Tag Archives: Kibbutz


26 Mar

Kibbutz Yakum, Israel. In my tree.

This post is a continuation of the story of my time in Israel in the early 1990’s…

Moments after I had finally fallen into a fitful, uncomfortable sleep, I was jolted awake by the sound of a man speaking in a language I did not understand. By the time my exhausted mind had registered where I was, the Hebrew had morphed into accented English: We’re on final approach to Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv. Return to your seats, fasten your seatbelts, etc. etc.

This was it. The beginning of what would probably not be an entirely new life, but it would at least be a temporary escape from my regular life. I was more than a little anxious. Here I was, a shy, socially awkward person with recent trauma under my belt, in a strange new land with strange new people. What was I thinking? I didn’t know how to interact with other people at the best of times. I had a sudden fear that I would be way out of my depth here. I wanted to turn around and run back onto the plane I had just left.

There were about fifteen of us going into the Kibbutz program. We made a somewhat motley group, standing on the sidewalk outside the airport with our luggage, waiting for our transportation. Our huddle was thrown into disconcerted disarray when a pair of Israeli men who were walking down the sidewalk didn’t make efforts to circumvent our little group, instead marching straight through the middle of us, talking animatedly to each other and offering us loud, lively, incomprehensible greetings. Somehow their exuberant friendliness negated any sense of rudeness or intrusion. Our coordinator explained to us that this is just the way many Israeli people are.

After what seemed like an interminable wait in the cold and the rain, six of us were bundled into a minivan along with our luggage. Our coordinator said goodbye and wished us luck, and then the van door slammed shut and we were flying down the road. About an hour later we arrived at the place that would be home for the next several months: Kibbutz Yakum, near the coastal town of Netanya, about an hour’s drive north of Tel Aviv.

Once we had arrived at Yakum, we were divided into pairs and given rooms in the volunteer village. Lesley, a woman who ate scary quantities of food and yet remained impossibly skinny, was paired with Antoinette, whose claim to fame was that she was a distant relative of former South African president F. W. De Klerk. My roommate was tall Loren, with whom I struck up an immediate and lasting friendship. The only two men in our group were placed together: Alex, a gentle, kind-hearted soul with obvious developmental delays, and Wayne, who had sat beside me on the plane.

Once we had dumped our luggage in our rooms, one of the other volunteers, a Swiss man by the name of Ollie, fetched us and took us to the dining hall. He led us to a table occupied by an ancient woman called Nurit, who turned out to be the volunteer coordinator. It was her job to schedule and post the volunteers’ working rosters. Most of the jobs were rotated weekly, but if a volunteer liked a particular job, he or she could request to be permanently assigned to it.

By the time Nurit had told us how everything worked and given us a tour of the place, it was dinnertime. At that point we were so exhausted that we barely registered anything about the food or the people who were sharing the table with us. We had all planned to have dinner and then go straight to bed for some much-needed sleep, but our fellow volunteers had other ideas. They took us to the clubhouse, where they had set up a welcome party in our honour.

It would have been rude to refuse. Despite the fact that we started the party feeling ill from exhaustion, we wound up having a fantastic time. We stayed up late, drinking and talking and laughing with our new friends until the small hours of the morning.

Thus began our new life as Kibbutz Yakum volunteers.

Taking Flight

9 Mar

This is a continuation of the series I started last week

The six weeks prior to my departure passed in a whirlwind of frenetic activity. I had never traveled internationally by myself, and I had assumed that all I had to do was book the tickets, pack a bag, and show up at the airport two hours before the flight was scheduled to leave.

I had not factored in things like getting my passport renewed, undergoing the requisite medical screening, obtaining foreign currency, getting travel insurance, and visiting with friends and family to say my goodbyes. I could barely find the time to pack.

Packing was an ordeal in and of itself. Cramming all of my essential belongings into checked baggage did not turn out to be easy. Of course, now that I am a seasoned traveler, my idea of what is actually “essential” has changed dramatically. But back then, the list of things that I just had to take was staggering (most of these items would end up getting jettisoned over the course of my travels).

My Mom tearfully helped me pack. Her sadness was, I think, twofold. There was the normal Mom’s angst about the prospect of saying goodbye to a daughter who was bound for a faraway land and didn’t know when she was returning. And there was the fact that the last time I had left home for any length of time, I had come back damaged and jaded. She implored me not to make any stupid decisions. If you get into trouble, she said, just get on a plane and come home.

Before I knew it, the day had arrived. My parents got me to the airport four hours prior to departure time. I was flying El Al: the Israelis, being understandably nervous about who and what they were letting onto their planes, had a rigourous screening procedure years before 9/11. They made me light one of my cigarettes (I was a smoker in those days), take a picture with my camera (using the flash), and make my alarm clock go off. I got questioned at length as to why I was wearing my blue fedora-style hat and whether I had purchased the contents of my luggage myself.

