Sunday, June 27, 2010
Thursday, June 17, 2010
Wednesday, June 16, 2010
After our meeting with the minister, we suffered rush-hour traffic one more time, fought our way out of Tel Aviv and headed south, past Beer-Sheva (where years ago I visited the market, bought a keffiyeh like the typical young tourist, and later saw several Bedouin men running beside my bus, laughing and shouting, “Arafat! Arafat!”) and, as night fell, descended off the plateau of Negev Desert and down into the Arava Valley. We dropped our bags in a guest room at Kibbutz Lotan and then woke the next morning for breakfast and a tour of the kibbutz’s innovative eco-education facilities.
Netta, a resident (but not a member), gave us a brief history of Lotan, and then led us to the Bustan, the student quarters where she also lives—a series of energy-efficient mud-covered straw-bale huts, like earthen igloos or Luke Skywalker’s home on Tatooine. We tried out some of the solar ovens and then walked to the Ecokef, a demonstration park and teaching area, with a cool playground made up of clayed-over garbage, composting toilets and an organic garden, where we plundered tea leaves and the last of their tomatoes. “Permaculture is my religion,” Netta told us. And it’s here on Lotan (where members also practise Reform Judaism) that newcomers get initiated into this philosophy of living lightly on the land.
After lunch, we hooked up with Alex Cicelsky, the director of research and development at Lotan’s Center for Creative Ecology, and had a long, wide-ranging and engaging conversation about the history of this unique kibbutz, its mix of spiritual and ecological philosophies (an environmental spin on tikkun olan), the challenges of building eco-friendly buildings, and other topics related to how ecological literacy has sprouted out of the communal life of Lotan. He invited us to the kabalat shabat ceremony later that evening and for Friday night dinner, where we met some of the students and volunteers. The song and prayer and shared meal helped us appreciate the melding of spiritual and communal life in this fascinating desert community.
The only disappointment of the day? The sign on the gate to the swimming pool: “Closed due to sandstorm.”
Tuesday, June 15, 2010
One last day in the big city—this time, to talk with some big wigs. First, we met with Abu Vilan, a former MK for the Meretz party and longtime player in the Artzi Federation of the kibbutz movement. He talked about his life on his own kibbutz and the challenges faced by the Israeli left in the current right-leaning political climate. (Part of it is image, he noted, pointing out how I look like the typical Israeli lefty with my reading glasses.)
Coming up: A consciousness-expanding journey into the desert...
We gave ourselves more time and fought our way through the traffic jam on the main highway. This time we arrived a half0hour early to our destination: the Sadaka Reut organization near the Old City. There, we met with Lena and Jawad, both 19, and Jewish-Israeli and Palestinian respectively. They’ve been living together with six other young people as part of “The Commune”, a one-year experiment in co-existence and co-operation. (Imagine “The Real World: Israel” with less binge-drinking, fewer cameras and way more political activism.”) They are amazingly passionate individuals doing impressive activities; every month they collectively organize a political or educational act: erasing racist graffiti, protesting house demolitions, producing educational videos about Gaza.
Jaffa can be a tough neighbourhood, we’d heard, and we saw evidence of that after leaving Sadaka Reut. Several police cars and ambulances had stopped by a house, and an Arab woman was crying on the sidewalk. Attendants with stretchers rushed through a door. We asked a nearby parking lot attendant what had happened. “There was a shooting,” he shrugged. “Someone got hit.” Time to get out of Jaffa.
After a swim at Neve Shalom, we drove to the town of Beit Shemesh and visited Kibbutz Tamuz—an urban kibbutz, which I’d heard so much about last year but had yet to see in person. There, Yiftah Goldman, one of the members, showed us around and gave us a history of the community, which combines urban co-housing and communal economics with a sense of social purpose. Tamuz has struggled recently, however, as Beit Shemesh has become an increasingly ultra-Orthodox town; these new religious residents have been resistant to cooperating with the Tamuz residents in the types of social projects that drew them to the city in the first place. That said, Tamuz looks like a wonderful place to raise a family, amongst close friends, with an open green space where residents gather and talk as the sun goes down. Again, we left with our heads full of new ideas and new ways of living.
Friday, June 11, 2010
All in all, a busy day that left our heads spinning with fascinating people and new ideas.
Neve Shalom/Wahad al-Salam
It’s been a hectic first week of my research trip in Israel: I arrived with Jerry, my research assistant and cultural guide, Sunday just before noon. We grabbed a rental car and drove to Neve Shalom/Wahat-al Salam, where we stayed for four nights at a guest house at this unique community. After dropping our bags, we got an introduction to Neve Shalom/Wahad al-Salam from Abdessalam Najjar, one of the earliest residents. The community was founded about 30 years ago, just off the Tel-Aviv/Jerusalem highway, as a place where Arabs and Jews could live in peaceful co-existence, while also running programs that encourage dialogue to help others do the same. Today, there is a long waitlist of other Arab and Jewish residents of Israel keen to take up residence. (Space on the limited amount of land, donated in a covenant by the nearby Latrun Monastery, is the main issue holding back expansion.) Abdesssalam admitted that his community is far from typical in his country; in fact, the government likes to use Neve Shalom in its feel-good press relations while giving no financial or other support to the community itself. Rather, it’s something of an isolated island of middle-class professionals who have managed to find a way of living with the conflict that divides this country while not ignoring it. It’s also a beautiful neighbourhood in an idyllic rural setting where the coastal plains start to rise toward the hills of Jerusalem—a soothing setting to sleep off some jet-lag while still running around and doing interviews.
Next, we had tea at Kibbutz Revadim (where Jerry’s sister, a ceramics artist lives), and spoke with Uri Pinkerfeld, a founder as well as an activist who acts to protect Palestinian olive groves from destruction by settlers. He told us about the early history of the kibbutz, which was originally near Jerusalem but captured and then relocated during and after the War of 1948, and the process of privatization that it underwent, after careful consideration by its members. This “change” was less traumatic at Revadim, which wasn’t in as deep financial crisis as many kibbutzim.
Saturday, June 5, 2010
His point of view is essentially the same as mine: a non-Jewish outsider who fell under the thrall of Israel—its landscapes, its cultures, its peoples, its history—as an idealistic young international volunteer, and who is now struggling to hold onto that idealism despite the grim tit for tat violence in the region and the decreasing hopes for peace.
As he writes, looking back on life on a kibbutz in the Galilee:
As someone who has visited Israel frequently and who spent a formative six months on a kibbutz at the age of 19, all of this saddens me. For despite the conflict, there is something magical about this tiny state, created by the Jewish immigrants of over 120 countries and built on the beautiful desert of their biblical homeland.
It is a country of paradoxes: an ancient land, steeped in the animosities of some the world's largest religions, and yet a dynamic sun-drenched country, with a booming agriculture and IT economy, a thriving gay scene and a celebrated dance culture.
Friday, June 4, 2010
I'm excited too by the busy month of travel and interviews ahead. Jerry my research assistant and I will hit the ground running: we will be staying at Neve Shalom for four nights as we visit Tel Aviv and Jerusalem as well as his sister on Kibbutz Revadim. Then we head south into the desert for four nights and many more kibbutzim: Lotan, Ketura, Yotvata and Samar. Then back north toward Gaza and Urim, Migvan and Kfar Aza.
Probably another day or two in Tel Aviv before heading north to Mishmar HaEmek. Finally I will get a few days to visit friends on Shamir before a 3-day conference near Kibbutz Mizra and a 2-day tour of nearby communities. Then one more day of wrap up interviews in Tel Aviv and home at last!
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