that time a bicycle factory. The size of the kibbutz was closer to the human scale; it was possible to see it all, lands included, from the top of a hill close by. The total area of the land was about 2,000 dunams. It was not very good land either, in contrast with Na'an, which had prime agricultural land. It was full of limestone, and rather rocky. It had been found unsuitable for vegetable growing. Some of it was unsuitable for growing anything, and was used for grazing sheep. It had some orchards, which, however, were said to be rather unprofitable. It had a dairy of about 200 Israeli-Friesian high yielding cows, and also raised turkeys. It had a vineyard as well. Most of the land was used for growing irrigated and un-irrigated field crops, and fodder for the cattle.
My "Adoptive Family"
I was adopted -- in a very real sense, not just formally -- by a family called Abrahams. Arthur Abrahams was from Cape Town, and had studied to be a lawyer in South Africa because his father had wanted him to do so. However his desire as a youth had been to emigrate to Israel and work on a kibbutz; so when he came of age he said good bye to his family and came away to Tsor'ah. He changed his name to Aaron Avraham, which was less Anglo-Saxon sounding. He spoke excellent Hebrew and when I first met him sported a beautiful Israeli-style walrus moustache, to which he later added a beard. He used to crack no end of jokes, all of which I used to laugh at heartily, since I had never heard them before: everyone else used to groan at them, having heard them all so often. He had a very infectious laugh. He considered himself as having a rotten personality, but I found him charming. His wife Yaeli was born in Israel of a Scandinavian mother and a Polish father and had spent much of her youth in India where her father had been a trader in peanuts. She had distinctly Scandinavian features and in her youth looked like Ingrid Bergman (judging from a photograph I saw).
Both Arthur and Yaeli were very tall, and their three daughters appeared to promise to rise to even greater heights. The youngest daughter, Inbal, took a strong liking to me in those days. She was at the time about seven years old. All this made me feel very much at home and no doubt contributed to the good time I had there. It could have been different had I not met the Abrahams at Tsor'ah. Social "fitting-in" is more important than almost anything else on a kibbutz; much more so than material luxuries anyway.
Arthur was the merakez of the sheep branch. There was a tendency at the time for people to shy away from work in the sheep branch, perhaps because it was considered more "primitive" than the other branches; or perhaps because of the smell. (I didn't mind the smell myself, but a lot of others did.) So Arthur did not have enough people to work in the branch. I was therefore taken by him to the sheep shed and started work there. This was the beginning of a long association with the sheep branch. I ultimately became very expert in the branch and was at one time considered to be the best shepherd in the kibbutz.
One of the others working in the sheep branch was an Israeli Arab called Abu Yussuf. He used to come daily from an Arab village some miles away. He preferred to work in Tsor'ah rather than in his own village. He got a regular salary for his work. He was not a member of the kibbutz. He was quite expert in the practical aspects of sheep farming. We got to be quite friendly with one another. He told me that he had been born in what was at the time Palestine, and during the War of Independence in 1948 had found himself caught on the Jordanian side of Jerusalem. So he had spent many years in the Jordanian Police Force. In 1967, as a result of the Six Day War and the subsequent Israeli victory, he found himself back in Israel. So he returned to his village which had all the time been on the Israeli side, and ultimately became an Israeli citizen.
His case was unique in Tsor'ah in that he became almost a fixture there for years. Other Arabs working in Tsor'ah never became so much a fixture. I found out that Tsor'ah was quite easy-going with regard to such non-members. Tsor'ah had other categories of non-members also, more so than at Na'an. I shall say more about them presently.
After work -- which was never more than 8 hours a day, and if I was doing the night shift was 7 hours, or a split shift, 6 hours -- I was completely free. At the time I was trying to study hard for my first year at the University, which I dreaded, since I had found it difficult even to make up the gaps in my pre-university education. Besides, my knowledge of Hebrew was still not too good. So I used to spend a lot of my spare time studying. Arthur knew this, and he used to arrange matters in order to let me study as much as I could, so that I would have it easy when university started. Yaeli also saw to it that I had no difficulties of a material nature. She had a genuine "mother instinct" and tended to adopt every second person who came to the kibbutz. Arthur did not like that generally, but in my case he did not mind, and we got along very well.
It must be emphasised that one's free hours on the kibbutz were really free. There was no shopping, washing up, housework or any other work to be done; all such work was done by teams of persons whose job was to do it. One ate one's meals in the dining room and dumped the plates into the sink to be washed up by others. One marked one's clothes with one's number, and threw them in the laundry to be washed by others. Gardening was done by the gardeners, house repair was done by the team meant for that purpose, and so on. Of course one had to do everything required of one, but that was during one's working time only. After that one was completely free to do what one felt like doing -- even nothing at all, if one so desired.
Of course a lot of people did do something by way of a hobby or recreation -- gardening, cooking, painting, ceramics, sport, exercise, reading, listening to music -- the list was endless. This was just unimaginable in town in Israel. In the kibbutz one lived as if one had servants without actually having servants. Therefore many people worked, as I have said, more than was required of them, because they had the extra time as much as for any other reason. I have known persons working 12- and 14-hour days continuously, without any extra benefit from it. Yaeli for instance used to work very hard, and when she was not working at her regular place of work -- in the children's house -- she would be doing something in her own home: cleaning, cooking, re-arranging and so on.
Some people considered this sort of tendency unhealthy, and did not encourage it. It was felt that a person should relax after work. Nevertheless many people did work more than was required of them, not because they were made to but because they felt like doing it. In my opinion -- shared by many others -- this is all due to the very special atmosphere created by the unique structure of the kibbutz. These same people would probably not work in this fashion if they lived in town and had to do their shopping, cooking, clothes-washing and mending, household repairs, and so on, in addition to their regular wage-earning work.
This factor used to lead to the peculiar situation, that even casual guests on the kibbutz, who had never been on a kibbutz before, used to feel uncomfortable if they were not assigned some work. So they were given some work if they so desired -- generally in the kitchen.
Organisation of Work
Work, as I have said, was normally done by teams. Each branch had a team, and it was important, for one's own peace of mind as for any other reason, to get along with one's team-mates. In the Sheep Branch, besides Arthur and Abu Yussuf, I had a team-mate called Barry. He was from Cape Town and was very intelligent. He had compiled a small booklet on kibbutzim written by kibbutzniks, wherein the kibbutzniks examine and criticise themselves from their own point of view. It is more a book for kibbutzniks, since I do not think a non-kibbutznik can understand much of it. Barry left the kibbutz a few years later to study for a doctorate at the London School of Economics. He used to tell me that he could not consider himself living in Israel in any place except on a kibbutz. This is what I came to feel myself. However he had inherited some money for a college education, and he felt he had to avail of the opportunity while he was young. That was why he left to go to London.
Arthur, as I have said, had studied to be a lawyer. This was not so much because he wanted to be a lawyer, as much as the fact that his father had said to him: "Till you're 21 you do as I say; after you're 21 you do as you wish". So on his 21st birthday -- so he informed me -- he said to his family: "Good-bye folks! I've booked myself a ticket to Israel." He did not like paper work, but was a voracious reader and had an enormous capacity for general knowledge. In particular he knew a lot about farming, and I think I learnt more agriculture from him than from the University. He also knew a lot about archaeology, particularly Israeli archaeology. All my conversations with him were interesting. He could talk on an amazing number of subjects with authoritative knowledge. He had spent two years at the Faculty of Agriculture of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, as I did subsequently; however, unlike me he did not get -- nor did he want -- a degree. He only wanted the knowledge. He said that in his day it was common at the University for the kibbutzniks in his class to get grades in the 80s and 90s, whereas the townspeople got grades in the 60s and 70s. Yet the kibbutzniks were not there to get a degree or even a qualification to enable them to earn a living, but purely for the sake of knowledge. This and other observations convinced me that motivation was never effective when it was due to the temptation of money; that in fact higher values motivated people more.
In the winter there was a lot of work with the sheep, but in the summer it was much less. I was therefore asked to work for a while in the dining room, and later with the gardening team. Everywhere I got along fine, but I always enjoyed working with the sheep branch team best.
Atmosphere of the Kibbutz
The kibbutz had a lovely swimming pool, and in the hot weather I used to spend a lot of time in it. I also made friends with some of the volunteers, but these were not very close friendships.
When University started I left the kibbutz and moved into the University dorms in Jerusalem. I used to visit Tsor'ah on weekends though -- once I even walked to the kibbutz from Jerusalem with two friends, which took us a whole day over the Judaean Hills -- and so I kept up my contact with Tsor'ah. Arthur once asked me whether I would like to work with the sheep branch on Saturdays and thereby earn some money. I was only too happy to do so. Though I was paid by cheque for my work, I could never bring myself to cash it. It felt wrong somehow. One developed a kind of loyalty to the kibbutz which is hard to explain, but which made one feel that one should give more to the kibbutz than one took from it. This was felt not merely by me, but by persons who never felt that way before about any other organisation. This no doubt contributed to the success of the kibbutz. I feel that if this sort of atmosphere cannot be created on a kibbutz, the kibbutz will fail.
The creation of this atmosphere was partly an automatic result of the way people live together on the kibbutz, and partly a purposeful act on the part of the members. I can illustrate the latter by recounting an incident that took place during my early days there. Arthur and I were milking sheep at night -- in Israel sheep are milked and the milk is made into cheese -- and my duties included the setting up of the machine which helped milk the sheep and carried the milk to a refrigerated tank. After the milking, I was shocked to see that the pipe carrying the milk to the tank was lying on the floor and the last few drops of milk were running down the drain. It is possible that I had not tied it up properly, as I ought to have done. Anyway hundreds of litres of expensive sheep's milk had evidently gone down the drain through my negligence. Arthur looked at it, was silent for a second or two, and said in a quiet voice: "Don't do it again". You may be sure I did not. He never mentioned the incident again. I was eternally grateful for the way he handled the situation. After all, it was his responsibility as a merakez, but he had understood the psychology of the situation.
After my first year at the University I again came to Tsor'ah to work through the summer vacation. People knew me by then, so I fitted in easily. I also met an American girl called Lillah who was touring Israel and had come to Tsor'ah to visit some relatives there. We got very attached to each other, and she stayed on the kibbutz as a volunteer. She also applied to the University in Israel. We became quite a pair, and gossip was going round that it was very evident who the next couple on Tsor'ah were going to be. She had an extrovert nature and made friends easily, whereas I was shy by nature. So we complemented each other. She studied Hebrew in preparation for going to the University. She also applied to work in the sheep branch, which request was accepted with some reluctance by Arthur. But he did not have anything to worry about; she became quite a reliable worker. Eventually Arthur often used to send the two of us to work together during the milking shift at night. He could rely on us to get by without having to run for help.
This companionship with Lillah was very helpful to me. In many ways I owe her a lot. It was more due to her than to my own efforts that I became well versed in the ways of the kibbutz. A kibbutz, as one of the members of Tsor'ah once said, is basically people. It is not buildings, equipment, land -- though all these count. But it is the people that are the most important.
Detailed Workings of the Kibbutz
In this period I got to understand the working of Tsor'ah as a kibbutz in great detail. I found out that in addition to the categories of people mentioned earlier, there were other categories of people also. There were, for instance, Parents of Members. They were not members, and did not participate in the democratic process of running the kibbutz. They were for the most part aged people who were past retirement age. They did some work -- according to their capacity -- but not necessarily full time. They were not required to. Some of them wrote. Others just lived on the kibbutz.
Then there was a doctor living on the kibbutz, who was also not a member. He had no desire to become one. He was paid by the kibbutz, and he looked after the health of everyone living there. He had a nice cottage on the kibbutz, and possessed a car. He also used to go for work to Jerusalem.
I have mentioned Abu Yussuf's special relationship with the kibbutz. He was not the only Arab working on it, however. Many Arabs worked at construction jobs, but their presence hardly touched the social side of the kibbutz, and I never got to know them.
Two or three other Arabs worked at one time or another with the sheep branch. One was a Bedouin called Muhammad. He and Abu Yussuf could never get along with one another: and I was told that Bedouins almost never get along with other Arabs, for some reason or other. He left not long after my joining. I remember a conversation I had with him. He asked me if I knew how and why rain falls. I gave him a long scientific explanation: how water evaporates from the sea, condenses into clouds and then into droplets and so on and so forth, and eventually falls to the ground as rain. He listened in silence -- a very reproachful silence, it seemed to me. At the end of my dissertation he asked me: "Have you never heard of Allah?"
Most of the children on the kibbutz were, of course, the natural children of the members, but some were also adopted. These could hardly be distinguished from the others. At least I could tell no difference between the way an adopted child was treated, compared to any other child. Once a family had adopted a child the kibbutz considered him or her no different from the other children.
Among the "volunteers" also there were differences. Some, like me, had come alone to the kibbutz. Others came in groups. In particular there were groups of devout Christians from a town called Bakersfield in California. They were all young, strong, healthy W.A.S.P.s. They were quite a contrast to the Jewish population. They worked excellently. They were quiet. They were considered to be the best volunteers Tsor'ah ever had. Among the volunteers who came individually there were great differences. Some of them were very eccentric. One of them, my first room-mate at Tsor'ah, was a Lutheran from Germany. He was convinced that all Jews were going to go to hell after death. He had come to Israel with the idea of "saving souls for Jesus". When he found out I was by birth a Zoroastrian, he told me that I would go to hell too. He had in his youth been obsessed with intense and recurring thoughts about TNT, dynamite and explosives of all kinds. He had become an expert in making these. It was a sort of madness with him. He said he had been saved from this madness by Jesus, who alone could have saved him. He was reputed to be an excellent worker. However, at Tsor'ah, in contrast to Na'an, being an excellent worker was not the only quality people looked for in their fellows. His constant efforts to save the members for Jesus jarred on their sense of Jewishness. He left not long after I joined.
Another eccentric volunteer was a Jewish boy who accepted Jesus as the Messiah. Such persons are sometimes impolitely called "Jews for Jesus". (Someone said: "Why not Jews for Muhammad also?") He was not out to save any souls, but it was generally felt that a Jew should not accept Jesus as the Messiah, so he was a bit of a misfit in Israel. All the same he stayed on in Tsor'ah as a volunteer for a number of months. A third volunteer, from England, used to sun-bathe in the nude on the common lawn. The kibbutz children used to have fun gathering round him when he was doing this. All these things were considered to be eccentricities, but were not necessarily bad enough to warrant expulsion of the volunteer. What was considered bad enough to warrant expulsion was drugs, molesting girls or stealing.
Then there were what were called shalatniks. These were young Israelis who should have been in the Army but for one reason or another were considered unfit for Army service. Some were conscientious objectors. Others were considered incapable of obeying orders and generally standing up to military discipline. They were given the choice of going to jail or serving the Nation by working out their conscription period in a kibbutz. Among these there were many who were intellectually quite brilliant. One in particular, a boy called Zvi, became a close friend of mine in my later years in Tsor'ah. He came of a brilliant family. His father, a geneticist, had worked with Prof. Har Gobind Khorana in the USA on the project which eventually won Prof. Khorana the Nobel Prize. His elder brother was in the sayyeret matcal, the crack Israeli commando regiment. Zvi was himself the Jerusalem high jump champ. He had however had a motorcycle accident in which he was the rider, in the course of which he had killed a friend. He himself had crashed against a telephone pole and as a result of this had lost all memory of the accident -- a case of amnesia. Perhaps as a result of this, or maybe as a result of feelings of mixed nature about his elder brother, he obstinately refused to follow orders in the Army. So he was sent on shalat (this is the Hebrew acronym for "Service to the Nation"). He ended up working with us in the sheep branch. Since in the kibbutz orders as such were not given -- not by Arthur anyway -- he worked very well, and after a while Arthur was satisfied with his work. He had a very high IQ. He told me that when he was in school he used to cut classes and instead go to the Knesset and sit in on the proceedings in the visitors' gallery. As a result he became a great expert in Israeli politics. He also used to see lots of movies, and as a result he became a very knowledgeable person about all the world's best movies. We had innumerable interesting conversations and got to be very friendly.
Another shalatnik was a boy from West Berlin. He had been born in Israel of a Jewish family, so he was automatically conscripted at the age of 18. However he did not wish to serve in the Army and was sent on shalat to Tsor'ah where he was "adopted" by Yaeli and Arthur. After his shalat period he went back to Berlin, as he felt that Israel was too militaristic for his temperament. Having known innumerable shalatniks and also others on the kibbutzim, I was reminded of Bernard Shaw's dictum that revolutionary movements attract two kinds of people -- those who are not good enough for society and those who are too good for it. Of course, everyone likes to consider himself or herself in the latter category and thinks of the others as in the former category. I found many persons in what I personally considered to be both categories.
Candidates for Membership
Candidates for membership at Tsor'ah were of two types: those who came individually and those who came in groups called gar'inim.Gar'in is the Hebrew word for "nucleus", and the suffix "...im" signifies the plural. The gar'inim were generally composed of young high school graduates from Jerusalem who had expressed a wish to try out the kibbutz way of life with a view to ultimately settle on a kibbutz. A couple of gar'inim were from abroad also. The members of the gar'in were therefore all young and presumably dynamic. Generally a few of them stayed on as members after their stay as a gar'in, which was about a year or sometimes more. Other members of the gar'inim found that the kibbutz way of life was not for them, and left to start life in town. It was a matter of personal choice.
Those candidates who came individually -- or sometimes as couples, with or without children -- were as a rule somewhat older. Some were members of another kibbutz who wanted to change their kibbutz for one reason or another. One of the reasons people came to Tsor'ah was that it was reasonably close to Jerusalem, the Holy City. Even people who were not in any sense religious were pulled to Jerusalem. Other candidates were South Africans who found the politics of that country very distasteful even though they were in the favoured white minority. They were looking for a more just way of life and hoped to find it on a kibbutz. They gave up a great many material comforts in order to live on the kibbutz, which, comfortable as it was, was no comparison to the luxurious villas, servants, country clubs and posh cars of South Africa. Other candidates had married kibbutz members, and wanted to become members also. In the kibbutz, each person had to be elected member in his or her own right; it was not enough to be married to a member to become one. I have known one person who was married to a member whose application for membership was rejected by the General Meeting for three consecutive years. Other candidates for membership were older people, whose services for one reason or another the kibbutz wanted. Generally however candidates for membership were young.
Among the volunteers one peculiar class of volunteer was the dentist. He was often from the USA, a volunteer dentist who wanted to work for a while on a kibbutz to see what it was like. Since Tsor'ah had no resident dentist -- though it did have a fairly well equipped dental surgery -- it needed dentists to do this kind of work. When there was no volunteer dentist the kibbutz used to get a dentist from Jerusalem a few times a week.
Among the members also there were differences, not overt so much as "understood". Many of the members did not bother to attend the weekly General Meetings, and among them was Arthur. They felt that it was a waste of time. They did not want to get involved in the detailed running of the kibbutz and felt that they had enough to do as is was. Others were regular attendees of meetings and were often elected office bearers. Among these some were "old-timers" (that is, 40 years of age and over), while others were youngsters. Basically a hard core of twenty or so old-timers really ran the place. Of course, all members were entitled to attend General Meetings and stand for election as office bearers.
As I have said, most work was done by teams. There was a team for the dairy, another for the orchards, another for the turkeys, and so on. There were also different teams for the kitchen, the dining room, the laundry and so on. However, not all work was necessarily done by teams. One particular case was that of a member who was a professional photographer. He worked alone. He had an excellent darkroom and equipment which the kibbutz had purchased for him. All his earnings, of course, went to the kibbutz treasury. When he was not working as a photographer he used to work casually in some branch or other.
There were also a sculptor and a painter who used to spend part of their time working at these pursuits. They had fairly well equipped studios for their work, all provided by the kibbutz of course.
Other members were students at the University. They studied during the week and worked on the kibbutz during the week-ends. One of them, Les Oshri, was a student at the Faculty of Agriculture where I was studying. He was one year ahead of me. When he finished studying the course he became the merakez of the Field Crops Branch and made that branch very profitable, growing record yields of maize and cotton. Another was studying Farm Economics; he later became Estate Manager. While they were studying they drew money for their university and other expenses in town from the kibbutz treasury. A member had to get the permission of the General Meeting to study. This was not so much because of the expense involved but because hands were needed to do work on the kibbutz. There is no such thing as unemployment on any kibbutz -- just the opposite; there are always too few hands and too much work to be done. So if the General Meeting felt the person wanting to study was more needed at the kibbutz, they would ask him to wait a year or two before going to the University. No one was actually denied a university education, however. It was just a question of how long he would have to wait. If a person had his or her own money for a university education they were expected to use it for that purpose. If they did not have money however, the kibbutz would foot the bill. (This applied to university in Israel only. If a person wanted to study abroad he had to leave the kibbutz, or at least take leave of absence from it, and find his or her own way of financing the education. This, as I have said, is what Barry did). The kibbutz considered the investment on education well spent, and as a general rule those who had been educated at the kibbutz's expense easily made up for the money spent on them by becoming experts in one branch or another and thereby increasing the productivity of the kibbutz.
However, it was not necessary to study some farming or industrial subject. One could study psychology or arts if one wished. Moreover, one could study at institutions other than at the University, like for instance the Bezalel Academy for Art in Jerusalem or the Rupin Institute for Farm Management which was wholly financed by kibbutzim from all over Israel. One could even study sport at the Wingate Institute for Sport and Physical Education. These institutions did not necessarily give a degree. As I said earlier, a person's university degree did not matter in the very least to the kibbutz.
Education of Children
As far as the education of children of the members goes, they were educated in the kibbutz's own institutions -- kindergartens, primary schools and high schools -- till the age of 18, then (like all other Israelis) had to spend two-and-a-half years (for girls) or three years (for boys) in the Armed Forces. After this, if they so desired, the kibbutz would finance university education for them up to the bachelor's degree. If they wanted to study further, it was not difficult to get scholarships of one nature or the other. So in actual fact one could study as much as one was really capable of studying. Daniel Barenboim, one of the world's greatest musicians, had a kibbutz education in music, I am told, till it was fairly oozing out of his ears. Today he is world famous. (Of course all this is hearsay -- I never knew him personally; so take this information with a pinch of salt.)
At Tsor'ah, as at Kfar Ha-Nassi and (I believe) at Deganiya -- the first-established kibbutz in Israel -- children slept with their parents. This was however uncommon on kibbutzim. On most kibbutzim children slept in their own quarters; in fact in the kibbutzim belonging to the Ha-Shomer Ha-Tza'ir movement (of which I shall speak later) they had a sort of mini-kibbutz-within-the-kibbutz, with their own dining rooms and little farm and schools and clubs and all sorts of facilities which people in town might go begging for and never find in the richest countries. I had several friends who had grown up in this fashion. They assured me that their youth had been the best time of their lives. I was at one time not in favour of this system of bringing up children, but after speaking with those who were brought up this way I have changed my opinion, and I think there can be nothing like it for educating the youngsters through the very process of living itself. It is not as if they were cut off from their parents -- like children at a boarding school -- because the parents live in the same area just a stone's throw away. There were no walls, boundaries or fences -- one could see one's children (if one was a parent) or one's parents (if one was a child) at any time at will. Yet it had all the advantages of the best boarding schools as well.