Eventually, me and my luggage were deemed fit to board the plane. I had a final cup of coffee with my parents, and then, when it was time to go, they hugged me fiercely and tried to fight back tears. I waved at them until I could no longer see them, although I knew they would stay at the airport until after my plane had departed. As I found my way to the boarding gate, I pictured my Dad with his arm around my Mom’s shoulders, comforting and being comforted. I felt my chest constrict with anguish at what I had put my parents through, and for a moment I had the urge to turn back.

I resolutely continued. I needed to do this. I knew it in my gut, and I believe that my parents knew it too. I had lost myself over the last few years, and I needed to spread my wings and give myself the space to find my way back through the woods.

In the departure lounge, I found myself chatting with someone called Wayne, who like me, was traveling on the Kibbutz program. He asked me what had prompted me to go, and I told him that I needed to get away from some bad stuff that had happened. “Same here,” he told me.

At boarding time, we joined the line at the departure gate. Further screening ensued (really ahead of the curve on airline security, the Israelis), and we got through the chaos of boarding only to discover that our assigned seats were beside each other. Neither Wayne nor I could possibly know, at that point, that this was the beginning of a wonderful friendship that would still be enduring almost two decades later.

At the moment of take-off, I pictured my parents standing at the big glass windows in the airport terminal, watching and waving, and wishing me Godspeed as the plane lifted into the air and disappeared into the night sky.

(Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/10037058@N08/2779012499)

A Scrap Of Paper That Changed My Life

3 Mar

I was numb with shock as I drove home that day. Although I was only 22, life had already jaded me to the point where I never believed that anything good would actually last, but I had no idea, when I woke up that morning, that things would change so abruptly.

I went to work that morning, just as I did every other morning. It was my first real job  – a job with a regular paycheque AND benefits – and I was so proud of it. I had been there for about nine months, and for the first time since my early University days a few years previously, I felt as if I was starting – just starting – to get some direction.

I had emerged intact – bruised and damaged and hurting, but intact – from the wreckage that my life had been, and I had somehow managed to create the semblance of a normal existence. I was proud of this. I was starting to like myself again, to feel kind of OK about who I was.

I was starting to think that just maybe, I was not a complete failure who was capable of nothing more than disappointing myself and everyone around me.

That day, I lost my job.

It was a crushing blow. All of those feelings of failure and disappointment came flooding back. I hadn’t sorted out my life at all. The sense of direction, the sense that things had been getting better – that was all a mask, something to hide the fact that I was and always would be a complete screw-up.

As I drove home, I didn’t know how I was going to tell my parents. It seemed as if they had just seen me through my last crisis, and here I was, about to show up with another one. How was I going to face my Mom and tell her that I had lost the job that she had been instrumental in me getting? She had made the initial contact and arranged the interview for me at a time when I would never have been able to do it myself. And now it was all gone. I was a disappointment once again.

I felt low. So low that I actually contemplated wrapping my car around a telephone pole with me in it.

When I got home and blurted out the news, my parents wrapped me in a bear-hug. Their love and support covered me like a soft, soothing blanket. Take your time, they said. Catch your breath, give yourself a chance to recover, and then try again.

They assured me that this was not a reflection on my worth as a person, that I would indeed make a success of my life. I didn’t believe them, not really, but I really needed to hear it.

About ten days later, I was at a loose end, so I decided to tidy my desk drawers. I must have had six years’ worth of old papers and notebooks in there. It was a veritable time capsule that took me right back to my high school days, to the time before.

I went through my old diaries and books and scraps of paper, and reminisced. I reflected on the days when my whole life had stretched before me like a blank canvas, when I had not made bad decisions that would create emotional tsunamis that would ripple through time. Most of the items went into the garbage. I was sad to throw away these mementoes of my youth, but that stuff hardly seemed relevant to the way my life was now.

I pulled out an advertising leaflet and automatically started throwing it in the garbage bag without even looking at it. Just before it went into the bag, though, my eye caught the word “Israel”.

Curious. Why would I be in possession of an advertising leaflet that had anything to do with Israel? Presumably it must have been of some value to me at some point, otherwise I wouldn’t have kept it.

It turned out to be a travel brochure for people wanting to go to Israel to experience life on a Kibbutz. The brochure posed a series of questions in the form of a checklist. Do you want to see a part of the world that is like no other? Are you trying to decide what to do with your life? Have you reached a difficult crossroads?

Yes, yes and YES. As I read the brochure, I grew increasingly excited. I called the number on the brochure and asked some questions. Yes, the company that produced the brochure still ran the Kibbutz program. Yes, it was true that all I needed to pay was the cost of the airfare plus an administrative fee. No, there was no waiting list – I could leave with the next group to depart in six weeks’ time.

With fumbling fingers, I dug out my latest bank statements. With the money I had saved up, I could just about cover the costs. I wouldn’t have spending money, but that was OK. I didn’t want to go shopping. I just wanted to go.

I booked my spot there and then, and then, with my face involuntarily pulled into a completely unfamiliar-feeling expression that I later realized was a smile, I went to talk to my parents, to tell them that I was going to Israel.

Little did I know how completely this spur-of-the-moment decision would alter the course of my life.