I have just moved from the suburbs of Los Angeles to Kibbutz Hannaton in the Lower Galili of Israel. While a series of economic miscalculations and blunders actually sunk the first wave of Israel’s kibbutz movement, it was arguably the inability of kibbutzniks to strike a healthy balance between openness and privacy that drove the second generation away. My husband’s grandmother Bobush, who moved at 15 yrs-old from Prague to build Kibbutz Naot Mordechai (think shoes) – who once lightheartedly quipped that there was no need for us to wait until marriage to provide her with a great-grandchild – relished sharing stories of the early days on the kibbutz, when all was open and free; when marriages were arranged so that young Israelis could spring forth, but not to limit the love that was shared by all. But her children, who fled that kibbutz, tell stories of endless gossip, rivalries, and the tyranny of life in a fishbowl.
I chose kibbutz life to be close to the land but also, because of the very same struggle to achieve the right blend of openness and privacy. In my last post here, I chided the isolated and isolating nature of life in the United States, where we share ad nauseam in the digital world, but only when all is shiny and bright. Now, I find myself living in a tiny bungalow, sharing a wall and a walking path, a Beit Knesset and a mikveh, with several hundred other young people. And for me, it’s paradise.
I was raised to be a good girl, polite and appropriate. I was raised to knock before entering, to respect fences with respect to neighbors, and to keep dirty laundry concealed. But here, as I hang my laundry on the line to dry (not family secrets, actual laundry) I feel the relief of lives gently bumping into one another, of a shared existence. Still, as we settle in here, I have begun to sense tensions beneath the surface of a community who has committed itself to realizing its potential as a collective, and it is strange to be able to see directly into the windows of the family across the way, as I do my dishes in the morning.
Although I had dreamed of making aliyah to a kibbutz for years, it was the documentary “Happy,” that lit a fire under me. The film explores the assumptions, habits and lifestyles of the world’s most joyful and most miserable communities. It was the opening story in the film, of Manoj Singh and his family, residents of a shanti town in Kolkata, India that moved me deeply. A rick-shaw driver, he reflected, “In the summer, when my feet burn as I run my rickshaw, I am not so happy, but in the winter, when I am drenched by the monsoons, I know that in a few minutes I will dry, and I am very happy. Here, [in our shanty town], we are very close with one another. We have everything we need. We are happy.” For me, the norms of privacy in the United States, our dreams of personal picket fences separating nuclear family units felt much more like a prison than a palace. This environment, of little homes, surrounded instead by porches made for tea and visiting, redefines the privacy/openness questions entirely. Here, we are together. We just are. Privacy is negotiated from within the context of community, and so far, it feels much better. I feel myself more human in this collective environment – calmer, freer, more social, more organic. True openness, the lowering of boundaries, the opening of the heart, is a tall order, the work of a lifetime. But, in the meantime, on Kibbutz Hannaton, I have discovered togetherness, and it has changed everything.email print