Children of members did not become members until they applied for membership after having done their high school education and Army (or shalat) service. Not all applied for membership. Many want to "see the world" a bit to decide which is better, the kibbutz or the rest of the world. Some even wanted to go to other countries. Nevertheless a large number eventually did go back to a kibbutz -- not necessarily the one they were born on -- and this went on for the next generation. (It is to be remembered, however, that this applies to the period when I was In Israel, and may not be the same today.) Deganiya, the first kibbutz, established around 1905 or thereabouts near the Sea of Galilee -- by, among others, the parents of Moshe Dayan -- has now the fourth or fifth generation of founders living on it. I unfortunately have never visited it, but I am told it is very beautiful and certainly very stable and successful.
A child born on a kibbutz, if he applied for membership, was not automatically entitled to it, but it would have been strange indeed to find such an application turned down. At Tsor'ah, however, I do not recollect any child born there old enough to apply for membership. But maybe I am just getting forgetful.
The educational system of kibbutzim was rather more free than that in towns. At one time, I am told, kibbutz children of high school age did not even sit for the bagrut, the official Israeli school leaving certificate examination. Children were encouraged to study any subject they found themselves best suited for. Daniel Barenboim, I am told, studied hardly any other subject except music. Children were encouraged, but by no means compelled, to go to class.
I recollect one case during my later years at Tsor'ah of a boy called Yonathan (Yoni for short). He was at the time about seven years of age. He used to come to my room quite often and I got to be very friendly with him at his level. He used to turn up at all odd hours and I found out that he never went to classes. I also found out that he did not know how to read or write. I was told he just could not concentrate in class and was considered to be a retarded child. I was surprised to hear this because I had found him extraordinarily intelligent -- far more so than his age warranted. He was one of the few persons on the kibbutz -- whether child or adult -- who was capable of repairing my Norwegian-made ten-speed bicycle. I am fond of Chinese and Japanese calligraphy, and had some fine examples of Kanji in the Zen style displayed on the wall of my room. He took an interest in the ideograms and asked me what they meant, and copied a few quite well. So he learnt to write Chinese before he learnt to write Hebrew! (This was before I found out he could not read and write Hebrew.) I understood therefore that he was much too intelligent for his class, and found the proceedings in the class boring and slow; so naturally he used to cut classes and go where he could really learn something, which as often as not would be in my room.
Another child was really retarded and was helped in every way to do whatever he could. I was for a while working as a metapel with the children -- the word means "caregiver" literally, but in practice it is much more than that -- and I could observe how the members encouraged him in every way and took particular care of him.
After my summer vacation was over I went back to the University but kept coming back every weekend and in a way I was accepted to be a sort of "permanent volunteer" by the kibbutz. Nothing down in writing, of course, or even in spoken words, just a sort of understanding. This sort of relationship was unusual in the extreme, but nevertheless it worked out quite well. I used to work on some weekends -- not all -- mostly in the sheep branch, and generally speaking considered myself a part of the kibbutz, though not a member. Of course, during the week I was at the University, living in the dormitories. At vacation time I was full-time at the kibbutz and worked six days a week. This arrangement continued for about five more years, in fact till the day I left Israel on November 8, 1976.
The room in which I lived on the kibbutz was one of four in a prefabricated wooden hut which had been put up during the days in which the kibbutz had been founded (in the early fifties). It was very small, and so, in order to save space, I and my room-mates had not put in any furniture, but had instead put down rugs and mattresses on the floor on which I and my guests sat and chatted, and on which I and my room-mates slept at night. A rule was made that people were to remove their shoes before entering, and generally speaking people did not protest about this. The walls of the room were pinned up with beautiful pictures, and I also hung up some bookshelves made of raw pinewood, supported by ropes. Two closets along one side, with only curtains for doors, contained clothing and other things. I shared this room with Lillah and Sandy, another girl from America. This sort of living arrangement was not considered too abnormal on the kibbutz. In fact the idea of setting up the room as described was Lillah's to begin with. Both she and Sandy contributed greatly to making it a very pleasant and beautiful room to live in, as they had very good taste.
We had no bathroom, and all four of the rooms of the hut had only one cold water tap with a sink, out in the open without even a roof over it. For toilets we used the public toilets about 50 metres away, or, in an emergency, the toilets of the next-door kindergarten. For showers we went to the public showers. This arrangement was by no means uncomfortable, at least for me, except during illness. In fact I can say with confidence that I have never lived more comfortably anywhere else in my life, and would not have exchanged my room in the wooden hut for any of the more modern brick and cement apartments allotted to the other people, especially the members. In this taste I was not alone. As I have mentioned, Ben-Gurion, the first Prime Minister of Israel and one who was considered in a way to be the "Father of the Nation", preferred to live in a wooden hut on Kibbutz Sde-Boker. On Kibbutz Na'an also, many of the old members continued to live in the wooden huts put up in the early days of the kibbutz, and would not move under any circumstances to the modern apartments built for younger members. The only thing I regret is not having created a garden around the hut, as many had on Na'an. The gardens around the huts at Na'an were really something to behold. Of course, the usual garden of the kibbutz, tended by the regular gardening team, existed round the hut as around all the other structures of the kibbutz. But generally the inhabitants did some gardening in a small area adjacent to their living quarters to make them really beautiful and to give their lodgings an individual touch.
In general the members kept their homes very neat and clean, and the volunteers kept their quarters very messy and in disorder. All this was accepted without much concern. Even among the members, there was a vast difference as to how people kept their homes. Yaeli for instance was forever cleaning the home and so it looked as if one could eat off the floor. Her furniture was of the simplest. Another family kept their home in such a state of confusion that it gave the impression that they had just moved in with all their belongings from another place. Some others had elegant furniture and music equipment, mostly brought over from South Africa. All homes were small and I doubt that any one person had more than about 60 square feet of living space to himself or herself, except under rare circumstances. Living space is at a premium in Israel, not only on kibbutzim. One had to learn to share living space. However, in all my nine years in Israel, I cannot recollect ever having had a bad room-mate.
The kibbutz had a gymnasium -- which was actually the first dining hall of the kibbutz, put up at the time of its founding, with tin roof and walls -- and I used to practice karate there which I had learnt at the University. Other members got interested in it, and a person called Dan, who taught karate in Jerusalem, and who knew one of the members, was invited to come and teach it, which he agreed to do. He belonged to a school of karate which did not accept any money for teaching, and that was more in keeping with the philosophy of the kibbutz. He said his teacher, who was in England, and who was, according to him, the best proponent of the art he had ever known, would come and give lessons if his air fare to Israel and back was paid at least partly by the kibbutz. The kibbutz agreed and his teacher, O-sensei Terry Dukes, Fourth dan black belt holder in Mu-Shin-Do Karate-Do, came and gave some lessons. I found out that he was a Zen Buddhist Monk and knew the Ven. Sangharakshita, whom I had known when I was growing up in India. I also considered him the best proponent of the art I have ever seen, and adopted this style of karate which I have been practising ever since. Many of the youngsters on the kibbutz learnt the art with varying degrees of proficiency.
The Yom Kippur War
On October 6, 1973, the Yom Kippur War broke out. I was on the kibbutz for the weekend and heard about it first on Yom Kippur at about 2.00 p.m. Naturally most of the male adults were conscripted, and this left Tsor'ah with very few men. I was not called up, not being an Israeli citizen, but of course I took up a large part of the load of looking after the sheep branch, along with Abu Yussuf, who was also not called up. In fact it was mostly Abu Yussuf, Lillah and I who were running the sheep branch for a while. The University closed down, so there was no point going there any more, and I stayed on the kibbutz for quite a while.
In Israel all males up to the age of 55 or so have to serve in the Armed Forces on Reserve duty. This means 45 to 60 days a year regularly, and in emergencies like wars even beyond the regular period. For persons living in town, particularly self-employed persons, this means that for one-and-a-half or two months of the year the work they are doing comes to a standstill. For a kibbutz this was not so; someone else took the place of the person on reserve duty. Nothing came to a stop though it might slow down a bit. Even when, as during the Yom Kippur War, about 60 per cent of the males of Tsor'ah were at one time in the Army, all the branches of the kibbutz were functioning. This is a great source of strength of the kibbutz, and indeed it enables them to fight a war and engage in productive activity simultaneously, which would otherwise be very difficult.
In fact, from the purely physical point of view, the persons who stayed behind on the kibbutz hardly suffered from the Yom Kippur War. Of course, from the psychological point of view it was very bad. During the first two days particularly it was rather clear that Israel was getting the worst of it. Although I do not think anyone, at least on Tsor'ah, thought that Israel would be defeated, I do believe a great many were wondering how stiff a price Israel would have to pay this time. And then later, as the news of the casualties began to come in, the news of the dead and wounded -- many of who were known personally to the members and some of whom were members of Tsor'ah -- brought on a very black feeling of gloom. In the first few days, in fact, news came of three of the members of Tsor'ah having lost their lives. Arthur said to me: "The worst thing about it is that the best fellows lose their lives." It was a horrible feeling. I could not bring myself to say anything, even words of condolence, to the widows and children of the killed members. What could mere words express?
Though the War was over in about three weeks, the fellows on Reserve duty stayed on in the Army for a much longer period. Only after three months or so did the population of Tsor'ah return to normal -- or near normal -- like what it was before the War. Things would never be the same again, though, at any event psychologically.
Nevertheless from the physical point of view, as I have said, Tsor'ah was not much affected, and the new buildings which were always being constructed on kept on coming up. This was a period in which they were building a new, much bigger Dining Hall, which was designed by a member of the kibbutz who had a talent in that direction. If I remember correctly, the new Dining Hall was inaugurated around this time. It was a beautiful large, modern structure with a lovely view from its large picture windows. Now we would eat in style. We still did not eat on china plates though, as they did at Na'an, because we did not have an automatic dish-washing machine and had to wash the plates by hand. In order to save on the weight of the plates for 500 persons, they were of melamine plastic. I often washed the dishes along with a couple of others. It was fun, with water splashing all over and the radio blaring music. It took about two and a half hours. Of course, if I washed plates, I got that much time off from my other work.
After about three months the University opened again and I went back. Unfortunately, I don't know how, I contracted hepatitis soon after start of classes. It may have been due to poor sanitary conditions at the University dorms, or it may have been an imperfectly sterilised injection needle through which I was given an anti-tetanus injection at the time. Anyway I was completely down and out. I first got the attack at the University but as I could no longer study I was brought back to Tsor'ah in a taxi by Lillah. In that state I could not live any more in the room I was sharing with Lillah and Sandy, because of the lack of bathroom and toilet, so I was put up in the house of a family which had left to go to South Africa for a vacation. These houses were never locked up by the owners. All their furniture and belongings were there and yet -- as in my case -- if it was necessary they were used by someone else. This was another case of the tremendous trust people put in each other on a kibbutz. Lillah lived with me and looked after me as a nurse part of the time, for which she naturally got so many hours off her working time.
Allopathy, or the modern system of medicine -- the only system of medicine available on Tsor'ah -- has no cure for hepatitis, and care and nursing are the best it can do. Lillah looked after me so well that after about two weeks I was no longer feeling any pain or nausea, but was still very weak and could hardly walk. My blood was checked every week at the kibbutz clinic. Only when I was found to be clear of the disease, as determined by the blood test, was I allowed to come out of the house. I stayed for two months laid up, most of the time in bed. Without Lillah's looking after me I would have been miserable. As it is however I recovered fast -- relatively -- and fairly pleasantly. I used to spend the days listening to the classical music programmes on the radio -- of which there were a great many -- and reading. I read a lot of good literature -- Kon-Tiki, The Three Musketeers, The Man in the Iron Mask, and many other books. My real education in western classical music also really began at that time. I became a very knowledgeable person about music after this period. Israel, of course, being populated by Jews, is saturated with music. I shall have more to say about this later.
Around that time also, my mother, who had been suffering from an ulcer, came to Israel to be treated and if necessary to get herself operated upon. She arrived a little before I fell ill, and had extensive tests taken at the Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem. She visited Tsor'ah quite often and stayed for several days at a time. She was delighted with the kibbutz. She was of course ill and could not do any work. Nevertheless she told me that after a while she also felt that she ought to be doing some work. It is the atmosphere of the kibbutz that created this sort of feeling even in complete strangers.
It was decided by the doctors at Hadassah Hospital that she ought to undergo an operation. Since they were among the best doctors in Israel, she decided to let herself be operated upon, even though a chiropractor and another person from England who was a "Faith Healer" suggested that she should not be operated. The operation was performed in Hadassah by one of Israel's top surgeons. After the operation she had to recuperate somewhere, and it was decided that she would be most comfortable at the convalescence home situated at Kibbutz Giv'at Brenner.
Kibbutz Giv'at Brenner
Giv'at Brenner is situated on the outskirts of a town called Rehovot, but one would never know it -- it was surrounded by acres and acres of prime agricultural land on every side, with extensive orchards and fields on it, and huge trees. Nevertheless, its proximity to town encouraged many people working in town to prefer living on the kibbutz. In particular my mother, who was by nature a very out-going person and quick at making friends, got to know the family of a scientist working at the Weizmann Institute of Science -- which is a world-famous research and scientific establishment in Israel situated in Rehovot -- who was a member of the kibbutz. He used to go every day to the Institute and come back every evening. His wife, also a member of the kibbutz, worked in the Accounts department of the kibbutz. They lived in a wooden hut beautifully done up. His salary was paid directly by the Weizmann Institute into the treasury of the kibbutz. He took whatever he needed from the kibbutz -- in kind when he was there and in cash if he had to go to town.
This sort of arrangement was by no means uncommon on kibbutzim. Many people preferred the higher quality of life on the kibbutz to the -- presumably -- higher standards of living in town. One had to get permission from the kibbutz General Meeting to do this, but on some kibbutzim, particularly the larger ones, the permission was readily given. Many of Israel's top politicians also lived on kibbutzim. Among them were Yigal Allon and Levi Eshkol (the latter being Prime Minister of Israel at the time of the Six-Day War). Ben-Gurion, as I have said, lived on a kibbutz without even being a member of it.
Moreover, one did not have to have a very important job to do this. A girl I knew from Na'an worked in a minor capacity at the Faculty of Agriculture where I was studying. Of course, the cases of the more famous people were more widely known. These were more or less purely material arrangements between the persons concerned and the kibbutz, and did not always have anything to do with sharing the ideology of the kibbutz. On a huge kibbutz like Giv'at Brenner there could not have been much of a common ideology anyway, except that they all wanted a kibbutz life and not a town life.
Kibbutz Giv'at Brenner was one of the two largest kibbutzim in Israel -- the other being Yagur. It is situated not far from Na'an and also not far from the Faculty of Agriculture of the Hebrew University where I was studying. (The Faculty of Agriculture of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem is in fact just across the road from the Weizmann Institute in Rehovot.) Kibbutz Giv'at Brenner was so huge that they had to have street signs to show people where to go. It had several "suburbs", each with its own distinct characteristics. It had not just one but three huge factories. It also ran a convalescence home for people recovering from illnesses and for people with shattered nerves. This was an earning arm of the kibbutz. One paid to go there. My mother spent a fairly long time there and I used to go visit her almost every afternoon from the University.
My mother also made friends with one of the first members of Giv'at Brenner. She was an aged lady whose husband had passed away and whose son had been killed in one of the wars. She was well known to the whole kibbutz, huge as it was. She was living on very bravely in spite of the numerous personal tragedies she had experienced. She told us of the early days of the kibbutz. In those days people did not have many clothes and some had arrived with only the clothes on their backs. So it had been decided that all the clothes of all the members would be pooled and given out to all who needed them. She said, "I had, among my few clothes, a dress which had been given to me by my mother -- a beautiful dress, to which I was greatly attached and which I had brought for use on special occasions. I of course put this dress also in the common pool. It was given to a girl more or less my size. Imagine my shock to see this girl wearing this dress to work the next day and getting it all dirty and torn."
Nevertheless, she said, people enjoyed themselves more in those days -- talking about the founding days of the kibbutz. This was in the '30s. Many old members of different kibbutzim said the same thing: that though in those days there hardly any material comforts to speak of -- people lived in tents, mosquitoes were ubiquitous, eggs were rationed to one a week, and one could eat chicken only under two conditions: if one was sick or the chicken was sick -- all the same the atmosphere on the kibbutzim was much stronger and comradeship more close.
The lady I have written about above asked me once what I thought of kibbutz life in general. I said I found it very much to my liking. She said, "Maybe; but I myself think the kibbutz has failed in its mission. We started out with such high ideals but we have come to value the material above the non-material aspects of kibbutz life". I mention this to show that people had extremely high hopes of the kibbutz when it started. It is not surprising, in my opinion, that all the hopes were not realised. What is surprising is that so many of the ideals have been realised. But of course to one who had lived through the early days it must have been a bit of a let-down to hear the modern generation speak of stereo sets and blue jeans.
Of course, by the time I got to Israel, all kibbutzim -- even the so-called "poorest" -- had plenty of material comforts and there was no such thing as real deprivation such as I heard the old-timers talk about. But I could well picture to myself what it must have been like. I had seen slides of Tsor'ah taken at the time of its founding. The entire country all around looked like a rocky waste land -- which, in fact, it was. There was not a tree in sight. No cultivated fields, no buildings, no roads, and the hostile border with Jordan only a few miles away. Members picked cotton with their bare hands, and there was no hired labour. Vegetables wouldn't grow in the calcareous soil. The heat was oppressive in the hot weather and there was no heating in the winter. And yet they all said: "We had more fun in those days".
Giv'at Brenner had a high school to which kibbutz children from a number of kibbutzim -- including Tsor'ah -- came daily by bus. It was considered uneconomical to have a high school on every kibbutz, since there may not be enough children of high school age to fill the classes. So generally a few kibbutzim in a given area got together, pooled their resources and set up a high school on a suitably located kibbutz. Such a one was on Giv'at Brenner, and I used to take the school bus from Tsor'ah sometimes so that I could visit my mother at Giv'at Brenner when she was there. During these trips I got to see the school. It was one of the best-equipped schools I had seen anywhere in the world up till that time, including Western Europe (I had previously lived in Germany, England and Italy). It had just about every educational aid one could wish for. Teachers were from the various kibbutzim from which the children came, so there was close parent-teacher contact, even after classes. This is normally very difficult, if at all possible, in an urban setting.
When my mother recovered from her operation sufficiently to take walks, she and I used to go rambling in the fields and orchards of Giv'at Brenner. It was getting close to spring time which is the loveliest time in Israel, and there were acres and acres of wild flowers everywhere. These walks were very precious to me. These things one cannot buy with money. These are some of the reasons why people live on a kibbutz.
The North of Israel
After my mother was well enough to be discharged from the convalescence home, I went with her and Lillah on a car trip to the North of Israel, visiting many kibbutzim and other places of interest. Lillah drove the rented Avis car as I did not have a driving licence at the time. Our first stop was Haifa, where we did not know where to stay. The wife of the scientist living at Kibbutz Giv'at Brenner had her mother living in Haifa, and she was very particular that we should stay with her mother when we were there. She wrote to her mother and accordingly we put up with her. She was extremely hospitable: indeed we were somewhat overwhelmed by her hospitality. It was another example of the way kibbutz friendliness reaches out beyond the physical limits of the kibbutz itself.
The North of Israel -- the Galilee, the Hula valley and so on -- is in my opinion the loveliest countryside in the world. Of course this is the subjective opinion of one who is frankly biased. This is the land where Jesus walked and preached and where so many of the Prophets of Israel thundered. Many people in Israel and abroad have had the same feeling about it and it has some of the loveliest kibbutzim in Israel. Many of them are small. We had lunch at one of them, called Ayyelet Ha-Shahar, which has a restaurant and rest house for travellers. This was an earning arm of the kibbutz, like the convalescence home at Giv'at Brenner. The kibbutz's own dining room was separate from this restaurant, which was about as big as the dining room itself. We ate a lovely meal in the restaurant, which appeared frequented by Army personnel stationed in the area and by some tourists from abroad.
Among the other earning arms of this kibbutz were fish ponds. In the past, the Hula Valley, where the kibbutz is situated, was a swamp. The Israelis drained the swamp and separated the water and the land. The water was collected into fish ponds and these give high yields of carp and other fish. On a per-acre basis, in fact, the fish ponds are often more profitable than fields.
Right up near the Lebanese border there is a kibbutz called Dan. It is close to the Biblical site of Dan (remember the Biblical quotation "From Dan to Beersheba", Dan being the northern-most settlement in ancient Israel, and Beersheba the southern-most) and to the rivulet of the same name, which is a tributary of the Jordan river. We visited this place. It is a nature reserve, which I believe is partly looked after by the kibbutz. Crystal-clear water flows through a shady grove of trees. It is believed by some people that the garden of Eden must have originally been there. It certainly looked that way, particularly in the springtime. I had visited the place and also Kibbutz Dan before, on a trip organised for the volunteers when I was at Na'an. I knew that it was only a mile or two away from the border of Lebanon but I had also seen how safe it had been. There was a roadblock on the way; police were on the look-out for suspected terrorists. At first Lillah got scared and refused to drive further, but when I insisted she said, "I suppose if you are willing to take your mother there it must be safe". I assured her it was. I knew that at the kibbutz there were normal people like you and me living a fairly normal existence and having children and playing about like anywhere in the world. Just because there is a hostile border a mile or two away it does not deter kibbutzniks from living a very normal life.
Both Kibbutz Ayyelet Ha-Shahar and Kibbutz Dan had museums on them. They were both close to important archaeological sites, and the museums displayed the more important archaeological findings and such like. I had visited the one at Dan on my first trip, with the volunteers from Na'an. Entrance to these museums, as far as I remember, was free. I do not know who funded them. Nevertheless, there they were. A number of other kibbutzim also had museums. One which I had visited with the volunteers from Na'an was at a kibbutz called Lohamei Ha-Ghettaot. This kibbutz was inhabited almost entirely by survivors of the infamous Warsaw Ghetto, where the Nazis murdered the major part of the Jewish population of the city. The name of the kibbutz means "Fighters of the Ghettos", and the museum displays the history of the time and how the Jews fought the Nazis in the face of tremendous odds. As far as I remember, entrance to this museum was also free.
