By Jen Maidenberg
(Author’s Note: This is an edited version slightly different than the original )
There are a host of reasons why families decide to make Aliyah: I’m sure I don’t even know the half of them. Zionism. Religious devotion. Persecution. Patriotism. Asylum. Readily available falafel and hummus.
In fact, if you ask each member of my family why we moved here, you’d likely get a different answer from each of us. In addition to the excitement at the idea of exploring a new country and culture, I was looking for freedom (for my children), ease (for both me and my husband), and community.
Mostly, community, though. Because I think once you are part of a tight community, freedom and ease soon follow.
I spent the first half of my life insisting I could do it all on my own. And the second half trying to identify who was ready and willing to support me.
My parents will confirm that I was an ultra-independent kid – to a fault. Once I could figure out how to do something by myself, I wouldn’t let anyone help me or stop me. At some point, however, that confidence morphed into the idea that I was self-sufficient. That other people were not as dependable as I was, and certainly not as loyal, so why trust them with vital tasks…or more important, my needs and expectations?
This was an easy concept to hang on to through high school and college; though looking back, I think I would have enjoyed both experiences a little more had I been less judging of my friends, less judging of myself, and more willing to forgive and accept. Accept that human beings are works in progress, and that all most of us really want is to love and be loved. If I knew what it meant to have compassion for myself, back then, I would have asked for help – and listened to wise advice– every step of the way.
Once I got married and moved far away from my hometown and family, but especially after giving birth to my first child in that far-away-from-my-hometown town, I realized that doing it all yourself was nothing but a one way ticket to the insane asylum.
I needed help. I needed an extra pair (or two) of hands. I needed other crazy parent types to count on, to gripe to, and to confirm that my parenting style was just the right mix of firm and doting. Living in a town without family nearby, I urgently needed an emergency contact or two to put on the preschool forms.
I first heard the word “chavura” when we lived in Tucson. My friend Devora, also a transplant to Arizona from “back East,” had organized a group of 5 or 6 Jewish families whose children were all in the same synagogue preschool class. The families, most of whom did not have relatives nearby, got together on Jewish holidays, celebrated for each other during new simchas, and supported each other during difficult times. This came with the added benefit of an automatic invitation to a Superbowl party, as well as a few people you could count on to take your kids for playdates when you were feeling under the weather.
“I need me a chavura,” I thought at the time. “Really need.”
Soon after, though, we moved back to New Jersey where my husband and I are both from, mostly for this very reason. NJ, we understood at the time, wasn’t really the place we’d choose to live except for the fact that all of our family lived there.
Once back in NJ, we were fortunate to rebuild the close bonds with our family and develop a few extraordinary friendships. We lived in a great town with fantastic resources and really smart, interesting people.
But something was still missing.
This isn’t to say we were community-less. We had pockets of community here and there. Our synagogue preschool community. My book club community. My moms of kids with food allergies online support group community. But these communities all existed much like a Venn Diagram. They were stand-alone communities that intersected at me.
I needed – craved actually – something a little more intentional, a little more intense, and a little more … organized togetherness. More than that, I wanted my circles to connect in multiple places … not just at the intersection of me.
Which is why, when people ask me, I say I moved to a kibbutz in Northern Israel (through Nefesh B’Nefesh’s Go North program) in search of intentional community.
I wanted a place where people put people first. A neighborhood filled with neighbors who said hello to each other, and better yet were ready and able to hand over a cup of flour when needed. I wanted a place where my kids could run around in packs and know other adults by first name and be influenced by them. I wanted potluck dinners, and impromptu meetups on the lawn. I wanted gardening committees and Shabbat sing-a-longs.
I wanted to live in a place where community trumped busy-ness. Where people made time for community because they committed to.
It’s not that Israel – or Hannaton, where I live — isn’t busy. Here in Israel and on Hannaton, most two-parent households are two-parent working households. Kibbutz kids have pretty full schedules, piled with after-school activities and homework. And yet, somehow there is time for community.
If I were to make a Venn diagram of community on Hannaton it would be where neighborhood intersects with intention intersects with commitment. Intention and commitment are what turns a neighborhood into “community.”
Community is intentional here on Hannaton. It’s desired (most of the time). It’s nurtured (as often as our tired, over-scheduled bodies will allow). It’s preserved. In community, as opposed to a neighborhood, you open your doors and wave others in. Even when you don’t want to. You let down your guard, even if you’re really, really scared. You share of yourself. You give. You receive. You ask for help. You gracefully accept.
Living in community forces me – forces anyone, really — to go past my comfort zone, beyond my previously-established boundaries. It’s scary, yet, potentially so rewarding.
You don’t need to move to Israel for intentional community, many people have said to me.
And they’re right. But I did. And I found it. Here.