On our trip back from Dan we went along the Sea of Galilee, or Yam Kinneret as it is called in Hebrew. At the southern tip of Kinneret is situated Deganiya, the first kibbutz established in Israel. Actually there are two Deganiyas, Deganiya Alef and Deganiya Bet. At one time a group from the original, single Deganiya differed so strongly with the rest of the members that they decided to break away and set up their own separate kibbutz close by. So they set up another Deganiya, which for the sake of distinction they called Deganiya Bet. (Alef and bet are the first two letters of the Hebrew alphabet -- from which the very word "alphabet" is derived). Later a third group split off, and they called their kibbutz Kinneret. All three are close together and we had a beautiful view of them from a mitzpeh -- a sight-seeing point or lookout -- set up by the Israeli road building authorities on the road leading away from the southern tip of Yam Kinneret. This was the closest I got to Deganiya in my nine years in Israel -- a pity, but that's how it was.
From there we drove to Mount Tabor, where some people think Jesus's transfiguration took place. The road up the mount is very tortuous and winding, but there is a magnificent view from the top, so although Lillah was very tired I insisted that we should go up. She almost had a nervous breakdown at the top and took the whole incident very badly, but the view of the numerous kibbutzim from the top is really too good to miss. One can see entire kibbutzim -- not just one but many -- all in one glance of the eye. The beauty of the scene is incomparable, at any rate to me. One cannot buy these experiences.
My University Studies
I resumed my studies at the University after having missed two trimesters -- one due to the war and the other due to my illness. Since I was studying agriculture I naturally found myself in the company of lots of kibbutzniks. They comprised a sizeable part of each class. Most of them were somewhat older than is normal for a University student. Kibbutzniks generally do not go straight to University after high school and the Army, but wait a while and work on the kibbutz before they decide what they want to study. As a result, many of the students from kibbutzim are in their thirties and even in their forties. For a kibbutznik it does not entail any financial or family hardships to study -- the kibbutz pays for his studies and looks after his family as if he were working and earning. So a kibbutznik does not have to worry, as does a person working in town, that if he doesn't study when young and single he will never be able to do so. Some of my classmates even appeared to be over fifty, and some probably had grandchildren. They were mostly experts in the branches they had worked in for years before coming to the University -- dairy, poultry, fishery and what-not. The professors could not pull any fast ones over them. They came to the University to round off their already extensive knowledge. This factor contributed to making the Faculty of Agriculture of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem the most advanced agricultural school in the world, and it was one of the reasons I had opted to study in Israel even at the cost of losing time to study Hebrew first.
It was mainly the difficulty of studying Hebrew that discouraged people from other nations from coming to Israel to study agriculture. Nevertheless some people did come. One who later became a room-mate of mine was a young fellow from the African country of Gambia. The high level of the training afforded by the Faculty of Agriculture -- the only one in Israel -- in turn contributed to the high level of kibbutz agriculture. Israeli yields in many items are the highest in the world. At Tsor'ah we had cows that yielded -- in those days -- over 50 litters of milk per day, and our dairy was reputed to be the second-best in the country from point of view of total milk production per animal. This meant that it was among the top five or so in the entire world. Similarly, after Les Oshri, the member I have spoken about who was studying at the Faculty of Agriculture one class ahead of me, came back to Tsor'ah and became merakez of the Field Crops Branch, the field crops team regularly grew cotton and maize with yields higher than most in the world. Once, at the University, some of the students were talking about a trip they had made to the USA to study American farming methods. When in the States they were asked by the American farmers: "What yields of wheat do you get in Israel?" When they told them what they were getting, the Americans said, "Could you please explain to us what methods you use to get such yields, so that we could also use them?"
Other Types of Farming Communities in Israel
In Israel it is not only the kibbutzim that do farming; there are other types of farms also. However, the performance of the kibbutzim as a whole is higher than that of other farms. For instance, the cows belonging to farmers on moshavim (which are villages where individual families own and manage their own little farms, much like in any other country) were yielding on the average about 6,000 litres of milk per lactation period of about 300 days; whereas the cows on kibbutzim were yielding about 8,000 litres in the same period. It is true that some farmers on moshavim are better than kibbutz farmers, but on the whole the kibbutz levels are higher. In the matter of sheep, there was a kibbutz up north called Ein Harod where the sheep were giving more milk than any sheep in the world, and even more than the average Indian cow. (Of course that's not saying much, but a sheep is a very small animal compared to a cow!) Another kibbutz called Ha-Ogen had developed a certain species of melon which was known as the Ha-Ogen Melon and which was supposed to be one of the best varieties of melon in the world for taste. The extremely high level of kibbutz agriculture no doubt was an important factor in making the kibbutz successful and stable, and attracted many people to it.
It must also be emphasised that all this was achieved without back-breaking toil, at least during the years I was there. Agriculture in other countries is known to demand long and irregular hours from the farmers. Even on the moshavim it was so, at least for the more successful farmers. But on the kibbutzim, most members, as I have said, worked a regular eight-hour day, six days a week. Moreover, the work was highly mechanised, so actual physical exertion in most branches was minimal. Of course, agriculture on the kibbutz did demand, as elsewhere, constant, even 24-hour attention to the land, plants and animals. But there was a whole team of people to fill those 24 hours; all the load was not on one person. Consequently each person could -- and did -- have a lot of time for other pursuits. This was made possible by the special system of organising work on the kibbutz.
When I was there, moreover, only a small minority of the kibbutz population worked directly on agricultural branches. The extremely high efficiency of kibbutz farming did not require a large farming population. This in fact caused some difficulties among the volunteers who had come from other countries with the idea of working on the land in a kibbutz -- there were just not enough openings in the agricultural branches to put them all to work on the land. They were therefore asked to work in non-agricultural branches like the kitchen or dining room, which some of them did not like. Sometimes they took turns, working for a while in the agricultural branches and then stepping aside to let someone else take their place.
This caused no problems in most cases. Individual expertise was not required for most tasks on the kibbutz. It was enough for one or two members of the team to know what was to be done; the others could easily be guided to do the right thing. My very first job, on Na'an, was pruning apple trees. It was something I had never done in my life and in fact did not even know about theoretically. Nevertheless by the end of the day, with the guidance of one of the members of the team, I was a tolerably good pruner, and by the end of the month an expert. In this way youngsters with absolutely no experience or knowledge of farming were soon helping grow world-record-yields of crops. Where else but on a kibbutz would such a thing be possible? It was the special system and organisational structure of the kibbutz that made it possible.
Also, enormous responsibilities were given to people with hardly any fuss. Within a week of my starting work at Tsor'ah I was taking herds of 250 or 300 sheep out to graze -- alone. I was responsible for the whole lot of them, each worth 500 Israeli pounds approximately. (That was about US $100 in those days -- and remember, once again, these were 'seventies dollars.) Sometimes I took as many as 550 or 600 sheep and lambs out grazing by myself. The total monetary value of such a large herd was enormous. It was not easy, mind you, but it was also not impossible, and it was fun. It is true that sometimes I left a few behind in the field when I returned with the herd in the evening. With so many sheep and all the dust they kicked up, it was not always possible to see the other end of the line of animals following me, and a bunch sometimes broke away at the end and decided to stay behind in the field. Then Arthur and I and maybe a few others would have to go searching for them with flashlights in the night. In spite of these mishaps, because of the lack of available manpower, there was no alternative but to send one person out with so many sheep.
Similarly, Lillah was often charged with supervising the feeding of the entire adult population on Friday afternoons in the dining hall, particularly if the regular kitchen merakez wanted to go home early to prepare for the Sabbath which starts at sundown on Fridays. This sort of thing was welcomed by most persons. Naturally mistakes were made sometimes; but criticism was never heaped upon people for making mistakes out of inexperience. In fact everyone close by pitched in to help correct the mistake quickly. If one was observant, one soon picked up how the experienced persons did the work, and thus made fewer and fewer mistakes as time went by. It goes without saying, of course, that no one ever dreamt of deliberately sabotaging or damaging anything.
It must also be understood that there was a great amount of division of labour on the kibbutz. This too was one of the reasons for the extremely high efficiency of the branches of the kibbutz. In other countries, for instance, a farmer has to handle all aspects of farming himself, from the purchase of raw materials to the final marketing of the produce. On the kibbutz, the branches concentrated on the actual production itself, and much of the headache of purchases and marketing was taken up by someone else. Even within the team, each person performed only a small part of the total work. For instance, a person given the responsibility of ploughing a certain set of fields was hardly concerned about the irrigation going on in another set of fields, or the harvesting going on somewhere else. Nobody had to, or even tried to, do everything. Once, during my early days at Tsor'ah, I walked out of the sheep shed and was shocked to see turkeys in their thousands wandering all over the grounds. There was a turkey shed close by, and someone had inadvertently left the door open. I ran to Arthur and said: "There's about a million turkeys wandering all over the place out there!" He smiled at me and said: "Thank God it's not our problem!"
Also, my account till now may have given the reader the impression that all, or most, of the persons living on kibbutzim were exceptionally bright and highly motivated. This was far from being so. The vast majority were quite unexceptional people with an average amount of intelligence and an average amount of education. Of course I liked to be with bright people so I formed as many friendships with such people as I could, and they are the people worth remembering so I remember them more. But there were lots and lots of quite ordinary people on the kibbutzim, and it did not require a person to be bright or exceptionally highly motivated to make him or her a good kibbutznik.
As I have said, there was no qualification for membership -- educational, intellectual or any other -- except being a citizen of Israel. (And it was not absolutely necessary to be a Jewish citizen, either: one could, for instance, be married to a Jew without being Jewish oneself.) Moreover, some members were people who might have been judged by another society as being in some ways "below average". There was room for all kinds of people on the kibbutz. Everyone did what they could, and no one was thought the worse of for not being able to do what others did. It was recognised that every person in the world is unique in some way and could contribute in his or her own way to society, and they were therefore encouraged to contribute in the way they could. It was not even necessary to know how to read and write to be a kibbutznik. Nor -- on Tsor'ah at least -- was a knowledge of Hebrew essential. One person from South Africa I knew could never for the life of him pick up more than a smattering of Hebrew, and that too with a peculiar South African flavour. His name was Bernie and his language was known as "Bernese". He was well loved by all.
I mention all this to make it perfectly clear that the impression people had -- and probably still have -- about kibbutzniks being a rare and exceptional breed is a total myth. The exceptional results achieved by kibbutzim are more the result of the exceptional system of organisation and social structure of the kibbutz than of the exceptional level of individual kibbutzniks. Moreover, to some extent at least, I think that the exceptional situation one found oneself in on a kibbutz made it possible, which otherwise might not have been so, to bring out one's hidden talents which made one exceptional. In a different situation these same persons may have found it difficult or even impossible to develop themselves properly and would perhaps have remained unexceptional all their lives.
Some Other Kibbutzim I Visited
As I have said, at the University I found myself in the company of many other kibbutzniks, and had innumerable conversations with them about their kibbutzim. Many, perhaps the majority, invited me to visit their kibbutz -- invitations which I was sorry I could not take advantage of. However I did visit some of the kibbutzim. One of these was called Kfar Rupin. My class-mate, who was a member there, had invited me to his wedding, and he insisted so strongly that I attend, I could not refuse. So Lillah and I hitch-hiked to Kfar Rupin, which was many miles away, in the Jordan Valley, situated below sea level. The Jordan River was close by and the other side of the river was hostile territory -- one could get shelled any time by the Jordanian Army. It was summer time, and in the summer much of the Jordan valley, being below sea level, is so hot and humid that even in the night one perspires freely even if one is just sitting down. So every single room on the kibbutz was air-conditioned.
After the wedding, which was at about 7.00 p.m., we naturally could not return to Tsor'ah which was many hours away, and we had therefore planned to sleep out on the lawn. (It virtually never rains in summer in Israel, so it would not have been too unpleasant.) However, one of the kibbutz members said it was not permitted to sleep out in the open because of the danger of hostilities and shelling. My friend the bridegroom was so busy with all his guests that I did not like to bother him. However, somehow he found out that we needed a place to sleep, and at short notice found us a room belonging to one of his friends, and so we slept in air-conditioned comfort. I mention this incident to illustrate, not only the friendliness of the kibbutzniks and the trust they put in people in general, but also to point out that kibbutzniks do not particularly relish discomfort. They take it in their stride if it cannot be avoided, but if it can, even at some expense, they opt for the comfortable life with air conditioning in the summer and hot water in the winter and all sorts of other modern conveniences.
Weddings and Celebrations on the Kibbutz
Speaking about weddings, I must mention that the weddings on Tsor'ah were quite something. This was not so on all kibbutzim, I am told, and I even heard of a person on Na'an who got married in his work clothes. On Na'an people didn’t care whether a couple was married or not. But on Tsor'ah the entire kibbutz celebrated the wedding of a member. Tsor'ah was not anti-religious, the way Na'an was, and a rabbi was at hand to celebrate the religious part of the ceremony, for which members did put on kipas. But after the purely religious part was over there was a lot more to follow, with members putting on shows on a stage and a Master of Ceremonies cracking jokes about the newly-weds over a loudspeaker -- pleasantly, of course -- in a brightly decorated Dining Hall, where the entire population of the kibbutz gathered and feasted to their hearts' content and revelled till the small hours. In summer the wedding was as often as not celebrated outdoors on the common lawn. The closest thing to it would perhaps be a Parsi wedding in India, except that on a kibbutz everyone did everything from the setting up of the stage and benches and cooking to the cleaning up afterwards.
When the kibbutzniks celebrated -- whether Bar-Mitzvahs, or the Jewish festivals, and in particular Pesach (the Passover), they celebrated together and it was really a celebration, the likes of which cannot be found anywhere else in the world. This was all the more so because Jewish festivals are linked with the agricultural seasons of Israel, and the true flavour of these festivals cannot come out except in an Israeli agricultural setting. The kibbutzniks entertained each other no less than worked with each other, and it was great to see the different kinds of talent of an entertainment nature coming out among persons one never suspected of possessing them. Some people decorated the place, others gave performances, others played music, others cooked up a feast, and so on, so there was hardly any aspect of celebration left untouched. Outside talent was almost never needed. Since everyone knew each other it was all the more enjoyable. Children no less than the adults pitched in and gave of their best, and it was an education for them too. These were times of great rejoicing. These things have to be seen to be believed. It is quite inadequate to read about them.
On Tsor'ah, not all celebrations were such as to involve the whole kibbutz. Sometimes a family would like to throw a party for a number of their more intimate friends. These celebrations were held near the houses of the members concerned. They just told the supplies department beforehand, which arranged to have enough grub and goodies ready for all the expected guests, and the family concerned did most of the preparations on their own. I do not know whether each family was given an "entertainment allowance" to finance these parties, or whether they just took as much as they cared to take, but the fact is that quite a few such parties were held.
Of course, the big celebrations and festivals and weddings were financed by the kibbutz as a whole, and the individual members probably did not even know -- nor care -- what it cost. Since most of the entertainment and decoration and so on was done by the members themselves it was only the cost of ingredients and raw material, and that cannot have been much.
If one wished to bake a cake or such like, as Lillah did often -- she had a baking diploma from America and was a real expert -- one just took eggs and flour and milk and what-have-you in any quantity one wanted, and did it oneself. Only some items were restricted, like ice cream and meat, which however, one could buy at cost from the Supplies Department. Every person working on the kibbutz had a certain amount of pocket money coming to them from the kibbutz every month -- a very small sum but sufficient for such things as sweets and so on -- and these allowances were spent as the members concerned saw fit, which was as often as not for some food item which was restricted.
There was also a small shop on the kibbutz selling things at cost -- like cosmetics and toothpaste and candies and so on -- where one could buy things which were not given out by the kibbutz as general supplies. Here also one spent one's pocket money.
One also spent one's pocket money on trips to town for pleasure, such as for a concert or a dance performance or even a dinner at a restaurant with some friends. Such trips were not frequent but they were good -- even necessary, sometimes -- to give one the feeling of just "getting away from it all" for a while.
Once a year each branch celebrated by the whole team going to town and having dinner in a restaurant or such like. These celebrations were paid for by the branch. The sheep branch used to go to East Jerusalem and eat at an Arab restaurant called Ali Baba where we used to have lamb chops -- the only time of the year we ate sheep's meat. (It is the costliest meat in Israel and is generally available only in the better restaurants and in Arab quarters -- since Israeli Arabs for some reason or other cannot do without it, or so I was told.)
For official visits to town, as must be clear from what I have said earlier, one took money from the kibbutz treasury, and did not spend one's own pocket money. I used to ask my kibbutznik friends at the University, whether on their kibbutz students were allotted a fixed sum for the school year, or whether they just took as much as they wanted. (On Tsor'ah a fixed sum was decided upon at the beginning of the school year for each student, and the student had to stay within that limit). Some of the kibbutzniks, particularly from the smaller kibbutzim, told me that on their kibbutz no limit was fixed, and they just took every week as much as they felt they needed. They said that it had been decided by their kibbutz that this system was superior to the other, and that the actual amount spent by the student was often much less than would have been allotted to them if they had followed the system in use at Tsor'ah.
As far as one's own money went -- that is to say money earned or inherited or otherwise in one's possession before one came to the Kibbutz -- the philosophy on Tsor'ah was that the kibbutz would not demand it. As Bernie told me once, talking about his arrangement with Tsor'ah, "They told me, 'What's yours is yours.'" It was not necessary to hand over one's entire belongings to Tsor'ah in order to become a member. (It might have been different on other kibbutzim: I don’t know.) This notion stemmed, perhaps, from the idea that it was not inherited or accumulated wealth which was to be shared, but wealth created by working together with the other members. It was also presumably felt that the latter would be much greater than the former. In this they were probably right. Ultimately it did not matter whether one came to a kibbutz a rich man or a pauper. The kibbutz grew rich or did not depending on the work done by the members together, after they came together. Many of the so-called "wealthy" kibbutzim in Israel were populated by large numbers of refugees who had hardly the clothes on their backs when they came to the kibbutz. The "wealthy" kibbutzim were really wealthy. As a friend of mine put it, "They are working not for their bread but for their cream".
Certain rules regarding personal wealth were, however, followed strictly. One was that it was not permitted for a member to possess a car. The kibbutz possessed many cars, and the members used them as necessary -- free for official work, or upon payment of a certain charge per kilometre if it was for personal trips. (This latter was also paid by the members from their pocket money.) To own a car was, however, considered to be in some way wrong. It was felt that a car should be for transportation, and transportation was as much the right of a person who could not afford to own a car as of one who could. Moreover, during the period I was in Israel, there were not too many cars in the country, and they were very, very expensive. So if one owned a car before joining the kibbutz, one was no longer permitted to keep it.
Similarly, telephones on the kibbutz were public ones or official ones. No one at that time had a private telephone. (This is no longer so now -- i.e., in 2001 -- and many members have private phones, as far as I am aware). The usual public telephones were operated by tokens, a certain number of which could be obtained by all members from the office every month. The office, the clinic, the doctor, and so on did have telephones, of course, but these were for official use. If one wished to phone abroad, one could book a call from the office, but one had to pay for it.
Then again, if one had money enough for a holiday abroad, one had to get permission from the General Meeting to use it for that purpose. This was because of the fact that manpower was short, and one's absence for a period of time longer than a few days was acutely felt by the other members. It was not that the members objected to one's spending one's money as one wished, so much as they did not like the idea of being saddled with more work while one of the members was sunning himself on the Riviera.
There were also no personal television sets. When I joined Tsor'ah, in fact, there was not a single television set on the entire kibbutz. Some years later a few TVs were purchased, but they were only set up in common areas. One could go and watch TV there if one wished. I saw much of the broadcast of the '76 Montreal Olympics games (including Nadia Comaneci's unprecedented seven perfect scores in gymnastics) while cleaning the air raid shelters, where some TV sets had been set up.
Some of the rules regarding money -- or for that matter anything -- were strict, but others were very, very flexible. As far as I recollect, none of the rules were written down. In this I may be mistaken in that by the time I was fluent enough in Hebrew I already knew what the rules were and did not have to ask to see them written down. Nor did it matter if a rule was written down or not, because there seemed to be a distinct distaste among the kibbutzniks for the legalities and agreements and contracts of what they regarded as the "outside world". A kibbutznik believed, I suppose, that if a person could not be trusted on their word as it was spoken, neither could they be trusted on their word as it was written down.
Moreover, I found out after a while that although there was a certain set of unwritten rules which was common to all kibbutzim, there were certain others which were particular to each individual kibbutz, or a group of kibbutzim. Rules were in any case made, unmade, altered and so on by the General Meeting. On Tsor'ah, in particular, rules were in many ways more flexible than on most other kibbutzim. There was the unsaid but rather clear assumption that rules were for making life easier, and if they did not they could, and even should, be disregarded. Also it was realised that some persons had greater difficulty following certain rules than other persons.
In Israel, as I have pointed out, music is a "big thing". Every bus has a radio and so does every place of work. The popular music of Israel is some of the most melodious in the world, and the broadcasters also have excellent taste in their choice of music from other countries. Many of the popular songs of Israel are words of the Bible put to music. I used to particularly like listening to music while working or studying, which was very easy since there were perhaps more radios than people on the kibbutz, even then, and since there were excellent programmes being broadcast all the time which, being mostly FM, were also very clear. One channel broadcast classical music almost all the time, and I used to tune in to this station whenever I could. There were in addition programmes which explained the finer points of classical music to the listeners, and I also used to listen to these quite avidly. I did not possess a stereo set while I was at Tsor'ah, but a neighbour, who possessed one and also possessed one of the most extensive collection of LP (vinyl) records of classical music I have ever seen, used to allow me to use his equipment whenever I wanted. In this way I grew to be very knowledgeable about classical music and was at one time confident of being able to compose some good pieces (and in 1989 I did just that).
Jerusalem being close to Tsor'ah, I also used to keep an eye skinned for news of good musical performances there, and attended many performances by world-famous artistes, including Heifetz, Casals and Isaac Stern. (Unfortunately I never got to attend a performance conducted by my namesake and fellow Parsi, Zubin Mehta). However, one of the most unforgettable musical performances ever attended by me was at Tsor'ah itself, given by the Kibbutz Chamber Ensemble and Choir, conducted by Avner Itai, playing music of the middle ages. The performers were all kibbutzniks from various kibbutzim and so (I think) was the conductor, and the performance was given in the dining room after the evening meal, so the atmosphere created was quite special: much, I suppose, like the atmosphere that must have been created for the Doges of Venice when they used to listen to Vivaldi after having feasted with their guests.
If one lives on a kibbutz, I feel, one misses a lot if one is not a music-lover. Unfortunately some people are tone deaf, like Arthur, who used to sing the Sabbath songs out of tune loud and clear on Friday evenings. But such people were rare. In my experience, just as Italy, and in particular Florence and the surrounding area, is saturated with the best and probably the highest concentration of architectural, sculptural and pictorial art in the world, Israel and in particular the kibbutzim are saturated with the best and highest concentration of musical art in the world. It is also within the means of everyone. The prices of tickets to concerts, even those given by world-famous artistes, were very reasonable; and in those days no one dressed for a concert -- they went to listen to good music, not to show off their wardrobe. It is of course true that this was all over Israel, not only on kibbutzim, but the large amount of leisure time available to people on the kibbutzim enabled them to enjoy this facet of life to the full. In town the pressure of life made it hard to get a couple of hours each day completely free to listen to music. Such aspects of life attracted people to kibbutzim, who might otherwise have opted for life in town.
Other aspects of the arts were less developed, it must be admitted. Literature did flourish to some extent, but not as much as it perhaps might have, considering that Jews have been known to be literati since ancient times. One never finds an illiterate Jew, I was told, and the percentage of well-known authors among Jews in general is higher than among any other community. However, on kibbutzim, there were not too many authors, and very few world-famous ones. One of the more well-known ones lived on a kibbutz not far from Tsor'ah, called Hulda. His name was Amos Oz. But these were exceptions.
In the visual arts also, though there was much sculpture and painting going on on the kibbutzim, it was not in my opinion up to world standards. Architecture was also not developed too highly, though some of the kibbutzim had quite well-designed dining halls. Modern architecture in Israel is very good and some Israeli architects are world-famous, but most residential houses on kibbutzim were rather bland from the architectural point of view. This is really a pity because there seems to me to be a tremendous potential on kibbutzim to develop architecture. Perhaps in the future this potential will be realised. Up till now housing has been quite expensive in Israel, and no doubt it would have been somewhat of a drain to construct architectural masterpieces. The Dance was developed quite well, and Tsor'ah had one or two dancers of professional standard, but the level was not as high as that of music.
By way of other aspects of the pleasant life, also, things were not as highly developed as in many other countries. For instance, cuisine was by no means up to the standard of Italy and France; the art of conversation was not polished like in many parts of Europe; interior decoration, though fine, was not perhaps up to the levels achieved in Rome or Paris. During my last years, however, fashions were coming into their own in Israel, and particularly on kibbutzim, in a simple way but to a very high standard, and one of the projects Tsor'ah had for the future was a clothing factory for making good Israeli fashion garments for export.
By way of other activity of an intellectual nature, although the general level on a kibbutz appeared very high -- certainly higher than in any city I have lived in except perhaps London and Jerusalem -- the kibbutzim did not produce many world-calibre scientists or philosophers or mathematicians or suchlike. This is not easy to understand because the potential is certainly there. Maybe in the future it will be realised. But while I was there, anyway, they did not seem to be producing this kind of person.
One particular deficiency in this regard that I noticed was the somewhat low level of medical practice. Of course if one compared the level of the medical care available to the kibbutzim with that available to almost any other rural person it was very high indeed. (Naturally there was no charge for any medical treatment, even major operations; the kibbutz footed the bill no matter how much it came to, as far as the members went). But considering the potential of the kibbutz in this respect, there was much scope for improvement. There was only one system of medicine in use, naturally: the modern system, sometimes called allopathy, coupled with surgery. Homeopathy was not practised by any doctor on any kibbutz (as far as I was aware). Even more glaring was the lack of naturopathy which, one would have thought, lent itself ideally to the kibbutz way of life. Ancient systems of medicine were also not practised. The Jews have been known for having given rise to great physicians since antiquity, but the art of the ancients seems to have been brushed aside by the kibbutzim -- unfortunately. Maybe things will change as time goes by. Even chiropractic, which is a recognised therapy in the west, was not used. Psychology and psychiatry were in use; however, in my humble opinion -- a layman's opinion no doubt -- they were not practised as well as they could have been.
In allopathy also, the level of treatment was somewhat lower than should have been. The one thing they were good at, I gathered, was in treating wounds. But most acute cases of illness appeared to be treated by repressing the symptoms, and most chronic cases by diet and chemotherapy alone. Some physiotherapy was used, but not as much as could have been. No hydrotherapy was used, not even baths. A person's medical history was rarely, if ever, recorded in detail by the doctor treating him. I have spoken with a number of people from western countries about this, and they all felt that the availability of medical care in their countries was superior. Of course, in the USA and in many other countries in those days, one had to pay for it, whereas on the kibbutz it was free. But in Norway, where one did not have to pay for it even then, since that country had a socialised system of medical care, it was also better than on the kibbutz -- at least according to my Norwegian friend Arne. There, at least, each person had a close relationship with a doctor who personally took care of him or her, and who knew the patient's entire medical history right from birth down to the last detail. The doctor did not wait to treat the patient when the latter fell ill, but tried to keep the patient well, by ensuring regular check-ups and general advice on health and living. This sort of care was absent in the kibbutz system. It need not have been, either. This was one of the reasons many people from the west, after having tried the kibbutz way of life, decided to go back to their home countries. Lillah and Sandy used to complain about this very often.
It is also true that the kibbutz did not attract enough doctors to become members. This may be because a doctor was able to earn so much more in town that they were not willing to trade that situation for kibbutz life. This is only a guess on my part, of course. Generally speaking the kibbutz had an arrangement with the Kupat Holim, the medical insurance scheme to which more than 75% of the Israeli population subscribed, that for a certain fixed annual sum the Kupat Holim would look after all the persons on the kibbutz through its hospitals, clinics, dispensaries, doctors and nurses. So even if the kibbutz had a doctor as a member, he did not necessarily look after the kibbutzniks unless he also belonged to the Kupat Holim. It is perhaps due to the fact that the kibbutz system did not have a health care system of its own but relied upon the usual system prevailing all over Israel that the level of medical aid on the kibbutz was so low. This is certainly a matter that can be rectified in time.
In spite of what has been said above, one must admit the fact that kibbutzniks as a group were among the healthiest people in the world. They generally lived to a ripe old age, and when in their prime were capable of more and harder physical work than representative individuals of almost any other group. There was certainly a marked difference between the general appearance, from point of view of physical health, between students at the University -- particularly in the arts and humanities -- and the kibbutzniks. The former were so anaemic looking compared with the latter that I even mentioned it to Arthur at one time. Since the proof of the pudding is in the eating, I cannot say that there was much cause to worry about the low level of medical care on kibbutzim. It was obviously the healthy and sensible way of life that compensated for the latter, and enabled the kibbutzniks to shrug off all such difficulties with the oft-used trite-but-true phrase: "In 1948 it was much tougher".
One feeling that I got, living among kibbutzniks, was that they were very highly result-oriented, perhaps more so than members of any other group; and in most cases, if a particular action or way of life gave the required results, there was nothing much to complain about as far as they were concerned. This aspect of thinking governed many or most of their actions and value judgements. For instance, food was, in their view, for filling the belly and for having enough energy to do what one had to do, and not basically for taste; so if it performed the former functions it was considered good. Therefore they ate lots of boiled eggs and raw vegetables and fruits, and dispensed with elaborate cooking except once in a while for celebrations. Similarly, since clothes were for keeping oneself warm in the winter and only secondarily for style or adornment, they did away with elaborate tailoring, and in summer did away with clothes also, at least to the extent considered decent. (In fact some friends of mine who had worked in a kibbutz which had fish ponds told me that they used to work stark naked -- boys as well as girls -- when working in the fish ponds in the summer). Cars were, according that viewpoint, for transportation, and so it was not important whether a car's design, style or performance were at all elegant or outstanding, as long as it gave trouble-free and reasonably inexpensive transportation.
This sort of attitude extended to the military also, which as I said earlier is heavily influenced by kibbutzniks: the Defence Forces were there for defending the country, and if they did so, it did not matter if the soldiers were wandering around with dirty boots and buttons and the officers and men called each other by their first names, or if the troops could not march in step and the planes could not fly in formation. Similarly, therefore, if the medical system as devised and put into operation gave reasonably satisfactory results in that it kept the population healthy -- in comparison to other similar populations or to the same population in the past -- it was considered to be quite all right in spite of all its shortcomings.
The Defence Forces in Connection with Kibbutzim
Speaking about the Defence Forces prompts me to say something about them also with particular reference to kibbutz life. It is well known that many kibbutzim were originally set up partly with the defence needs of Israel in view. It is perhaps not incorrect to say that every kibbutznik can be considered a soldier at all times. Every kibbutz had a weapons depot where enough small arms to arm the entire adult population were kept. (I am not talking about tanks and heavy artillery of course). If the kibbutz were attacked, the kibbutzniks didn't necessarily call in the army or the police: they tackled and disarmed or killed the attackers themselves. On many kibbutzim shepherds went grazing and ploughmen went ploughing with sub-machine guns over their shoulders. This was not the case on Tsor'ah when I was there because the border by that time was many miles away, but on border kibbutzim it was so, and even on Tsor'ah persons carrying military weapons were a common sight: so common in fact that one did not even notice it after a while. An armed guard was on duty every night. He was, of course, one of the kibbutzniks. Whether a person was in uniform or not did not seem to make much difference as far as defence went; and there was a casual attitude which could not exist in other armies. At one time when hitch-hiking near Na'an I was given a lift in an Armoured Personnel Carrier belonging to the Army. It is rather difficult to imagine such a thing happening in any other country. On Na'an the casual attitude was carried beyond what was reasonable; I heard that after the Six Day War, many of the youngsters from Na'an had brought back Egyptian sub-machine guns from the battlefield and stashed them away in secret hiding places not known even to the Army. On Tsor'ah also, Air Force helicopters used to land casually in the fields every so often, doing their manoeuvres.
In addition to all this, some kibbutzim were populated by what were called nahal youngters. Nahal is the acronym for the Hebrew words meaning "Pioneering and Fighting Youth". They were young people between the ages of 18 and 21 (mostly) who had opted to do their Army service as pioneer settlers on kibbutzim just being established, which were mostly in border areas or suchlike. They were sort of like soldiers in civilian clothes, mostly doing work of a civilian nature, but ready to take up any military task as and when the need arose. Many of the children born and bred on Tsor'ah opted for this form of doing their mandatory military service. One of them was Deganit, the eldest daughter of Yaeli and Arthur, who went to a kibbutz called Mitzpeh Shalem overlooking the Dead Sea, not far from the place where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found. I once visited a kibbutz originally established in this fashion, about which I shall speak later.
It must be appreciated that defence spending accounted (in the 'seventies -- and perhaps it is no different today) for about thirty per cent of Israel's Gross National Product: the highest such percentage in the world by far. It is true that a considerable part of this was in the form of contributions from the World Jewish community outside Israel, but nevertheless the average Israeli must have been devoting anything from one-fifth to one-quarter of his working time and efforts to the defence of the Nation. And, as I said, the contribution of the Kibbutzim to Israel's defence is more than that of urban people in Israel, on a per-capita basis. Now such a massive involvement with defence is just not possible without a large amount of blurring of the distinction between military and civilian life.
And, in fact, this blurring of the distinction appeared to be more encouraged than otherwise because of the benefits which accrued to the defence capability of the country as a result. Soldiers in Israel behaved and (except for their uniforms) appeared just like civilians, and also, one could hardly tell an officer from a private, the insignia were so small and unobtrusive. Israelis, moreover, are generally speaking very rude, and officers could hardly order their men around: they had to use persuasion and tact instead. One young girl from Giv'at Brenner, an officer in the Army, once told my mother and me a story about some girl recruits from oriental countries under her charge, whom she was supposed to teach how to shoot with the Uzi, the Israeli-designed and made sub-machine gun. The whole lot of them, she told us, upon being given the order to take up their weapons, refused point blank to do so. She tried to exercise her authority (though it must have been rather half-heartedly, knowing the Israelis), but to no avail. Ultimately she had to talk sweetly to them for about half an hour, and promise them candies as a bribe, to get them to fire one round each.
This attitude was not confined to girls, either. Arthur told me a story about how he -- along with many others -- had been called up on reserve duty due to a false alarm that the Arab countries were going to attack massively soon. As the days went by and no attack materialised, those called up, who were just hanging around the military camps doing nothing, were ordered to spend their time constructively by planting some trees or some such thing. Arthur, who, though a private, was considerably older than the officers commanding him, said to his superior: "Son," he said, "I came here to fight a war, not to plant trees. If there's no war, I'm going home." And without further ado he packed up and came back to the kibbutz.
Tsor'ah was not a very military kibbutz, unlike many others, and the highest ranking officer who was a member of Tsor'ah was, at the time of which I speak, a major. Most of the others were privates or little more. Other kibbutzim were much more military in character and had generals and suchlike living on them. Moshe Dayan, Israel's most famous general, was the first -- or maybe one of the first -- babies born on the first kibbutz, Deganiya Alef, of which his father Shmuel Dayan was a founder-member. (Later on, Shmuel Dayan left Deganiya to found the first moshav, where Moshe grew up.) Most of Israel's generals below the rank of Chief of Staff preferred anonymity to publicity, however, and while on the kibbutz there was hardly anything to show that there were big military brass living there.
So the atmosphere on the kibbutzim, no matter how heavily populated by military personnel, was always very civilian-like. It seemed to be accepted by all in Israel that the military is there to serve the civilian population and so, no matter how heavy the military establishment got, there appeared to be no danger whatever of the military over-ruling the civilians' authority over them. Israel seems always destined to remain a country governed by civilian authority. (Of course, it is a known fact that in Israel, many former generals go into politics after retirement, which is at a rather young age compared with other countries. But when they are in politics these people are civilians and no longer military officers -- like Eisenhower was when he was elected President of the USA.)
I have touched very briefly upon Israel's military here, confining myself for the most part to that aspect of it which touched kibbutzim: but I should like to add my opinion, backed by close observation and reasoning, that much if not most of Israel's phenomenal military strength stemmed from precisely the kind of atmosphere I have highlighted in the above paragraphs. This atmosphere, combining as it did quick and efficient information transfer and extremely well-thought-out decision making, coupled with fast implementation, enabled the Israelis to outwit their enemies at every turn.
One thing that must be pointed out is that the individual Israeli soldier -- like the individual Israeli kibbutznik -- is not in general of exceptionally high calibre as a soldier. My personal opinion, from watching the soldiers in Israel and India, is that the Gurkha and Sikh soldiers of the Indian Army are, as soldiers, superior to Israeli soldiers. However, the Israelis, when the defence of their land is concerned, act as one, and the effect of the whole group is much more formidable than the sum of its parts. And this aspect is nowhere more evident than among the kibbutzniks. In this respect, therefore, the kibbutzim have certainly produced the best fighting forces in the world, if not the best fighting men.
In spite of, perhaps because of, this factor, kibbutzniks were also the most vociferous proponents and advocates of peace among the Israeli population. I used to hear from the kibbutzniks, much more so than from urban people in Israel, the refrain: "We need peace more than we need anything else". Ben-Gurion told me, during our conversation: "We would be willing to give up all the occupied areas (shtahim) for real peace." When pressed about Jerusalem, he said: "Jerusalem is not an 'area' (shetah)". Nevertheless, in spite of this hedging, it was obvious that he really would have been willing to give up a tremendous lot for real peace. All this talk about peace was never -- and I mean never -- prompted by any remark on my part, during any conversation I had with Israelis. It was a spontaneous remark made by the Israelis themselves, and one got the impression that they meant it from the depths of their heart.
Nevertheless they were also very mistrustful of any statements from the countries which had been at war with them since the very first day of their independence. Therefore the desire for peace remained a mere desire, and it was not until President Sadat's historic visit to Jerusalem and his remarks made there, particularly before the Knesset, that it became at least partially a realisable possibility. Even so, it required President Carter and a most intense Camp David session to persuade Begin to sign on the dotted line with an Arab leader. People who have not lived in Israel do not realise, I think, the magnitude of the result achieved as a consequence of President Sadat's visit to Israel and President Carter's efforts at Camp David. Together they achieved what was considered by everyone in Israel, without exception, an impossibility. There was not a single Israeli I spoke with, not even those belonging to the extreme "dovish" wing, who seriously expected any Arab state to sign an agreement with them within their lifetime.
Some mention must be made, I think, about Zionism in this paper. Zionism is a word that has all possible shades of connotation, from the most negative to the most positive and from the most maligned to the most admired. In the first place, it may justly be said that in Israel there cannot be a non-Zionist kibbutznik. A Zionist need not be a kibbutznik, of course, but a kibbutznik in Israel would have to have some aspect of Zionism motivating him to stay a kibbutznik. But the meaning of Zionism in this context must be carefully understood. Of course, people who think Israel is a neo-colonialist Imperialist State give Zionism a highly negative meaning which can be discussed elsewhere: we need not go into it here. There is, however, another meaning given to the word "Zionist", rather prevalent in countries outside Israel -- particularly the USA -- which needs to be clarified. That is, that a person, or at least a Jew, who supports Israel, preferably by way of monetary contributions, is a Zionist. Lillah said to me that her father is a staunch Zionist, since he had contributed I don't know how many thousands of dollars to Israel. This meaning is quite laughable from a kibbutznik's point of view. No doubt the kibbutzniks, as indeed all Israelis, are grateful for any aid from Jews in the Diaspora, but a person who has decided to make his home in another country in spite of being Jewish can hardly be considered a Zionist. To be a Zionist requires a Jew's commitment to make Israel his home and to actually live in Israel. There are important reasons for this, which were explained to me over and over. Basically they may be summarised in the following few sentences (though I am aware that I may be sticking my neck out a bit in saying this):
(a) A Jew is a Jew whether he wants it or not. No amount of assimilation into a non-Jewish society, not even conversion to another religion, will take his Jewishness away from him -- neither in his own eyes nor in the eyes of others, particular when the chips are down, as they will be from time to time.
(b) As a result, Jews will always be in some respects aliens in all other societies. And, whenever there are crises, as aliens if not anything else, they will be looked at with suspicion and even worse, as has happened countless times in history.
(c) The only solution to this state of affairs is that Jews must live in the land which they can love, identify with and call their own. No other land can fit this requirement except the land of Israel, the land to which they have always looked even during two thousand years of exile. Uganda and other alternatives as suggested by many in the past have no meaning in this respect to a Jew. (This is irrespective of the promise made by the LORD God to Abraham as recorded in the Bible and accepted as holy writ by Jews, Christians and Muslims).
(d) Since, however, there are also non-Jewish people living in the Land of Israel, the only decent way for the Jews to live in it is to come to some sort of reasonable and peaceful agreement with these others.
(e) However, if these others are not willing to enter into any such agreement, the Jews, as a matter of self defence, must be in a position to live in the Land of Israel anyway. In this also, they must rely only on themselves since, when it comes to a crisis, history has shown that no one else will come to their rescue.
The early Zionists, and particularly the founders of the first kibbutzim, harboured in addition the hope and ideal that in the Land of Israel they could establish a better, more just and more humane society than any in existence. To this end they envisioned a society in which all people would be able to live in peace and harmony and attain the highest development that human beings are capable of. They were conscious that Jews had given the world many of the greatest men in history and that the Jewish people had the potential to become, in the words of the Bible, "a light unto the nations". They felt that they could be of inestimable help to the non-Jewish inhabitants of the Land of Israel from numerous points of view. Their idea was to extend their hand in friendship to these people and to work together toward a better world. Love of the Land of Israel meant to them that they should spare no effort to make Israel the very best country in the world, from all points of view, including naturally the social. The fact that the extended hand was not taken up in friendship and that instead the people to whom it was extended took up a hostile attitude towards them pained them no end. Nevertheless many still felt that one day it would be possible to realise this dream, and indeed Golda Meir -- a kibbutznik at one time herself -- had often said while Prime Minister that Israel was willing to talk with any of the Arab leaders at any time, any place -- "... and we won't quibble about the shape of the table" (alluding to the bickering the US and Vietnamese representatives had had before their Paris talks).
This attitude permeated the Zionists' way of thinking. It also led to severe conflicts of a psychological nature which not all were able to overcome. For on the one hand it obliged them to extend the olive branch, and on the other they had to be very quick on the trigger in case the proffered branch was violently rejected. Also, being few in number, they had to be very careful about the extent a non-Jew could be trusted, and no doubt many a trigger had been pulled more quickly than was strictly speaking necessary, a fact which must have exacerbated the very feelings of friendship which they were trying to induce in their neighbours. I was told by one of the real old-timers, who had come to Palestine long long ago and had seen it all develop over the years, how the first fights between the Arabs and the Jews had been with sticks, stones and knives, which later grew to small guns and then bigger guns and then cannons and tanks and planes and guided and unguided (and misguided) missiles.
Many Israelis could not bear this sort of duality and conflict between the desire for peace and the necessity to be ever ready for war, and therefore they adopted the attitude that in order to be on the safe side they would shoot first and ask questions afterwards. This made them very aggressive in their outlook, but this was not basic but was only a reflection of their inability to continually adopt the above-described position. Such people existed on the kibbutzim also, but they existed more so outside the kibbutzim. I was personally acquainted with a number of them, and in fact one was my room-mate at the University for one whole year. Nevertheless, there were others who were willing to try to hold the two conflicting positions simultaneously, and they were the stronger spirits among the population, and indeed many of them had attained high positions in Israeli society. The genuine Zionist adopted this attitude and did not despair of finding a solution to this long-standing problem some day, though maybe not in his life-time.
However, the fact that many held this sort of position was not something to be expressed loudly and openly to the general public. Indeed, just as the word "ideology" had come to be sarcastically used on the kibbutz, the word "Zionist" was also used by many as a kind of faintly ridiculous term when applied to oneself, and was hardly ever applied to others, certainly not to one's close friends. At Tsor'ah at least, I did not hear many people speaking of themselves as being "Zionists". Nevertheless, when one got to know them, one could discern an undercurrent of feeling along the lines I have described above, and, with this meaning, I was not ashamed to refer to myself as a Zionist at the meeting of the members at Tsor'ah I addressed as a sort of "guest lecturer" after my return from a visit to India in 1975.
The Arab-Israeli Conflict
In this context, I may say that before I went to Israel I had only a vague idea as to what were the causes of the Israeli-Arab conflict, and it was my assumption that there were certain intransigent positions taken by Israel along with certain others taken by the Arabs which were completely in opposition, and on which neither side was willing to have any discussion with the other. However, I discovered during the length of my stay in Israel that Israel was willing to have discussions on any subject with any Arab government, and had publicly so declared, so it was not possible for me to criticise Israel on the grounds that they were unwilling to have discussions. I also discovered that there were many Israelis who were willing to go even further and hold discussions with anyone, whether government or not, even the P.L.O., on any subject, even Jerusalem: and though this was not the official position of the Government of Israel it was a welcome sign, in my opinion, because I could discern that it gave an opening for peace talks to start. It only remained for a courageous Arab leader like Anwar Sadat to enter the opening and announce himself ready to talk, for the peace process to be under way.
Moreover I also got to understand -- which for most non-Jewish people it is not easy to do -- how difficult it is to maintain a Jewish identity in the non-Jewish world, and how much a Jew remains a Jew from birth till death even if trying his best to become "assimilated" into the society of the non-Jewish nations. Unless one has lived in Israel and particularly among the kibbutzniks, it is not possible to realise how much the Israelis and particularly the kibbutzniks love their country, how great is the attachment they feel for the land and for their involvement with it. It was, therefore, something of an eye-opener for me and I came to realise that the position adopted by most Israelis could not be validly criticised in most cases, at least not on the grounds that they were not willing to resolve their differences with the Arabs by having talks. Indeed I may say I came to adopt the position myself, with some modification, that it was necessary for Jews to be Zionists in the sense outlined above in order to achieve their fullest development and indeed to really fulfil themselves. And I am quite convinced that it is possible to do this without harming anyone who takes up a reasonable attitude -- that is to say, anyone who is is willing to talk rather than fight.
As I have mentioned, I returned to Israel after having spent a few months in India at the bedside of my mother in 1975; and when I returned to Israel after her passing on, the situation in India had become somewhat unstable: and in fact a few weeks after my return to Israel, Mrs. Gandhi's government in India declared the so-called "Emergency", about which I read in the Israeli and foreign press. I felt that it was not a good thing -- to put it mildly -- and in fact felt that under the circumstances my own freedom might be jeopardised were I to return to India after my studies, which were coming to an end. I therefore felt that I would prefer to remain in Israel, become if possible an Israeli citizen, and apply for membership to the kibbutz. During a talk I gave to some of the members at Tsor'ah I mentioned this. I was aware that it would be rather difficult for me to apply for citizenship, since, although in theory a person can become a citizen of Israel by the process of naturalisation just as in any other country, even if he or she is not Jewish, the fact was that I had not come across a single person who had actually done this, and I was not sure how to go about it.
Moreover, as I have said, I was rather disturbed emotionally at the time, having spent a number of months near my mother seeing her slowly dying of cancer, and a most painful cancer at that, and no doubt I showed my disturbed emotional state even though I tried to keep it to myself, and so I do not think the members at Tsor'ah took this idea of mine, to apply for membership at Tsor'ah, as being such a great one. Not that much was said about it, but one picks up certain vibes.
At the time I had still not finished my final exams, so I put off the decision till later anyway, and in the meantime thought I would also explore the possibility of applying for membership to some other kibbutz, perhaps one with a somewhat younger and more idealistic population than Tsor'ah. I had also felt that if I were to live permanently in Israel I should like to live in the Galilee, which, as I have said, is in my opinion the most beautiful country in the world (and I say this as one who has seen some of the world's loveliest places -- Switzerland, Tuscany, Kashmir, the French and Italian Riviera). To be sure, the attraction of the Galilee is much more than merely aesthetic; its beauty is enhanced by its people, history, associations, and many other factors. Anyway I felt that if I were to make a permanent home in Israel I should like it to be somewhere in the North of the country. Moreover, I was beginning to feel that the kind of kibbutz I should like to live on would be more idealistic, more determined to explore new social ways of living, more oriented towards making itself an ideal society based on the highest values. Tsor'ah, as I think I have been able to indicate in these pages, was a very pleasant place to live in, but I felt I wanted something more than just a pleasant place to live in.
Moreover, I had not till then been able to form the most intimate friendships with anyone on Tsor'ah except Arthur in a way, and I was interested in establishing relationships which were more intimate than those I had formed, particularly with people who felt more like I did with respect to social structure and inner life of the individual with emphasis on the spiritual way of life. It was not easy for me to do this on Tsor'ah, and I felt that I may never be able to do so, partly because Tsor'ah was a kibbutz frankly determined to live a pleasant life. I should not like to be misunderstood on this point; I liked Tsor'ah very much and thought it an ideal place to live in, but I had to admit that for me personally, it may not have been the best kibbutz to live on for the rest of my life.
Nevertheless I was not sure about it and I felt therefore that I should let myself be spiritually guided through force of circumstances. Therefore I waited and watched and at the same time kept my eyes and ears open to see whether there was some other kibbutz which would perhaps be more suitable for me.
More on Other Kibbutzim
One of the kibbutzim I had visited a few times was Beit Nir, not far from Tsor'ah. It was a relatively small kibbutz, with a population less than half that of Tsor'ah, but with an enormous land area, much of which was not suitable for anything but grazing. They had, therefore, a huge herd of cows which they raised for meat on the vast grazing grounds. Most of the members were in their twenties and thirties. A friend of mine, a photographer from South Africa who had stayed at the Absorption Centre at Tsor'ah for a while, had opted to go to Beit Nir with his young wife, so I used to visit them sometimes. It appeared to me a very nice kibbutz, young and -- presumably -- dynamic. It was in central Israel, not in the Galilee, but the countryside was quite beautiful all the same. They had land consisting of low rolling hills and much of the cultivated area was planted to wheat, which made the place very attractive in the spring-time. I toyed with the idea of staying there but never actually broached the subject. Unlike Tsor'ah, where a number of houses had a top storey in addition to the ground floor, all constructions on Beit Nir were ground floor only, which I felt was more attractive. The young average age of the members was another attraction. So was the scenery. But I did not get to know anyone there except my friend who ultimately left the kibbutz, so I did not actually discuss my going there with anyone.
I may mention that on these young kibbutzim the work was really done and controlled by the youngsters. The Secretary, the Treasurer, the Work Organiser and other office bearers were as often as not extremely young, and they did their job well. These kibbutzim were economically quite viable, and did not necessarily draw financial support from the older kibbutzim to whom they were affiliated, except in the beginning years of their establishment. Naturally, being young, they made a few mistakes out of inexperience, but that was how they learned. They were advised by some of the more experienced members of other kibbutzim sometimes, but the advice was not a command, and they were more or less free to take it or leave it. Their turnover ran into the millions of Israeli pounds, but they managed it all quite well. It was a definite attraction to be able to participate in a very real sense from quite a young age in the building of a kibbutz; in fact, it was probably the attraction of responsibility coupled with vigorous activity giving tangible results, that encouraged most of their members to join these kibbutzim. From a material point of view they were not quite as comfortable as the older, more established kibbutzim. But then, comfort was not uppermost in the minds of those who wished to join them. They preferred the exhilaration of being able to build something worthwhile all on their own with a minimum of interference from their elders.
Beit Nir belonged the left-wing Ha-Shomer Ha-Tza'ir movement, and no doubt many of the members were children of kibbutzniks on other kibbutzim belonging to the movement. They had in all probability a rather strong ideological base, though I did not get to know the kibbutz well enough to determine this for certain. It is my feeling that this ideological base gave them support of the kind they needed for standing up on their own at this young age. I feel that some sort of guiding principles had to exist for them to pull together without making a thorough mess of things. Of course, all this is supposition on my part because I was not in a position to determine the exact working of the kibbutz at the time.
Mind you, in Israel various aspects of kibbutz life were so well organised that it was not so very difficult to manage all its aspects. For instance, as regards sale of the produce, the kibbutz generally had an agreement with a huge organisation called Tnuva, which bought up all kinds of agricultural produce right off the field at prices which were either declared in advance or varied within quite narrow limits depending on auctions held every so often in the big towns. So the kibbutzniks had none of the worries farmers in most other countries have about taking their produce to the market and bargaining for a good price every time and so on. Moreover, Tnuva was regulated by the Government, at any rate enough to ensure that it did not fleece the farmers by buying up produce at throw-away prices and then selling it to the consumers at high mark-ups. Tnuva also had a large network of retail outlets for all agricultural produce and also sold produce to other countries: so the marketing aspect of farming, which is a formidable bottleneck in most other countries, did not exist for the kibbutz. Tnuva was not a monopoly -- one could sell one's produce to others if one wished to do so -- but was certainly much bigger than any competing organisation, so most kibbutzim preferred to sell through Tnuva.
Then as far as supplies went, like fertilisers, animal feed and so on, there were other organisations which dealt with the kibbutzim on a large-scale basis, like Ha-Mashbir Ha-Merkazi and Ambar, which were also controlled to the extent that they were not allowed to fleece the kibbutzim by charging exorbitant prices. They also delivered the goods to the doorstep, so transportation of goods was not a problem for the kibbutz. Many kibbutzniks worked in these organisations, which also enabled a certain amount of control to be kept over them.
Land, as I have said, was leased at nominal rates, and water supplied in rationed amounts by Mekorot, also at very reasonable rates, so there were no intolerable fluctuations in the monetary value of agricultural inputs and outputs, as there are in other countries. All this made for tremendous stability and made kibbutz agriculture a relatively low-risk business, whereas in most other countries it is very definitely a high-risk affair. This no doubt contributed in no small measure to the success of the kibbutz as a system.
It is my opinion that without these factors the kibbutzim would not have become anywhere nearly as prosperous as they did become. They left the kibbutzniks free to concentrate on the actual production of the crops, animals and what-have-you, and even in this there were fairly well-standardised packages of practices, written out in detail and available to everyone at low cost, which if one followed carefully one was reasonably sure to get good results. So basically all that the kibbutzniks had to do was to make sure the packages of practices were followed faithfully. This was well within the capacity of twenty- and thirty-year-olds. Consequently youth was not a barrier to the success of a kibbutz.
Very Young Kibbutzim
Another kibbutz I visited, somewhat later, was Snir. This is a very young kibbutz established after the Six Day War on the Golan Heights, a bit east of Kibbutz Dan which I have mentioned earlier. I had written to the Secretary that I was thinking of visiting with a view to joining, and some weeks later I got a reply written on what appeared to be the torn off sheet from a notebook saying I was welcome and that they needed more members. It was signed "Nurit" and she appeared to be someone pretty high up in the hierarchy. So on Pesach (Passover) of 1976 I went up north and visited the place. It took quite some getting to since it was way out, near the point where the Israeli, Syrian and Lebanese borders meet. I remembered having seen it during a tiyul (excursion) I had gone on in 1968 when presumably it had just been established. At the time -- maybe six months to a year after the shovel first broke ground there -- it had impressed me a lot that a whole kibbutz made of prefab concrete structures with lawns and swimming pool, cows and everything was put up in so short a time on what was total wilderness before. In 1976 it was more developed of course, but most of the buildings were still prefab concrete.
The informality of the note I had received had attracted me and I found the kibbutz still more informal. Nurit happened to be a young girl of 25 or 26 who had held just about every office-bearing post on the kibbutz since she came to it from her parents' kibbutz, Hazorea. I will never forget the way we met. I asked someone where she stayed and they pointed out her door, on which I knocked, but not getting any reply, I decided to walk in and see if anyone was in, since I had been assured she was there. Doors, as I have said, are not locked on kibbutzim and so I just walked in, to find her taking an afternoon nap alone in the bedroom. It was an embarrassing moment -- more for her than for me, I'm sure, though for me too -- but this is the kind of informality that kibbutz life is made of and that I found so attractive about it.
After she got over her embarrassment to some extent -- though from the look on her face I don't think she ever did fully -- she informed me that she had resigned her post some time back and that someone else was the Secretary now. I went looking for him but found out he had gone out of the kibbutz for Pesach. However I happened to meet the boy in charge of new candidates for membership and he was the right person to meet anyway -- they had a person who took this aspect of the kibbutz as part of his daily duties since they were in need of more members -- and he very kindly invited me to stay for Pesach (Passover). As a matter of fact I was half hoping they would because I really wanted to see a Pesach celebration on a young kibbutz, and, as I have said, these celebrations are the loveliest celebrations of any festivals I have observed anywhere.
This one at Snir was the loveliest of all, in my experience. The average age of the members was at the time around 25 and I doubt if there was a single member over 30. Some were married and had children -- very small children, naturally -- and others were single but were living with whom they might one day marry -- or not, if it came to that. Informality was the rule, and rules were the exception. Being close to the border everybody toted guns, and they left them lying any old where -- I heard someone ask another, pointing to an M-16 rifle lying against a bundle of hay in the field, "Whose gun is this?" and the other reply "Haven't the faintest", and they both walked away leaving the gun right where it was. Pesach on kibbutzim is celebrated by cutting the omer, the first barley of the season, according to the Biblical injunction; and this was done on a small rise near the kibbutz where barley was growing and from where one could see many miles into Lebanon to the north and the snow-covered Mount Hermon to the east. We saw gun smoke -- most likely artillery or suchlike -- in Lebanon as we were cutting the omer and celebrating at around 4.30 in the afternoon. There was nothing organised; we all just trooped out to where the barley was growing and it was cut and -- if I remember correctly -- someone had brought along an accordion or some such instrument and the youngsters danced and it was the most delightful unplanned/planned afternoon. After sunset we had a delightful seder (Passover celebration) in the dining room -- which, though small by kibbutz standards, was ultra-modern and was one of the attractions of the kibbutz -- and some members played Bach or Vivaldi on flutes and altogether it was a most delightful evening. I was given the use of a room left vacant by one of the members who had gone to Hazorea for Pesach, so I had a good rest in the night.
The extreme youth of the kibbutz was, I think, a drawback as far as I was personally concerned if I were to join it -- I would have been far and away the oldest member had they accepted me (I was at the time 33 years old) -- so I gave up the idea of joining it. However I really thought it a wonderful way to grow up for those who had decided to make it their home, and it was no doubt very creditable for them to have set up such an organisation at the age they were.
I discovered at Snir that the entire kibbutz at the time was "adopted" by Kibbutz Hazorea, which, as I have mentioned earlier, is situated in the Jezreel valley and was extremely wealthy. I do not know the exact relationship between the two kibbutzim, but I imagine some of the older and more experienced people from Hazorea came to Snir regularly, and gave advice of a nature calculated to help the youngsters avoid serious pitfalls. I suppose Hazorea -- or more probably, the Ha-Shomer Ha-Tza'ir movement, to which both Hazorea and Snir belonged -- also helped financially in one way or another. At the time of my visit I don't think Snir can have been earning enough to finance all that was there by way of constructions, equipment etc. All this is more or less guess work on my part but in large measure I think it is fairly sound guess work.
One of the main negative aspects about Snir was a certain atmosphere of tenseness about it which no doubt was generated by the proximity of the hostile border. It must have been psychologically quite draining. The atmosphere appeared to me thick enough to cut with a knife even at Pesach time so I do think it can have been a very strong deterrent to prospective members. No doubt those who had grown up in the Ha-Shomer Ha-Tza'ir movement were protected from its more pernicious aspects by their involvement with each other, and this also must have made for a strong bond between the members, but nevertheless it cannot have been completely absent even from their lives.
Snir was by far the "youngest" kibbutz I visited but it was not the youngest in Israel. There were others established more recently still, where the average age of the members was even lower than it was at Snir when I visited it: and which shows that it is possible to have kibbutzim made up of extremely young people. In fact, it was in a way advisable for prospective kibbutzniks to be young, because they did not have fixed ideas as did older persons. In Israel the older, more established kibbutzim often reached the stage at which they did not feel like expanding any more, and they therefore preferred their children, who had grown up, to go off and found a new kibbutz of their own. They gave them the support they required at first -- financial, technical and so on -- but they expected them to stand on their own feet soon. This was not difficult, as I have said, since everything was organised with the aim of encouraging this sort of thing.
It was organisation that accounted for the success of the kibbutzim from the financial point of view. By this I mean actual physical organisation, not just paper organisation. I mean the presence of trucks and offices and machinery of all kinds and dispensing points for farm produce and dining halls and kitchens and so on. It may be readily imagined that when kibbutzim are composed of very young people as at Snir it was just not possible to expect them to follow rules they did not wish to follow, particularly when there were no elders present to enforce the rules. But when the physical structure of the kibbutz is such that the most convenient course of action for people is to do what is most beneficial to the kibbutz, naturally everyone follows that course of action without the need for any compulsion on the part of anyone else. You give a youngster a tractor and tell him to go plough a field, and he will soon find out that he has to depress the clutch and accelerator in certain ways to get the tractor to work. Similarly you put a whole lot of youngsters in a physical situation where things are done in common or else they begin to feel uncomfortable, and they automatically begin to act in the way the physical structure indicates to them.
I may mention that I did not find, even on the most so-called "idealistic" kibbutzim I visited, too many of the extreme kinds of ideologues portrayed in some books about Israel which seem to be popular in countries outside Israel. What I mean to say is, it was not ideology I saw holding the members of the kibbutz together so much as the way things were structured -- in a physical sense -- on the kibbutz. It is my opinion that basically, with the help of a little bit of ideology, such a structure would enable virtually any group of people to fit into the kibbutz way of life quite comfortably.
No doubt a certain amount of common ideology is necessary for the kibbutzniks to make the best use of the structure available to them. This was reflected in the fact that on most kibbutzim I visited, the majority of the population consisted of Ashkenazi Jews, that is, Jews who came from European countries originally, or Jews from English-speaking countries like the USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. The Sephardic and Oriental Jews, who came from African and Asian countries principally, did not form a sizeable proportion of any kibbutz I know of. This was explained by the fact that socialist and communist ideology was quite well understood in the countries of Eastern Europe and Germany, and was not difficult for the Jews from English-speaking countries to understand (remember that Karl Marx wrote Das Kapital in London!) whereas it was rather foreign to the patriarchal and tight family and social structure prevalent in African and Asian countries. There were some Sephardic members on kibbutzim, no doubt, but the impression one got was that they were in some way rebelling against their families -- at least to some extent -- by joining a kibbutz: whereas the Ashkenazi members did not have any conflict with their families who may be in town. It was easier for the Ashkenazim to fit into the kibbutz way of life and adopt whatever ideology they felt that they should adopt as kibbutzniks. Therefore I do not say ideology did not count at all as far as membership of a kibbutz went, but I do say that the major factor was not ideology but structure of the kibbutz.
These observations made me feel that it would not be difficult to introduce a modified kibbutz way of life in India in the rural areas, and indeed I gave considerable thought to this both while in Israel and when I returned to India in November 1976. However, this subject would require a long paper by itself, so I merely mention it briefly in passing.
There was a story I heard, and which may well be untrue, but which appeared possible or at least plausible, and which I recount here for the sake of illustrating a point. Apparently a group of Arab citizens of Israel got together and declared themselves ready to form a kibbutz. The Jewish Agency, which as part of its work helps such groups financially in the beginning, leased them a certain area of land and helped set up chicken sheds and cowsheds and so on, to get them started. It appeared they were managing quite all right at the start. However, once in a while some relations of the members used to drop in for a visit, and Arab tradition demands they should be well looked after, so the members started slaughtering a chicken or two at first, and later some sheep and then even some of the cattle, and ultimately they were left with no livestock at all. The whole thing apparently collapsed quite quickly after this, and is now no more. I don't know, as I said, whether this story is true or not, but it indicates the need on the part of the members to exercise a certain amount of restraint and to understand the fact that on a kibbutz, the welfare of the individual is tied up to the welfare of the whole. It depends, also, on what the members consider to be "the whole". If "the whole" is considered by the members to be their families rather than the kibbutz, there is a conflict between the family interest and the kibbutz's interest, and generally the kibbutz loses out. So it is definitely necessary to have at least a certain minimum amount of ideology to enable a kibbutz to succeed.
From a practical point of view, though, I feel that a kibbutz is better off with a mixed population of all types of people, because they complement each other. A kibbutz composed entirely of Ashkenazim tends to have a certain flavour of its own, which is not necessarily psychologically very satisfying. When there are people from all walks of life and from all different backgrounds, there is a better atmosphere: more balanced and, in my opinion, healthier. I feel in fact that kibbutzim would be better still with people from all religions instead of only Jews. At present such kibbutzim do not exist in Israel, at least to my knowledge. However I can see no reason why they could not flourish. (I believe such kibbutzim do exist in Japan, however. Not having visited them I can't say for certain, of course.) Naturally the members have to believe in the unity underlying the diversity of religions, or at least tolerate each others' different religious beliefs. If they persist in believing that any one religion is superior to others, such a kibbutz will obviously not succeed.
Non-acceptance of non-Jewish persons
In this connection, I confess I did find an undercurrent of belief among the majority of kibbutzniks I came into contact with, that being Jewish amounted to something of a "one-up" situation compared to persons who were not Jewish. It was not expressed explicitly, to be sure, but there was a definite atmosphere implying this. Mr. Sprinzak, son of one of Israel's notable political personalities of the early days, who introduced me to Kibbutz Na'an when I first reached Israel, said that kibbutzim could never be established by any people except Jews. (This of course is quite untrue: the Japanese have had kibbutzim for decades, and I understand, in fact, that the first Japanese kibbutz was established even before Deganiya!) A young girl who came to Tsor'ah, I think, from Australia, told me over the lunch table that if Tsor'ah were the kind of kibbutz who would accept a non-Jew like me as a member, she would never become a member of Tsor'ah, because, according to her, one day in the far future my children might meet her children and they may wish to get married to each other, which, in her eyes, would be an unmitigated disaster. Lillah was with me at the time and she was much upset by this young girl's remark, though it did not bother me very much, having heard similar things -- though not so bluntly put -- numerous times before. I quite realise that this sort of thing is rife in all the world's religions -- the religion of my own ancestors, Zoroastrianism, is if possible even more ridiculous in this regard, since a non-Zoroastrian may not even enter a Zoroastrian Fire-Temple in India, what to speak of marrying a Zoroastrian -- but this sort of belief is hardly going to make for a harmonious community of the kibbutz type. Even if there is a kind of idea that the different religions should be "separate but equal", it will merely create, in my opinion, some kind of "apartheid" type of situation -- probably milder, but pernicious nevertheless. In respect, therefore, of the matter of religious disunity, I did find the kibbutzim somewhat less than ideal, though this was not intended to be so by the early founders of the kibbutzim, at least from what I could gather.
In this respect I observed some things which might appear rather curious to some people. One of them was a desire on the part of numerous non-Jewish persons to convert to Judaism. The first such person I knew was a Spanish girl called Conchita Vigo. She became a close friend of mine at Na'an. She was a volunteer there. I did not speak Hebrew well then, but since I spoke Italian fluently -- having just finished a three year stay in Italy -- we found we could get by very well with her speaking to me in Spanish and my replying in Italian. She was also a very intelligent, likeable person, and had a great talent for drawing portraits -- in fact, was the best portrait artist I have ever known. She was born a Christian but wanted to convert to Judaism, and more than once remarked to me that she really felt that the Jews were God's chosen people. She had a fine appreciation for all that was beautiful, and one of my most delightful memories is of the time I read out along with her, carefully going over every word (since our knowledge of Hebrew was so fresh), the opening verses of the book of Koheleth (Ecclesiastes) in the Hebrew Bible. Struck by the beauty of the language, she exclaimed with a thrill: "Es tan hermoso!" ("It's so beautiful!") We were both in a deep depression emotionally at the time, and the words of The Preacher ("Vanity of vanities, all is vanity ...") echoed our innermost feelings. Of course, as I have had occasion to point out, the beauty of the Hebrew original is far greater than that of any translation of the Bible, and this beauty is obviously not accessible to someone who does not appreciate the Hebrew language in particular and at least two if not more languages in general.
One of the main attractions of Judaism, I think, must be the Hebrew Bible, which in depth and beauty can be matched only, perhaps, by the Sanskrit Vedas, Upanishads and Epics. Those Christians who know the Bible only in translation cannot, I feel, understand the tremendous effect the Old Testament has on Jews, who are taught it, if they are taught it at all, in Hebrew. When a Christian learns Hebrew and particularly begins to read it in the spirit a Jew reads it, he (or she) begins to see it in a whole different light from the way he (or she) saw it before. And one of the effects, I can well understand, of this is to make them want to convert to Judaism. This need not be the only motivating factor, of course, but it can be one of them. But when it is coupled with the experience of living in Eretz Yisrael, the Land of Israel, and getting to know all the associations with it so clearly described in the Bible, and, in addition, the experience of living among the Israelis who love their land so much as to make that love the main motivating force in their lives, coupled with the atmosphere created as a result, the effect can be very great. It is rather difficult for me to imagine a Christian wanting to convert to Judaism and yet live in a country other than Israel. But, as I have said, I encountered quite a few such persons in Israel.
One of the others was from South Africa, not a Jewish South African but a white Christian South African. He was fairly advanced in years though he kept himself fit and was able to put in as much work in the fields as any of the other kibbutzniks of Tsor'ah, where he was a volunteer during part of the time he spent going through the tedious procedure of conversion to Judaism. My first contact with him was remarkably hostile due to a remark he made to me implying that native Africans were genetically unable to rise to the level of whites, and we did not speak to each other for a long time: but towards the end of his stay on Tsor'ah we got somehow to be very friendly. The cause of bringing us together was an interest in farming and animal husbandry, in both of which from the practical point of view he was an expert, having practised them for years in South Africa. He confirmed several ideas of mine on animal husbandry which up to then had not been tried by me, or even by the kibbutz; and as a result we got talking about other matters also, and I found I had missed a lot by refusing to speak to him due to a chance remark he had made, for I found him to be very intelligent and perceptive. He was quite an aware person, capable of judging peoples' character with a great deal of accuracy merely by observing them, and though it is possible that he may not have been widely read, I found him extraordinarily keen of intellect and deep-thinking. He left Tsor'ah shortly after his having finalised his conversion to Judaism, and went to another kibbutz as a candidate for membership, because he felt most of the members at Tsor'ah were not serious enough for him.
One of the things I found painful about all this was the fact that these converts were not accepted as being "fully Jewish" (in some mystical sense, I suppose), by numerous people in Israel and on the kibbutz, even after they had gone through the ordeal of a Rabbinical conversion: which, from what I've heard, is really tough. This especially did not seem to me to be in the spirit of the Bible, which records that Ruth, who was not originally from one of the tribes of Israel, was accepted by the people of Israel as one of them after a simple declaration she made to Naomi, her mother-in-law, "Where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God, my God; where you die I will die, and there will I be buried". And Ruth was King David's great-grand-mother. If King David's great-grand-mother could become Jewish, and that too so easily, I think it is unfair to think about these poor fellows who have gone through the whole rigmarole of a Rabbinical conversion as "not being fully Jewish". And particularly to hear this sentiment expressed by a kibbutznik (as I did) does not speak well of the ideals of kibbutz life.
Though to be fair I should like to add that it was not necessarily shared by all the kibbutzniks; indeed once when talking about some mutual non-Jewish acquaintance, Arthur said words to the effect that he could not be expected to understand something about Israel (I forget what) because he was not Jewish; and upon my saying: "But what about me?" (implying, "I'm not Jewish, yet I understand"), he said, "Oh, you're Jewish!" Then, as an afterthought, he added with a smile, "Take that as a compliment", which I do.
Actually, from what I've managed to understand, this whole business of conversion to Judaism being difficult and so on started during the Diaspora, and was more than anything else introduced with a view to enabling the Jews in their Exile to preserve their identity when scattered far and wide among the nations. But now that the Jews have their land back again I do not think it makes much sense to keep on with the customs developed for a totally different situation, namely the Diaspora. Unfortunately the Rabbis are very rigid in their outlook. I could understand the remark of the kibbutznik at Na'an who had said to me: "I don't like Rabbis".
I have digressed somewhat from the main theme, but what I wished to point out is, that kibbutz life is not a life meant only for Jews, and, indeed, would be enriched by the presence of members from other ethnic groups and religions also. Of course, these others would have to have an appreciation for the uniquely Jewish part of it; but what is so difficult about that? Many Jews have appreciated the beauty and depth of other religions -- Ben-Gurion was extremely appreciative of Buddhism, for instance, and indeed there were those who used to refer to him as a Buddhist -- and there is no reason why, in a parallel sense, a non-Jew cannot be regarded as Jewish. I am aware that what I am saying here may not find sympathy in the eyes of many people in Israel, but I am sure if some thought is devoted to it, many will see that there is much sense to what I am saying.
Of course, I also realise that there is another side to the coin, which is, that most Jews even today live outside Israel, and therefore, the laws and customs specifically devised for the Diaspora should still apply. No doubt this is true. It may also happen, that the Diaspora will never, in a sense, come to an end, since the world is a different place now than it was in Biblical times, and mobility of people is much greater now than it has ever been in the past; moreover, a lot of people want to move from place to place (as opposed to being forced to do so). However, this is not the concept of Zionism: and, as I have said, I believe it is necessary, for their fullest development, for most -- if not all -- Jews to make Israel their home. I say this after much consideration, and I also say that so in spite of the fact that large numbers of Jews have become famous in a great many fields while living outside Israel; I am aware that this is not a rational statement to make (according to the narrow definition of rationality), but a thing does not necessarily have to be rational to be true.
A Difficult Part in My Narrative
Now I come to a part of my narrative which I find it rather hard to put down in words, which encompasses the last few months of my stay at Tsor'ah and indeed in Israel. It is hard because, though it was a wonderful and unforgettable period of my life, my experiences of that period were internal and not of a kind that can easily be verbalised. So I beg my reader to excuse the haziness of the picture I am painting, because it is not possible for me to make it more clear and yet be faithful to the truth.
Since June 1967 I have been following -- or trying to follow -- what I consider a spiritual way of life. The date -- coinciding with the Six Day War in Israel -- marked a turning point in my life, because during that time I had an inner experience which I am not even going to try to describe, since I am sure it cannot be done, at any rate by me. I was not in Israel at the time but in South Italy, on the coast of Calabria, though I had already decided that I would be going soon to Israel and had applied already for travel documents and University admission, etc. Before that date I had no interest in the spiritual way of life and in fact was somewhat against it. My inner experience caused an almost 180-degree change inside me.
While I was on the kibbutzim -- whether Na'an or Tsor'ah -- I did not speak about this to anyone, for a number of reasons, which need not be gone into here; suffice it to say that they were valid reasons. However, after my mother passed away and I returned to Israel, I made a slight change in this policy in that I would talk about it but only on condition that I was convinced that my listener was himself or herself deeply interested in the spiritual way of life, and was, moreover, receptive to what I had to say about it. I did not find any such person for a long time.
In the meanwhile, internally I had become even more single-pointedly determined to go after the spiritual Goal of my life. I shall not say here what that is, but suffice it to say that I have such a Goal. I read much on spiritual subjects, but more than reading I tried more and more to live it in my life. What this entails can be understood, I think, only by someone who has tried to do so himself or herself, so I am not going to try and describe it here. I found, as a result, that I became more and more perceptive, but I also found that it became more and more difficult for a majority of people to understand me: that is, to figure out what was going through my mind by observing me. (This is something almost everybody does, particularly on kibbutzim, because on kibbutzim one is naturally in closer contact with the others than in most other situations in life). In other words, it became easier and easier for me to understand others, and more and more difficult for others to understand me. This created a situation which is very hard to describe. "Rift" is perhaps not quite the word for it, because from my point of view there was no rift. However it may have appeared so from their point of view.
In addition to all this, my inner life became more and more full and intense. That was a time when I used to take my ten-speed bicycle all over the countryside, not just on the roads and hard surfaces but even through the fields and orchards. In this way I discovered many beautiful places I never imagined existed. The beauty of some of the places was so great, particularly for me in the frame of mind I was in at the time, that I felt I would burst open with emotions -- which, moreover, I could hardly describe. I did burst into tears several times, and they were not tears of sorrow only, or joy only, but a result of an overwhelming surge of what can hardly be justifiably termed emotion, where joy and sorrow mingled and were, one might say, transcended.
I had, in September 1976, received my degree from the University and had not decided what to do further. I did not feel like studying for my doctorate for the time being, for several reasons. For one thing, I felt that I was not in the proper frame of mind to do so. For another, I felt that study towards a doctorate would involve me too much in some small, narrow field of specialisation, whereas what I felt I needed was to widen my horizons, to consider broader issues -- like, for example, the solving of agricultural problems of developing countries -- and even more, like total development, including not only agriculture or even only economics but all-round development, economic, political and social, of developing countries. Such courses were not available in Israel at the time I was there, though they were at Harvard. I wrote to Harvard, to Professor Roger Revelle, who was an authority on the subject at the time, and got a favourable reply from him: he even sent me, without my having asked, the application papers for admission to Harvard, giving me the clear indication in a covering letter that if I wished to apply, he would see to it that I was accepted. However, I was torn between a desire to study at Harvard and my pull for kibbutz life, and the pull for kibbutz life won, albeit by a small margin. I felt I would learn more from Israel and the kibbutzim how to solve the problems I was thinking about studying, that at Harvard, excellent though that University is. My grades at the Hebrew University were quite good enough to get me into Harvard, had I applied, but I did not. To some extent this is a measure of my appreciation of the kibbutz way of life. In addition, as I have said above, I was getting more and more involved in the spiritual quest, and that, I felt, was certainly not to be obtained at any university. Unfortunately it did not seem to be obtainable at kibbutzim either. However, I felt that it could be pursued to a fair extent on a kibbutz, in a private way, in fact I felt it could be pursued on a kibbutz with less hindrance than in most other situations in the world. Therefore although I did not apply for membership at any kibbutz I let things shape their course through force of circumstances. I became convinced that if I did the right thing internally and externally I would find myself in the right situation eventually through force of circumstances.
Then I suddenly found persons who were interested in the spiritual way of life and in what I had to say about it. This was a wonderful period in my life because I could at last explain myself to others. It was also something wonderful because I could become so close to others that there were virtually no barriers between us, and in a sense, one might say we did not have to use words to communicate with each other; thoughts were sufficient. This is a phenomenon which is quite hard to describe and seems almost unbelievable, but it is true. The bond that developed between us was extremely strong. I am deliberately not going to write about this in this account because I am convinced that those who have not experienced such a situation cannot even begin to understand its beauty, depth and the extreme joy which it generates, whereas those who have experienced anything like it will not need to be told. However, I wish to make the point here that such a situation did develop, and it was an experience I would not for the life of me have missed. As one of them wrote to me in 1981 -- after five years -- "those were three months that will last all of us a lifetime". From this experience, I can say with certainty that those who have not experienced such a situation do not have the faintest idea what human relationships can be.
One result, however, of this was that those who were not involved in this were somehow under a definite impression that I had cut myself off from them, and this included the members of Tsor'ah. It was not that I had actually cut myself off, but that was the impression that they got. This from my point of view was unfortunate, for it was not what I wanted, but the fact is that it happened. I was also not in a position to prevent it from happening. I do not wish to go into this deeper here, because it is neither here nor there, but one of the consequences of it was that I more and more considered leaving Tsor'ah, and the members more and more, I suppose, considered asking me to find an alternative place to live.
However, as I have said, I had decided that I would wait and see how force of circumstances offered me an opportunity to find myself my right place. Now sometime around July or August I had written to my father in India that I would like to come back, and that was also partly due to the fact that after my mother's passing away I had become -- let us say -- of a different frame of mind than I had been when she was alive and well. There were other reasons also, which I need not go into here. Anyway, from that time on, an air ticket had been put at my disposal to use whenever I wanted, to return to India. Right then I had not officially obtained my degree from the University (though I had finished all my exams), and I did not want to leave till I got it, but eventually I got the degree also, and I had the option, whenever I wanted, to use my ticket. One of the main considerations in my mind preventing me from making use of it was the fact that the "Emergency" was still in force in India, and, having read and known about it almost exclusively from the Western press, I was not at all happy about the idea of going back to the situation I imagined prevailed in India as a result. However, I was also not finding my "niche" in Israel, at least for the time being. So I kept the option open, and, in fact, it became more and more clear that, at least for a period, I would have to go back. There were other reasons also.
That was also the time of the election campaign in the USA, and I had taken a keen interest in it, extending my support for candidate Carter, who, I felt, would be the best president of the USA for Israel. This feeling I had also expressed in a letter to Carter, who had written back a short postcard in reply: "We need your continuing support". However, this sentiment was at the time not well considered in Israel, where many felt, no doubt, that Carter would be too weak. My support for Carter, perhaps, also played some role in making the members of Tsor'ah feel that I should find myself some other place, because most of them were rooting for Gerald Ford. So on the day of his (Carter's) narrow victory over Ford, the newly elected secretary of Tsor'ah called me to his office and told me that I should make arrangements to leave soon.
(Anyway, as a side issue, I may point out that my estimation of Carter as one of the best Presidents of the USA for Israel has been borne out by history, and I am glad to note that Ezer Weizman, who was Defence Minister in Begin's government at the time of the Camp David talks, has written in his memoirs of the talks: "As far as I know, no American President has ever helped Israel as much as Jimmy Carter". Whatever may have been Carter's shortcomings as a President of the USA for the USA, I am certain that he was the best President of the USA for Israel.)
Be that as it may, I was therefore both compelled to leave Tsor'ah, and I also had the feeling that it was the right thing to do at the time. Indeed, I had the distinct feeling that I needed to be in India, with my father, for some time at least, before returning to Israel, which is what I thought I would eventually do. I did not know how long I would have to remain away from Israel, but I hoped it would be only a short while, so I packed only a few of my belongings for the trip to India, leaving the vast majority of my belongings with a friend. I left Israel on 8th November, 1976. Since then, however, circumstances allowing me to go back have not arisen.
Now though I have come to the end of my narrative I should like to say some words particularly with regard to my feelings, thoughts, impressions and so on, subjective though they might be, because it is my firm belief that the truth cannot be arrived at by merely taking note of facts. (As an illustration of this I may give the simile of a pair of lovers seen walking hand in hand in a garden; an observer who merely sees and records a man and a woman walking hand in hand cannot even begin to express the reality being experienced by the lovers at the same time.) Therefore I would say, in the interest of truth, that the subjective -- so called -- feelings and thoughts which I am going to express hereunder are perhaps even closer to the truth than the facts I have recounted above; indeed, it is for the same reason that even in the preceding pages I have mentioned many things which will no doubt be considered subjective and "non-factual". In fact, truth is often quite inexpressible except by way of metaphors, similes, parables and so on, as anyone who has read Shakespeare or Goethe or the Gospels will agree. (I say this merely to illustrate a point, of course).
In the first place, I would like to say something about the immense gratitude I feel towards all the various kibbutzim that allowed me to visit them and to live on them, and of course particularly to Tsor'ah, and also Na'an to a somewhat lesser extent. I always felt then, and still do so, that I received much more than I gave, at least with my work in the formal, organised sense. I write this not as a paragraph inserted in this book to express my gratitude, as is done generally in a formal sense by any writer of a book, but as a record of my feelings. What I mean to say is, that this is a genuine feeling on my part which was there and is still there as a result of my living on the various kibbutzim. Even my visits to other kibbutzim which I visited only for a day or two -- and particularly Snir on the slopes of Mount Hermon, where I attended my last and most delightful Seder (Passover ceremony) in Israel -- aroused in me such strong feelings of gratitude that sometimes I do not know if I can begin to express them adequately. I had mentioned to Zvi, with whom I was working as a shepherd, that I felt that I had received more from Tsor'ah than I felt I had given; and he mentioned it to Arthur without telling me that he was going to do so, and told me later that Arthur had said that as far as he was concerned I had no cause to feel that way; nevertheless I do feel that way.
Now this is a feeling which I have known others to have also. It is a phenomenon connected with the very atmosphere of a kibbutz. It is a sort of undefined obligation to oneself, to give all one has and is capable of giving to the kibbutz, and if one falls short of that, one begins to feel guilty. Nobody makes you feel that way; on the contrary, if any effort were made to make people feel that way I think the feeling would actually disappear. It becomes a matter of honour, after one has been a kibbutz resident for a while (whether as a member or otherwise), that one should have given more to the kibbutz than one has taken from it. Also, this is not a sentiment of so-called "unselfishness". Selfishness or unselfishness have nothing to do with it. It is something transcending both. One does not feel particularly unselfish when feeling this way. Nor does one feel selfish, for that matter. It is not as if one feels that way in order to feel "better" than his fellows, for instance. I personally almost always felt that the others on Tsor'ah were "better" than me as workers, of course each in his own field of activity. (Although, as I have mentioned, I was considered at one time to be the best shepherd on the kibbutz, I do not myself share this opinion; I think at least Arthur, Barry and Abu Yussuf were better than me, for instance.)
That this sort of feeling is not something only I have experienced is borne out by what Melford Spiro has written in his book Kibbutz, in the chapter entitled "Moral Postulates of Kibbutz Culture", wherein he states his own experience of guilt feelings about having worked only part of the day, and making up for the rest of the day, during which he wrote his book, by paying cash to the kibbutz for the board and lodging he was getting; somehow, he says, he felt "he was shirking his responsibility". (Let me mention in passing that I read Spiro's book only towards my last days in Israel and have consequently not been influenced by it in having the kinds of feelings I am talking about. Besides, Spiro writes from the point of view of an outsider, one who intends to leave after a while, and still he had these feelings; how much more so, one can readily imagine, a person like me!)
Now this sort of feeling is one of the great strengths of the kibbutz, and indeed it is due to this that the kibbutz as an institution has been able to exert such a powerful influence. Moreover, a feeling like this cannot be generated in a so-called "normal" situation in an ordinary town or even a village. It is for such things that one lives on a kibbutz. And, as I have said, in the early years of the kibbutzim, from what I have understood from the old timers, this kind of feeling was even more pronounced than when I was on the kibbutz. That was a time when the very lack of material comforts was in a sense an advantage, in that the minds of the kibbutzniks were more easily focussed on the non-material aspects of their culture; the comradeship, the feeling of belonging, the feeling of contributing and building the country and so on. It is my opinion that feelings of this nature are far, far more important motivating factors than any monetary or material considerations, though admittedly not all people are able to appreciate their worth, particularly if they have no orientation. (I have, of course, no idea what the situation is now, in the year 2001.)
This is particularly so in regard to the fact that I feel I learned more from my stay at the kibbutz than at the University. Not that I am decrying the University; the faculty of Agriculture of the Hebrew University is, in my opinion (and in the opinion of many others) one of the best -- if not the best -- Agricultural Schools in the world. (This is in no small measure due to the fact that many of the pupils and also staff come from kibbutzim). But there are things that cannot be taught at any university. The university framework is just not suitable for it. Whereas the kibbutz framework is so eminently suitable that one can get just about as much out of it as one can absorb, and go back for more. Of course each person will get something different from it; probably very few will get out of it what I got, maybe because I was trying to get all I could out of it. It is up to each person to learn from it at his or her own pace and in his or her own way. And if one does not want to, one gets very little out of it. Also, I am sure many kibbutzniks will feel that what I got out of it was not nearly as much as they did; and perhaps many of them will feel that a large number of my conclusions are erroneous. So perhaps many will feel that what I got out of the kibbutz is not what I should have got out of it. But that does not bother me. I do not claim to have learned all about kibbutzim or even all about Kibbutz Tsor'ah; many facets of the kibbutz were not even experienced by me at first hand; and moreover, I am sure I have my blind spots also, and am not able to see certain things right in front of my nose so to speak, which is a lacuna I have observed in every person I know. But what I did get out of my stay at kibbutzim I know, I mean that I know it in a way in which a person can never know when he reads things in books, or even passes examinations on what he reads.
I ought, perhaps, to make the point that before I got to Israel I had not read so much as even one book on modern Israel or the kibbutz. (It is true that I had had something of a school education in the Bible, but that deals with ancient Israel, and moreover, had dealt with the New Testament more than with the Old; and of course, due to the fact that I am a voracious reader, I had come across innumerable references to Biblical themes). I had also not known much about Jewish customs and aspirations and ways of thinking. I cannot say that I approached Israel with a completely blank mind, because I have to admit that I had certain intuitive feelings somewhere deep down about Israel, and also about the kibbutz, which made me want to actually avoid reading about Israel and the kibbutzim, because of a fear that it would be described differently than what I imagined -- or rather refused to let myself imagine -- it was like. As far as Israel as a whole goes, when I reached there I did find many aspects of it different from my inner intuitions. But as far as the kibbutz and matters associated with it went, I found it so much like what my intuition had indicated, and even more, that in a way I felt I had known it all along. I did not feel myself in a strange situation, in other words.
The Potential of the Kibbutz
As far as the potential of the kibbutz goes, I have certain ideas which most people will not, perhaps, agree to, but which I will indicate here. (Note inserted here in the year 2001: It is to be remembered that all this was written in 1981, and much of what has been written here has turned out not to be true; so more than anything else, the following should be taken as a historical record of my views as they were twenty years ago.)
As far as I can see, the potential of the kibbutz is virtually unlimited. It is, in a sense, the way of life of the future. As the world more and more easily solves the problems of providing for the material aspects of human existence, people are going to need the non-material aspects more and more. People are going to get fed up with glass and steel and cement and asphalt and plastic. People are going to need, in a very deep sense, contact with nature: and that too not just once in a while, say on vacation, but on a day to day basis. And by nature I mean not merely rocks and soil and plants and animals, but also, and perhaps as importantly, human nature, from which, in the largest of cities, people are getting increasingly isolated. The signs of this malady are already apparent to anyone who can read the writing on the wall. Many people even today would "chuck it all up and go away somewhere", if only they had somewhere to go to. One does not want to simply go away to nature and live alone like a hermit. (At least, most people would not want to do that for the rest of their lives, though it might be all right for a while for some people, like Walden for Thoreau).
Besides, the alternative to the city must be viable. The material achievements of the city and of the modern world are not to be brushed off lightly, and any alternative to it must be an alternative which will be superior to it. It must be able to give the person who has the choice before him, a real choice, not requiring him to forgo a lot of the genuine, tangible benefits he can see around him for something wishy-washy. For this reason, the kibbutz is the only real alternative. The ordinary farm, or the ordinary village, cannot take their place, because their potential is far inferior. And, in fact, in most developed as well as developing countries, people are leaving the farms and villages and going to the cities, because, although the cities are bad, the villages and farms are worse. It is only when the productivity, in the material sense, of the alternative life-style is superior to the usual one that it has a chance of attracting people.
And the fact is that the productivity of the kibbutz is superior to the usual way of life of the average urban Israeli. That it is not as great as that in some other countries is due partly to the fact that Israel is still a developing nation in many ways, and resources are being spent on capital acquisition and infrastructure -- communications, transport, structures, machinery, etc. -- more than on actual return-giving projects; partly also due to the extremely heavy defence burden; and partly due to the fact that the potential of the kibbutz is still not realised -- by that I mean, understood -- by many: by most Israelis certainly, and by many kibbutzniks also. It takes time to get to understand this enormous potential. I myself thought that the potential was very good, when I first came to Israel, but I have changed my opinion now and I think that the potential is fantastic, not just very good. For instance, the kibbutz society has the potential, in my opinion, to enable Israel to become not just the most advanced nation in the world, but even a super-power. In this opinion I am not supported by anyone as far as I know; even Ben Gurion, an enthusiastic supporter of all the kibbutz stands for, and, of course, a great visionary as regards Israel, has expressed his opinion that Israel will never be able to "... compete with our rivals in ... resources and strength and equipment of the armed forces ..." (by "rivals" here he is referring to the other advanced nations of the world, by the way, not to the Arab countries). But I do not agree with this view. Power is not merely a function of numerical superiority. It is not even a function of quality and quantity of equipment, though these count perhaps for more than mere numerical superiority of troops. There are many other factors that also go to make for strength.(By the way, I do not mean by the foregoing that Israel will become a super-power, because I doubt that she will either need or want to become one; I only mean that she has the potential to become one.) Now this opinion may not be accepted by my readers; but when I first heard Ben-Gurion saying that the Negev could support four million Jews if they came and settled there, I could not believe my ears (particularly since he said it in the Negev itself, where for miles one couldn't see even a blade of grass); but after having lived in Israel I am quite convinced it can be done. So I also think that time will bear me out. It won't be a short time, however; there are too many matters to be resolved, both in the kibbutz community and in Israel as a whole, and also in the Jewish community outside Israel; not the least among these is the problem of making people see the potential; but I am certain that ultimately it can happen.
Already many people are beginning to realise that the ways of arranging things in the usual way of life in the world are extremely wasteful of potential. Take, for instance, modern (1981) theories of management. People are beginning to realise that the old ways of managing firms are inefficient and are thinking of alternative ways like the "Theory Z" of management and so on. I have read a number of books on management after I left Israel and I have found that all the innovations suggested by the authors -- among the tops in the field -- already exist in the kibbutz structure. People are fond of citing Japanese systems of management as having put the Americans to shame, but they do not realise that the good points of the Japanese systems are all incorporated in the kibbutz, and many more besides. It is just that people do not know about the kibbutz as widely as they ought to. Then take the theories of the disappearing distinctions between economics, politics and social life in general, pointed out by Alvin ("Future Shock") Toffler in his recent new book. All these are already evident in the kibbutz. And all this is only as regards the material aspects of life; the non-material aspects, which are even more important, are even more a reality on the kibbutz than the material. The more one goes into the future, the more one is going to find that the material aspects of life are just not going to satisfy people. It will be only by giving people a chance to reach their higher aspirations of a non-material nature, that future societies will be able to reach stability in the long run. Otherwise internal corruption is certain to make them collapse after a while.
The strength of a society lies in its values. And also in the extent to which the values are given an opportunity to be realised in actual practice (as opposed to merely being talked about, as they were, for instance, in the culture of the Hassidim, who always said that it was necessary for Israel to return to Zion, but never did anything about it). A society like the kibbutz, for instance, which feels quite secure in leaving homes unlocked since no one will steal anything, I mean in actual practice no one steals, is surely far superior to one in which people talk about the fact that stealing is wrong, but where everything has to be locked up because people might steal.I have never met a single vattik -- a person who has lived many, many years on a kibbutz is referred to thus -- who said or even hinted that he felt that he had somehow wasted his life. It is possible that such persons do exist, but I never met any, and so they must be extremely few. On the other hand, I have known no end of urban people, even numbering among them my own relations -- and that too some of them not too far advanced in years, just middle-aged one might say -- who have said to me outright that they felt that they had wasted their life: that their lives had somehow gone by without their feeling inside themselves that they had done the right things in that period of time. (They were all wealthy, mind you, and not complaining about material poverty, but rather about spiritual and emotional poverty.) So it goes to show that for a society to prosper there must be an opportunity for the members to live in their life the highest and noblest values that mankind is able to put into practice.
Room For Improvement
Now I do not say the kibbutz is perfect in this regard, because I do feel that there is room for improvement. I do say that the kibbutz is superior to any other existing society of comparable or larger size, but it is not necessarily superior to what it might be possible to achieve, with time and effort. I will enumerate here some of the ways in which the kibbutz itself can help itself to realise its own potential.
For one thing, I feel that the kibbutz ought to be much more tolerant of "cranks" and misfits. Mind you, the kibbutz is already very much more tolerant of such people than many societies of equally closed nature. But it ought to be even more tolerant, because such people are a part of the source of strength of the kibbutz. It ought to be remembered that the founders of the early kibbutzim were themselves what might have been considered "cranks" and misfits by the society of that time. Somehow, a certain rigidity has entered into the kibbutz at the present time which cannot have been there at the time of the founding halutzim (pioneers). This rigidity varies from kibbutz to kibbutz, and I must say that on Tsor'ah it was much less than on many other kibbutzim; nevertheless, though it makes for a more secure life it does not enable potential to be developed. In this respect, as a matter of fact, even the potential of the children born and bred on the kibbutzim suffers, because a certain kind of conformity is required of them, in a sort of unconscious way, which must be quite difficult for an independent-minded child to give in to at all times. The fact is, that it is almost always the so-called cranks and misfits who initiate something great and new and beautiful. Almost all the great innovators of history have been considered cranks and misfits in their time -- Galileo, Einstein, Ibsen, William Morris -- the list is endless. Orde Wingate, whose brilliant military tactics helped make the Israel Army as successful as it is, was considered quite mad by both, his superiors in the British Army, and also, at least for a time, the Yishuv (Jewish community in pre-independence Palestine) which he wanted to help. (According to one -- maybe apocryphal -- report, he once walked in, unannounced, to Ben-Gurion's office and said: "Ben-Gurion, you are a God-damned fool. You spend hours talking with your enemies and you haven't five minutes to spare for a friend." And with that blunt announcement he walked out. Many years later, Ben-Gurion in one his books paid Wingate fine tributes; he called him "... a very courageous fighter, an original thinker, a magnificent leader in the field, a man who read widely and examined problems with real depth, a man of imagination and daring, an innovator who was later to introduce a new concept in fighting ... whose doctrines of warfare ... made their impact on the very men who were later to play so vital a part in securing Israel's independence.") So what I say is borne out by history. It is necessary to give freedom to the cranks and nonconformists in our midst in order for them to make their really significant contributions -- because their contributions are likely to be of a scale such as to stagger the imagination. Ordinary contributions pale into insignificance in comparison. There are millions of quite excellent scientists in the world; but only a handful of them were, in the early '40s, capable of figuring out how to make a nuclear weapon; and one shudders to think what might have happened if Hitler had got his hands on such a weapon before the Allies did. Luckily for the rest of the world, under Hitler's system, cranks and Jews were discouraged. Mind you, I am not saying all cranks and misfits are going to give brilliant contributions to society. But some may, and it is important for their sake that all be tolerated and even encouraged. Each person can contribute in his or her own way, and just because a person cannot play with discipline in an orchestra does not mean that he cannot be an excellent soloist. (All this I say merely by way of illustration, of course.)
Then, another shortcoming of the kibbutz is its isolationistic attitude towards the rest of the world. It is quite an undercurrent of feeling one gets, that the kibbutz considers itself polarised into thinking of itself, on the one hand, and the "outside world", on the other, and virtually nothing in between. To some extent this is a natural outcome of the fact that the kibbutz sells its produce to the "outside world" and buys many of its requirements also from the "outside". To some extent the attitude also reflects a common attitude all over Israel, that the world is divided into two parts: Aretz and Hutz le-Aretz (which being translated means, roughly, "Israel" and "Everywhere Else"). And the two parts are considered to be more or less equal; if anything, Aretz (Israel) is the bigger half. Not that this is a totally unreasonable attitude, under the circumstances in which Israel finds itself. But nevertheless it does make for isolationism, and that is not healthy in the long run. In case of the kibbutz, particularly the smaller kibbutzim, it would be more beneficial to go counter to this trend, and try instead to develop as much of a friendly and co-operative contact with the "outside" as possible. This would in particular be beneficial as regards the feeling of not being "cut off", which puts many people off when they consider joining a kibbutz.
I don't mean the kibbutz should necessarily have contact with the towns and villages in its physical vicinity. That may not be possible or even advisable except to a nominal extent, because different settlements in Israel have different kinds of people living on them. But there ought to be more contact in general with the outside world, not merely friendly contacts but also contacts of co-operative nature and business nature. Projects may be undertaken together, there can be mutual education programmes, and so on and so forth. Mind you, to some extent this is happening, but I think it should happen more.
This is also necessary in order that others may get to know what the kibbutz is all about. As I have said, just because a person lives in Israel does not mean he knows all about kibbutzim or even anything at all about kibbutzim. This is a pity, because for an Israeli to be ignorant about one of the major contributions Israel has made to the world throughout all history ought to be a source of shame. The kibbutz is just not known well enough to most of the world, or even to Israelis. It needs to be made better known.
Even the literature on kibbutzim is very scanty. A booklet called Facts about Israel and published in 1978 by the Israeli Government to commemorate the 30th anniversary of Israel's independence, lists only three books on kibbutzim in the bibliography given at the end of the publication; and one of these was published in 1963 and the others in 1969. This is hardly encouraging. Publications brought out by kibbutzniks for themselves are largely unintelligible to those who have never experienced kibbutz life, since they are written in a way which takes many terms and situations for granted -- as being understood by the reader -- which is just not realistic as far as non-kibbutzniks go. No doubt it is a bit difficult to write about kibbutzim in a way which gives a true picture and yet explains all the -- largely -- inexplicable features in a few short words right in the middle of the text. But I think it can be done. It is perhaps difficult for kibbutzniks to have the time or even the inclination to write about themselves while they are on the kibbutz; perhaps one needs a break from the kibbutz to enable one to take up such a project. Also, for outsiders, I do not think it is possible to get to know the kibbutz sufficiently well in a short time to enable them to write about it; a stay of at least a few years is necessary to get a proper picture. But to explain a fact does not alter it. The literature is very scanty.
A third matter in which the kibbutz needs improvement is in the deal it metes out to women. Mind you, here too, it is a lot better than in most other societies. As I said, when I joined Tsor'ah, the Secretary was a woman, who had also, at other times, managed some of the branches of the kibbutz. Another woman had stood for election to the post of Secretary around the time of my leaving, though ultimately she was not elected. The Secretary's post is the most important on a kibbutz (though not necessarily the most coveted), so it is no small honour. In the opposite direction, at Na'an at one time the post of head cook in the kitchen, a position generally held by women, was being superbly filled by a man. If one wanted to, one could get any sort of work one wanted (provided, of course, that one could do it satisfactorily), whether one was a man or a woman.
Nevertheless, these were exceptions and not the rule. The fact that this is mentioned by me at all underlines the point I have been making. Which goes to show that as a rule the polarisation between the kinds of posts one should fill as a man and the other kinds which women should fill, still existed. Moreover this polarisation was accentuated by numerous remarks made in conversation. I personally feel that this is not a good situation, because it puts many worthwhile women off, and the kibbutz as a result loses the contribution they could otherwise have made. I have already indicated the fact that Lillah and Sandy were quite disturbed about this and that it played no small part in their decision to return to America. Of course it is also true that many women do not want the kind of posts men want. But that is because the kinds of posts created are such as will make only men want to fill them. Other kinds need to be created, such as will be as easily filled by men as by women. Also, a tsevet (team working a branch of the kibbutz) is often much more healthy if it is a mixed tsevet of men and women rather than of men only or women only. I know I have many opponents to this point of view but nevertheless I think it is quite true.
Moreover, from what I read about the situation in 1948, I get the clear impression that it used to be very much like that and that somehow the situation has deteriorated. It needs to be resurrected, I think. In the Palmach, I am given to understand, men and women fought together side by side; and the Palmach was par excellence a product of the kibbutzim. Moreover the Palmach was the cream of the Israeli fighting organisations; its feats have been such as to make even the feats of the crack battalions and sections of the modern Army of Israel, like the Paratroopers and the Air Force, appear comparatively less heroic. (Not necessarily less effective, let me make it clear; but, considering the conditions under which the Palmach fought, with the lack of armaments, experience and even food at times, it makes one think that the Israeli Army today is enjoying a picnic in comparison.) This spirit has somehow been lost. It is necessary not only to bring it back, I think, but even to improve upon it. And I also think that it can be done.
The fact is that we have created only those kinds of organisations which do not allow women to fulfil themselves to the extent they can. Alternative kinds of organisations need to be created: or perhaps even the word "organisation" is inappropriate; what we need is to create a different kind of society. A society in which it will not be necessary for a person, whether man or woman, to be a "boss" and order other people around. Because at present, only a woman who is "like a man" can fill such posts as that of, say, Prime Minister of Israel, like Golda Meir, who, Ben-Gurion once said, was "the only man in his cabinet". This is not, in my mind, a compliment. It should not be necessary for a woman to be "a man" to fill important positions; gentle women should be able -- and willing -- to do so also. At present we create important posts of a kind that no self-respecting woman would want to fill, and then we say, "See! They don't even want these jobs." This is a kind of hypocrisy. We need a different social order where such jobs will not exist at all; because, actually, no gentle man would like to do them either.
And if you ask, "How are you going to get anything done?" I shall reply, that there is no need to get many of the things done which our un-gentle society does get done. Who needs Vietnam Wars and concrete jungles and the vast pollution and destruction of the ozone layer created by the greed and violence of men. Let me give you an example of how things can get better with women at the helm. I take my example from the book O Jerusalem which speaks about the fighting between the Jews and Arabs in 1948. The authors write of one of the women in the Haganah (the Jewish defence organisation of the time) who, during the fighting in Jerusalem, sighted an Arab in her gun-sight, from an upper storey window, as the Arab was crossing the street. He was an easy target. But she hadn't the heart to fire on him, so she fired at the ground at the Arab's feet. The Arab turned and fled. Now surely this was better than killing him or, perhaps worse, seriously wounding him.
Of course those Israelis who take the stand that in war time the only good Arab is a dead Arab will not agree with me; but then I have the support of the Talmud which says that whoever saves even one life, it is as if he has saved the whole world. I'm not saying that when it becomes necessary, in a war, to kill if need be, one should not kill; and there are enough examples right from Biblical times of women who have done the needful when it was absolutely necessary: I need only refer to Jael and Sisera, and Judith and Holofernes, and Debora and Whatsisname, to make my point. Also, I am not saying that sometimes when a woman gets into power she doesn't make life a hell for all around her, as bad if not worse than any male tyrant. I mean, take for example Isabel in the Bible. And no question about it that such women should be dealt with just like Isabel was dealt with: namely, thrown down from a window high up in the wall of her city, and trodden underfoot, and her blood sprinkled on the walls, and her body eaten by dogs outside the walls. A tyrant is a tyrant, and a wicked person is a wicked person, whether they are men or women. Their gender should not make any difference in our behaviour towards them. In general, I think, however, that involvement of women with men is a good thing. As the Bible says, God created woman to be "an help meet for man" (in Hebrew, ezer ke'negd'o), because she complements man. This element of complementing was evident in the Palmach, for instance, from what one reads about it. Such things should be encouraged.
On this subject there is much more to be said but this is not quite the book in which to say it. So I will leave it at that. I would just like to make one point, and that is, that in the early days of kibbutzim, it appears that the founders really did aim at creating a society in which women would be enabled to fulfil themselves and realise their potential and be completely equal with men in every respect. Therefore what I am advocating is not something new to the kibbutz movement; rather it is something the kibbutz movement itself aimed at once upon a time.
Attitude to Cultures Other than the Jewish
Then a further matter in which the kibbutz can improve is in regard to their attitude towards cultures other than Jewish. Even here the kibbutz is far superior to many other sections of Israeli society, no doubt; but that does not mean there is no room for improvement. There is a considerable amount of isolationism even on kibbutzim as regards the finer aspects of the culture of other nations. This is particularly so with regard to cultures with a certain proximity to the Jewish, like the Christian and Muslim. A kibbutznik, if he appreciates the words of Jesus, is likely to confide this fact to you only when nobody else is listening. This is hardly healthy. As regards the culture of lands far away, like Japanese or Chinese culture, they are more open minded, but their knowledge of these cultures is meagre. Here I would refer to a quotation from the Rig Veda: Aa no bhadraah kratavo yantu vishwatah -- "Let noble thoughts come to us from every side" -- which is a noble thought itself, and which the kibbutzniks would do well to let come to them. Certainly much is lost by being isolationist in one's attitude. As far as pure science and humanities go, it must be admitted, the kibbutzniks' bookshelves are generally well stocked. But books about -- say -- Sufism, or Vedanta, or the Tibetan Book of the Great Liberation: these are not likely to be found easily. Of course, you may retort that they are not easily found on most peoples' bookshelves. This, I admit, is true; but it must be remembered that the kibbutz is intended to be, not just an ordinary society, but much more than that. And if it is to achieve the aim of approaching an ideal society, the lack of such knowledge seems to me to be something of a minus point. It is highly likely that many really fine people who would otherwise join the kibbutzim are put off by the isolationist attitude reflected by these things, and it may play no small part in their ultimately deciding to go live elsewhere, in spite of all the disadvantages of elsewhere as compared with the kibbutz.
Nevertheless, the foregoing ought not be taken to mean that the kibbutzniks are uncultured: rather the opposite is the truth. In Israel, in fact, one may say that the most highly cultured societies are those of the kibbutzim. It is a rare kibbutznik indeed who does not have a fairly well stocked personal library, and that too in more than one language. In addition, every kibbutz has a kibbutz library also, from which members borrow books; and in addition, of course, they borrow from each other, which makes the availability of reading material plentiful. In general, one may say, kibbutzniks are among the best-read people in the world. But, as I say, it is one thing to be better than others; it is quite another to fall short of an ideal.
As to the kibbutz's medical care system and how it can be improved I have already said something, so I will not enlarge upon it here. Suffice it to say that it can and should be improved upon.
Attitude to Travel Abroad
One further aspect of life which could be improved upon is the attitude towards travel abroad. This was more or less looked down upon. I do not think this is a healthy attitude. It ought to be realised that properly utilised, the opportunity for foreign travel can be a source of the best education, better than the education one gets in a university. It is true that once upon a time the kibbutzim could not afford a lot of foreign travel for its members, but this is less true now; indeed, as I have mentioned, some kibbutzim were so rich at the time I was there that they didn't know what to do with all the money they earned. All the same they discouraged foreign travel. This was not so much in overt as in subtle ways. Partly, it is true, the kibbutz required the manpower more than the money; every member who left for a stint abroad left behind that much more work for the others to shoulder. But then this is true also for a member who went to the University to study; but University study was not discouraged -- rather it was encouraged, even if the member was no longer young.
One of the results of the discouragement of foreign travel is that the rest of the world rarely has a chance of meeting a real live kibbutznik. This is a loss, of course, not so much for the kibbutz as for the rest of the world. But it is a serious loss because a person who has spent many years on a kibbutz is naturally affected by the mores of the kibbutz and is therefore a much better person than the average "outsider". I for one, if I meet a kibbutznik, or even an ex-kibbutznik, outside Israel, instinctively feel that he -- or she -- can be trusted; that they will not, for instance, betray confidences, or do anything utterly selfish, or be avaricious, or cruel, or ostentatious, or cheat: in short, that they will be gentlemen and gentlewomen; a thing which, I am sorry to say, one cannot feel with respect to the vast majority of people. This, moreover, is not just because I have lived on a kibbutz; I felt the same way intuitively even before I went to Israel. One of the first such persons I met was a chap by the name of Robinson, who was studying forestry in Florence in 1967. (This was before the Six Day War). I was living in Italy at the time, but had already started thinking that I should go to Israel to study agriculture rather than study it in Europe. So I went to the Faculty of Agriculture of Florence University to meet a professor there who had spent some years in Israel, and he introduced me to Robinson and his wife. I met them at their small apartment in Florence where they were living very modestly. He said he had studied agriculture at the Faculty of Agriculture at Rehovot (where I later studied myself), and had moreover spent 14 years on a kibbutz. He said he was sure that if I studied agriculture in Israel I would find the standard higher than any in Italy at least, since he said the students were much more serious in Israel. He cautioned me that the society in Israel was in many ways much more closed than in Italy and that I might find it difficult to get integrated into the society. Nevertheless his open and frank manner and evident love for his country played no small part in my ultimate desire to go to Israel to study.
This story has a strange and -- to me -- sweet ending. When I was at the Faculty of Agriculture I used to help lead some karate classes. I was leading a class one day when a stranger walked in, and somehow, instinctively, I "knew" that he knew karate, so I stopped the class and bowed to him, and I was right, for he bowed back in the proper manner. I met him again numerous times at the Faculty cafeteria and we used to talk about karate and about this and that. Now I am a very shy person and I never got round to asking him what his name was. Just before I got my degree we met at the cafeteria for what was to be the last time. Somehow the conversation got round to Italy and Florence, and he said he had been in Florence in 1967; so I asked him if he knew a chap by the name of Robinson who was also in Florence in '67. He looked at me strangely and said: "I'm Robinson!" So I told him that I had met him there in '67 and that the talk we had had together had played no small part in my eventually coming to Israel. He had absolutely no recollection of the meeting; and I had no recollection of his face; but as we got talking we realised that we were the same two people! He got such a kick out of finding out that he had played no small part in my coming to Israel that he walked out of the cafeteria almost dancing, and, meeting a friend of his on the lawn outside, started shaking his hand and saying that this was the happiest day of the year for him -- a statement, which, from the look on his friend's face, appeared to bewilder him completely.
This story is a bit of a digression but I couldn't resist putting it in; but seriously, and to return to the point, it is a shame that kibbutzniks don't get to know the rest of the world and the rest of the world doesn't get to know them. Indeed, it happens mostly that only people who have decided to leave the kibbutz, for one reason or another, get to know the world and to be known by the world.
This also makes some people think that kibbutzniks cannot take the "strain of normal life", and that whenever they are out of the kibbutz they are like fish out of water. I have heard urban people say numerous times that kibbutzniks' lives are so sheltered -- everything is, in a sense, laid out for them -- that they would not be able to function as ordinary wage earners in a city. This, in my opinion, is not true; a person who has spent several years on a kibbutz develops a sense of initiative which enables him to tackle virtually any situation: and the real reason they often return to live on a kibbutz after some time in a city is because -- quite understandably -- they like it better on the meshek. (By the way, a kibbutznik hardly ever refers to the kibbutz as "kibbutz"; it is generally referred to as the meshek, which is a word that is quite untranslatable). However, to some extent it is true that due to the lack of exposure to the world, kibbutzniks tend to be unappreciative of the plus points of city living, which are also considerable, particularly if one is living in a city with character, like Jerusalem, or for that matter London, or Florence, or Rome (where I have lived), or San Francisco, or New York, or Boston, where I haven't, but of which I have heard much.
The most serious criticism of kibbutz life that I can think of is, that in their desire to divest themselves of all that is bad about the "Ghetto Jew", and particularly the Jewish religion as interpreted by the Rabbis, they have thrown out the baby with the bath water, and have come to the point of negating all spiritual experience altogether. In this case also, as in the other cases enumerated earlier, they are in a far superior position than the average person elsewhere, particularly as regards the practice (as opposed to merely talking) of spiritual values. There can be hardly any community in the world which practices the Ten Commandments as much as the kibbutzniks: they do not steal; they do not bear false witness against their neighbour; they do not covet their neighbour's house (mainly because it doesn't belong to their neighbour!); they honour their fathers and mothers (indeed, in spite of the fact that kibbutz children talk back to their parents cheekily -- a matter which the parents rather encourage -- they grow up with such a strong feeling of deep and real respect towards their parents that it is rarely matched in the "outside world"); they do not take the name of the LORD their God in vain (indeed they do not take His name at all!); they work six days and rest on the seventh (though the seventh doesn't have to be a Saturday, according to them; but then neither did Moses mention anything about it having to be a Saturday), and they really make it a point to enjoy their day off, or as Isaiah says, make it a "delight"; they do not bow down to graven images -- in fact they don't bow down to anyone or anything. (They are pretty stiff-necked in this respect). You will never find the Ten Commandments written up anywhere on their walls; nor will any kibbutznik quote them to you; but in practice you won't find any other community of similar size following them as much as kibbutzniks.
As to their deep knowledge and appreciation of the Bible and their love of Zion, I need say no more; I have already spoken about it before. Indeed, I believe, along with my friend Zvi, that the true renaissance of Judaism is best given expression by the Pioneers and the kibbutzim. However, it is, as I have said, not sufficient to be better than others; it is necessary to remember that there are still higher heights to rise to. By negating the very possibility of spiritual experience, by making it an article of faith that the only experiences that are possible to human beings (at least those who are sane and not under the influence of hallucinogens) are such as they themselves have had, and that all others are symptoms of insanity; by not having a goal in life transcendental to life itself as they know it; by believing -- or at least acting as if they believed -- that the last word has already been said, and there is nothing more to experience: by doing all this, I say, they have themselves created a block before their own further growth.
Nevertheless this block is not unsurpassable. I know of at least one kibbutznik -- born and bred on a kibbutz, that too one belonging to the ultra-left-wing Ha-Shomer Ha-Tzai'r movement -- who has appreciated this point of view. But the general atmosphere of the kibbutzim does not encourage the spiritual quest, the search for spiritual Truth; rather it discourages it, and that mainly because the kibbutzniks probably feel it will lead them back to the worst aspects of "Ghetto Judaism", from which, quite understandably, they want to be as far away as possible.But, as I said, this is throwing the baby out with the bath water. It does not do credit to a community to paint everything either black or white. There are many fine points even about -- say -- Hassidism, or Rabbinical theology, what to speak of Zen, or Sufism, or Gurdjieff, which deserve the appreciation and study of the kibbutzniks; and moreover, the right spiritual goal of life, namely, to know the Truth, is something that does not need reading; it is something to be pursued within oneself. To deny -- or even to discourage -- people from this cannot, I think, be considered right. Of course it is true that one whose mind is firmly set on the spiritual goal will pursue it no matter what the opposition; and moreover there will be opposition in almost any society to such a one; but nevertheless it is necessary also, to some extent at least, that in one way or another encouragement rather than discouragement should be afforded people with this kind of bent of mind. For it has also to be accepted that this is not likely to be for everyone, or indeed even for most people. Indeed it is in all likelihood going to be only for a tiny minority, even among the kibbutzniks; there is enough written in all scriptures regarding this fact of life. But this minority ought to be encouraged rather than discouraged.
In this respect, from what I have read about it, Auroville in India -- or at least the concept of Auroville as enunciated by the Mother of Sri Aurobindo Ashram -- is superior to the kibbutzim. (But in other aspects, at least from what I have read about Auroville -- I have not yet visited it, I am sorry to say -- the kibbutzim appear to me to be superior. I would rather not go further into it here, not only because it is not relevant, but because I ought to actually live in Auroville for a while before I say too much about it.)
About this matter also I can say a good deal more than I have said here, but, since this is not, in my opinion, the place to say it, I won't. However, I would like to add that on Tsor'ah at least, as opposed to many other kibbutzim, the members were allowed more or less to follow their own bent of mind in these respects to some extent, for there was a group of members who took a keen interest in the teachings of Rudolf Steiner and with whom I had some interesting talks. Their interest was only mildly discouraged if at all (though not encouraged, as far as I could see) by the other members; so I have to admit that Tsor'ah was quite broad minded as kibbutzim go, for I have heard that on other kibbutzim there are greater pressures put upon people who "go in for this kind of hanky-panky".
This is about all as far as criticism of the kibbutz goes; no doubt there are other, minor points but as far as the serious points go I think I've said about all I need to say. Now as far as criticism of the Israeli population as a whole goes, with regard to their attitude towards kibbutzim, I think I ought to say a few words; among other things because I have a great number of friends in Israel outside kibbutzim also.
Israeli Attitudes Toward Kibbutzim
The main point of criticism here, as far as I am concerned, is that the Israelis as a whole not only do not know, but also do not care to know, much about kibbutzim. Part of the cause of this is that only three per cent or so of Israel's present population lives on kibbutzim, and at no time has the percentage ever been much more than four. Of course it is also true that Israel's population is highly urbanised, and that more than 85 per cent or maybe even 90 per cent of the population lives in towns and cities. However, this leaves much of Israel -- and among that the most beautiful parts of it -- uninhabited. For years, for instance, the Galilee has been considered to be under-populated. This is a great pity, since the Galilee is so beautiful.
But this is not the only reason. The fact is that city dwellers in Israel, by and large, have some sort of bee in their bonnet about kibbutzim and tend to paint them in black and white terms. Partly, I admit, it is the fault of some of the kibbutzniks themselves, who tend to look upon all outsiders, even Israeli outsiders, as in some way hostile to them. But that is not the whole story either. Mainly, I think, this is due to the lack of knowledge about kibbutzim on the part of most city dwelling Israelis. I am not talking about the "old timers" in Israel; they generally have a better appreciation of the kibbutz's place, at least in Israeli history, if not of the ideals of the kibbutz; and they appreciate kibbutzniks, if for nothing else, at least for what they have contributed to the country. Once, for instance, I was shopping in Tel Aviv with a friend of mine, a girl born and bred on a kibbutz; and she wanted to buy something off the sidewalk from an old man who had a kind of stall where he sold odds and ends. He gave her a hard look and asked: "Are you from a kibbutz?" When she said "Yes", he gave her the article she wanted at a sizeable discount, even without her asking for a discount or bargaining.
But, as I say, the younger generation does not seem to appreciate these things too much: I mean, the place of the kibbutz in Israel's history, or the value of the kibbutz to the nation, or the fact that even if the kibbutzim have fallen short of many of their own ideals, their achievements are nevertheless so significant that they stand head and shoulders above the rest.
It is for this reason that many people say that the kibbutz movement is not growing; which, in absolute numbers is quite untrue, but in relation to the growth of the population is true. The kibbutz population as a whole in 1977 is given by an Israel Government publication as 103,000; whereas in 1948, at the time of Israel's independence, it was about 25,000 -- which represents a more than four-fold increase in 30 years. (Also, as a side issue, I may point out that this 25,000 -- of whom many were children -- were, in a sense, the key sector of the population, without which, I believe, Israel as an independent nation would not even exist today!) But truly, even this phenomenal increase is not yet sufficient to make its mark as it ought to.
That is why I say, it is necessary for the rest of Israel to really wake up to the facts -- and even more, to the ideals -- of kibbutz life. It's necessary, I think, that the Israeli population as a whole seriously study the kibbutz, and, when they find in it things which they cannot stomach, should not summarily reject the kibbutz out of hand, but should try to see how these problems can be resolved, particularly in the light of the present situation, which, it must be remembered, is very different -- and in many ways very much more favourable -- than that of 1948.
Many of the negative aspects of kibbutz life can be resolved with time, better conditions and -- particularly -- peace, I think. Indeed, many of the problems have already been resolved, from what I gather from reading various books. For instance, Melford Spiro in his book Kibbutz talks about various difficulties of kibbutz living as observed by him in a study conducted in 1951 or thereabouts, which do not exist today: I refer particularly to long hours of backbreaking physical toil in a harsh climate (nowadays even the cabins of the harvester-combines are air conditioned); or the lack of privacy (I have had a room to myself on numerous occasions, without even being a member); or the ill-fitting clothes which made women feel somehow un-feminine (at Tsor'ah, every Friday evening, particularly after the new Dining Hall was constructed, it almost looked like a fashion parade); or the impossibility of parents seeing their children on getting up first thing in the morning (at Tsor'ah, children sleep with their parents); or the overcrowded public showers and toilets (today at Tsor'ah every house has its own shower and toilet with unlimited hot and cold water piped in from numerous boilers located at strategic points, and moreover, the public showers are not only not crowded any more, they are sometimes even too lonely!) -- and numerous other grouches which seem quite amusing to a person like me when he reads about them, having seen the kibbutz in a much more favourable situation. If one thinks that the kibbutz is something like what Spiro describes it to be, he is in for a big surprise when he sees it at first hand; many things are much better. And they are likely to get even better as time goes by. Which is why I do not think that it is right for the average Israeli to take it for granted that kibbutz life is not for him (or her). They really ought to try to see what a treasure they have in their midst.
Attitudes of Jews Outside Israel Toward Kibbutzim
I think I also ought to say something about the attitude of the Jewish community outside Israel in respect to its attitude to the kibbutz. It is true, I admit, that it is difficult for a person, even a Jew, who comes to Israel on a visit, to appreciate many of the most beautiful and sublime points about it. Israel takes time to grow on one. It is hard to see, for instance, what is so beautiful about a barren rocky range of hills like the Judaean hills, particularly if one has come from -- say -- Western Canada and has seen the Rockies and the like, covered with lush conifer forests teeming with game. But then, after some years (or months, or weeks, or even days -- depending on you) something happens within you and you realise that these aren't just any hills; these are the hills of Judea and you realise that their beauty is so great and deep that the entire range of the Rockies right from Alaska to Mexico just cannot compete with them; you are quite overwhelmed, and you realise that there are no words to describe your emotions about them. (Now I have to admit I haven't seen the Rockies; but I have seen the Alps and also the Himalayas, and I can well visualise what the Rockies must be like; and moreover, I also have to admit that the effect the most barren and insignificant hill in Israel has on me is more powerful than all but the most majestic and significant peaks elsewhere.)
So I do have to admit that to expect people from outside Israel to appreciate Israel -- and that includes in large part the kibbutz -- as soon as they arrive in Israel is asking for a bit too much. It takes time to get to appreciate it. But the sad thing is that they do not take this time to try and get down to it. They come, and having seen and been disappointed, they leave, thinking it is not for them. This is sad because they are missing out on some of the most important aspects of being Jewish.
Of course, the kibbutz is not all of Israel, and a person may appreciate Israel without appreciating -- or, for that matter, even visiting -- a single kibbutz. However, as I have said, if one does not know anything about kibbutzim one misses out on a most significant aspect of Israel and indeed of all Judaism, so it behoves a Jew to at least take a genuine interest in it. He is free to criticise it, of course, after having gotten to know it; but condemnation before investigation, as I believe Chaucer wrote, is certain to leave one in a state of everlasting ignorance.
And when I say "investigation" I do not mean superficial acquaintance for a short time. I mean a real, careful study. One cannot expect to become knowledgeable about the kibbutz in a matter of a few short days -- or even a year or so. I can see, for instance, reading Spiro's book, that though he spent almost a full year on a kibbutz (which, for all his attempts at trying to disguise its affiliation, is rather easily identified as belonging to the extreme left-wing Ha-Shomer Ha-Tza'ir movement), and though he has described it quite well, he has failed to realise that kibbutzim belonging to the other movements are very different in character. Many of the aspects of kibbutz life described by him, moreover, are no longer true today even for the kibbutzim belonging to the Ha-Shomer Ha-Tzai'r -- they do not, for instance, eulogise the Soviet Union any longer in the manner described by Spiro. A more complete picture is necessary, which entails broader coverage both in space and time.
I'm not saying everyone has the possibility to make such a study. But in the case of kibbutzim, the opportunity to make such a study is greater than in the case of most other institutions or movements, because the kibbutzim themselves welcome people with open arms to live on them for a time. (This is motivated more by the fact that thereby they are relieved of the acute shortage of labour they suffer from almost universally; but that is besides the point). Moreover, if one is a Jew, one is offered all kinds of encouragement to settle in Israel, like permission to import a number of items duty-free, and living space being made available with less difficulty than to Israelis, and so on and so forth. This is particularly so for Jews from affluent countries. Indeed, if one wants to join a kibbutz nowadays, if one is a Jew, one has it virtually laid out on a silver tray -- what a contrast to the difficulties faced by the pioneers who established the first kibbutzim! Not to take advantage of -- or even to appreciate -- all that is done for Jews by Israel smacks not only of lack of understanding but even, in my opinion, ingratitude.
So people have plenty of opportunity to make a real study of the kibbutz when they come to Israel and, indeed, they ought to do so. After one has been on kibbutzim and done one's best to appreciate them, one may criticise them to one's heart's content; but to brush aside the kibbutzim as many Jews from the Diaspora do -- or worse, not to even know anything about them -- is not, in my mind, something to be proud of. I have personally known at least one Jew who had never even heard of the Palmach. This is disgraceful. It is about as bad as for a Jew not to have heard of (the Biblical) Gideon.
For those western Jews who do come to Israel and live on a kibbutz for a while (and many, many western Jews do so), I have a word of suggestion: and that is, that they ought to try and see it at least partly in historical perspective. To say, for instance, that things are materially speaking much better in the USA is quite true; but as the saying goes, San Francisco was not built in a day, and moreover California was not developed with vast numbers of enemy troops yelling across the Nevada border that the Californians should be thrown into the sea. To say, for instance, that Florida Oranges taste somewhat better than Jaffa Oranges may be correct; but it ought to be remembered that only a few decades ago there wasn't even food enough on the tables of the kibbutz, and therefore the thrust in Israeli agriculture initially had to be on quantity in preference to taste. To say, for instance, that phones in Israel work very badly is true (or at least was true when I was there); but at least it should be kept in mind that Israel's Intelligence service is the world's best, and that cannot be achieved without excellent communications; and, having decided to install all their best communications equipment in the Army, they are making do with third rate equipment -- at least for the time being -- in their civilian lives. To say, for instance, that many Israelis are extremely rude and that litterbugs abound is true; but have we forgotten that just 40 years ago six million Jewish corpses had been littered all over Europe? Is it preferable to have a polite Jewish corpse to a rude live Israeli? Surely some historical perspective is necessary in the matter of judging Israel and, particularly, the kibbutz. In no other country -- and particularly in no other type of society -- has so much progress been made so fast against so much opposition as in Israel, and particularly on the kibbutz.
Ignorance about Kibbutzim among Non-Jewish People in General
If many Jews are ignorant about the kibbutz, one can readily imagine the situation in the non-Jewish world: and now I turn to the aspect of the perspective of the rest of the world on the kibbutz. Of course, for an Indian, say, or an Englishman, not to know about the kibbutz is not terribly disgraceful; but nevertheless it does not seem to me right, somehow, that the non-Jewish world does not make a study of the kibbutz from the point of view of general knowledge at least.This is the more so because -- in contrast to most of the other finer points of Jewish culture, like Hassidism, or the Kabbalah, or even for that matter the Old Testament -- it lends itself extremely readily to the understanding of the non-Jewish world. And yet the ignorance of the kibbutz and what it stands for is quite widespread even among the intelligentsia of the world at large, what to speak of the general public. I have personally heard one of the most well-read and intelligent persons in India confuse, in conversation, the kibbutz with the Soviet kolkhoz, though the difference between the two is as great as the difference between day and night. (I will not deny that there are superficial points of similarity between the kibbutz and the kolkhoz, but to think of them as having anything like the same basis shows a singular lack of understanding of the concepts of freedom, values and character).
And this is not the worst. Take, for instance, the academic literature on such diverse subjects as agriculture, animal husbandry, management, education, and the military, in all of which the kibbutz not only excels but has surpassed most other organisations in the whole world: in very little of this vast mass of literature -- which, by the way, is used to educate the youth in schools, colleges and other such institutions the world over -- is the kibbutz even mentioned, let alone studied.
Indeed, this booklet was begun by me because of a request from my friend Behram Irani, who was doing a doctorate in the USA on the subject of communes, to write a few words about my experience of kibbutz life. In my talks with him, held before I started on this paper, I discovered that he knew very little -- I would say virtually nothing -- about the most successful communes in existence, viz., the kibbutzim; which, for someone doing a doctorate on the subject, is strange indeed! (This, by the way, is not Behram's fault; rather, it is the fault of the entire intellectual community of the world at large, which does not take the kibbutz sufficiently seriously).
Now please do not think me too arrogant for making this remark; the world has countless times underestimated the potential of Israel in the past. Take, for example, General George Marshall's opinion in 1948 that if the Yishuv were to declare the Independence of the State of Israel, the Arab armies would utterly crush the Jews -- a thought which was shared, moreover, by Field Marshal Montgomery, who, it is reputed, said: "The Arabs will hit Israel for six!" Or take, for example, the opinion expressed by some top California scientists who visited Israel in the '50s with a view to studying the possibility of growing cotton there: they reportedly said that in Israel it would not be possible to grow cotton at all -- a statement which, in the light of the fact that the per-acre yields of cotton in Israel today are the highest in the world, sounds not only laughable but also downright irresponsible on the part of top agricultural scientists to make.
The fact remains that the world at large does not study the kibbutzim to the extent they deserve to be studied. Even such genuinely advanced thinkers as E.F.("Small is Beautiful") Schumacher do not seem to have made anything more than a superficial study of kibbutzim. This is a pity, because, when I read that book, the thought constantly kept recurring to me that he would have written rather differently if he had made a study of the kibbutz, which, I think, affords a better solution to the problems he is talking about than those he himself is able to come up with. Similarly, A.S. Neill, the founder of Summerhill, whose ideas on education had a profound influence on me when I was in my late teens and whom I visited in England when I was 21, would, I think, have been deeply gratified and pleased to see the systems of education on the kibbutzim, particularly the Ha-Shomer Ha-Tzai'r kibbutzim. (I had studied his works with great intensity, so much so that he mentioned to me, when we met: "Good Lord, you seem to know more about me than I do myself!" -- so I ought to know what I am talking about, I think.)
In the matter of the lack of knowledge about the kibbutz on the part of the world at large, the greatest lacuna, I think, is on the part of those whose business it is to find out ways and means to enable developing countries to turn into developed countries. Take, for instance, the most prominent country in this respect: India. There are 700,000 villages in India, each about the size of a kibbutz, in both population and land area. Their conditions, from the point of view of natural resources -- land, water, climate, etc. -- as well as from point of view of peaceful conditions (by which I mean absence of wars), are far superior to those of the kibbutzim. If a way can be found for them to achieve a measure of prosperity even one-tenth of that of the more successful kibbutzim, (which, I think personally, is a very modest goal), the economy of India could shoot up well beyond the trillion dollar mark! A simple calculation should suffice to make it clear that I am not jesting. This is potential which ought not, I think, to be lost sight of. However, as things stand, no attempt on the official level is being made to realise this enormous potential. Unofficially, I am working on it, but about my labours in this direction it is perhaps premature to write at length at this stage. Unfortunately, the most one can do on an unofficial level is to make a start on a model; to multiply the model all over the country requires official action on a massive scale. What is unfortunate is, however, that the concept is not even known in circles whose business it is to deal with development.
This is so not only in India but also abroad, and in international organisations like the UN. This is not only unfortunate but even to my mind, irresponsible. This attitude means that prosperity for the impoverished millions is postponed further and further into the future. The unfortunate thing is also that the leadership in many of these countries is less concerned with development than with preserving their own positions.
Be that as it may, I think I have indicated sufficiently clearly the enormous value of the kibbutz -- to the kibbutzniks, to Israel, to Jews in general and to the world at large. And I have -- I think -- indicated, between my lines, its enormous value to me personally. I cheerfully admit that this is a biased account of my experiences with kibbutzim; if you criticise me on that ground, I shall ask you, dear reader, would you not be biased if you were to write about your sweetheart? Would you not say, for instance, that his kisses are sweeter than wine, or that her two breasts are like two fawns, twins of a gazelle, that feed among the lilies? Would you not say: "You have ravished my heart, my sister, my bride, you have ravished my heart with a glance of your eyes"? Would you not say: "I am my beloved's, and his desire is for me"? Would you not exclaim: "How fair and pleasant you are, O loved one, delectable maiden"? Would you not tell the whole world: "My beloved is all radiant and ruddy, distinguished among ten thousand; his head is the finest gold, his eyes are like doves beside springs of water; his appearance is like Lebanon, choice as cedars; his speech is most sweet, and he is altogether desirable. This is my beloved and this is my friend, O daughters of Jerusalem". Surely no violence to the truth would be done by writing thus. How many dry, unemotional, "objective" accounts do we have to wade through to distil from them even a hundredth part of the truth that we can get from an account written with love and delight? Maybe there are inaccuracies in my account; if pointed out, I shall stand corrected. But I will not admit that my account is for that reason untruthful; I shall, rather, claim that my account is more truthful than those written by scientists and professors who may give pages and pages of bibliography at the end of their papers and dozens of references for every paragraph they write, but have no sense of feeling for what they are writing about. Shall I sacrifice truth for mere accuracy? God forbid. And, if I succeed, with my account, in arousing in you, dear reader, even a fraction of the affection, enthusiasm, delight, which I feel, I think I shall consider my time in writing this book well spent.
Originally written September 1981, New Delhi, India
Revised August 1992, Ottawa, Canada
Re-revised March 2001, Ottawa, Canada