My little Garden of Eden in Israel

There is a place I idealize here in Israel:

Kibbutz Harduf in the Lower Galilee, an anthroposophic community with a unique approach to intentional living, and Israel’s largest producer of organic food.

Before we made Aliyah I first learned of Harduf  from my (now) friend Haviva’s article in Zeek about local, organic living in the Galilee.  At the time, I was running my own consulting business in New Jersey, the main focus of which was on educational and marketing efforts in the area of holistic health and green living. When we started researching communities in which to live I looked into the possibility of moving to Harduf.

I reached out via their Hebrew web site, but received no response. And when I asked our Nefesh B’ Nefesh regional Aliyah consultant her opinion on whether she thought Harduf was a good fit for our family, she advised against it, indicating it wasn’t the best place for new immigrants unless we were all very focused on living the “hardcore anthroposophic” life.

This was wise advice.

It wouldn’t have been a good fit for our family.

But, wow, it would have been a good fit for me — in another life. And sometimes I wish we lived there.

The beautiful campus is set upon a hill which overlooks in the distance the bay of Haifa and the Mediterranean sea. The residents, in the 30 or so years they have built up the kibbutz have put obvious effort into making the explorer’s experience of their home one peppered with wonder and teeming with vitality.

Harduf is itself alive.

I don’t live there, but I am lucky enough to live very close — just a 15 minute drive away. Recently, I joined the health clinic there (the physician, an M.D., is trained in both conventional medicine and anthroposophic medicine, which emphasizes homeopathy over medication.) So I’ve been spending more time there and try to build in an extra 10 or 20 minutes to wander every time I have to go there.

This morning, I brought my two youngest children over to Harduf to walk through the gardens, smell and touch the fruit trees, wander through shaded paths that lead to unexpected structures, and play on their gorgeous playground, a wonderland of thoughtful planning and handiwork.

yellow house

It was a two-hour slice of heaven.

Only after playing on the playground for an hour and on our way out to the restaurant and store that is open on Shabbat did I see this sign:

harduf sign

The sign basically says, “Entrance to the park is forbidden to non-residents of Harduf. The use of the playground is for children supervised by parents.”

The sign was new. It wasn’t there the last time we visited.

Still the new immigrant, I couldn’t pass by the sign without a thought, leaving the rule following to others.  I’m still very American, and I felt bad for a minute that we had unknowingly defied the sign.

But only for a minute.

Soon after, I was angry. Insulted.

Confused.

Harduf?

Telling non-residents to “Keep Out!”

How could this be?

I quickly snapped a photo of the sign and ushered my kids out.

I silently generated all sorts of indignant responses to this sign:

“Oh, they’re happy to have my business at the organic vegetable market or at the restaurant, but they aren’t willing to open their playground to me and my kids?”

“What if I was a tourist? Or a visitor to one of the families who lived here? How rude!”

“Would we ever put up a sign in Hannaton telling people who didn’t live there that our playground was off limits?”

I took the kids to the restaurant, which has a quaint little gift shop inside and we browsed for a bit.

Outside the Harduf organic vegetable market, Israel

Outside the Harduf organic vegetable market, Israel

As I approached the cash register to pay, I saw the owner of the restaurant and a long time Harduf resident, Jutka, there. I don’t know Jutka well: I’ve just had a few conversations with her a couple of times that I’ve been in the restaurant. (Jutka is also the author of this family-friendly vegetarian cookbook.)

I asked her in Hebrew about the sign at the playground, “Why is the playground off-limits to outsiders?”

She grumbled in response, “It’s for security reasons.”

She didn’t mean security in the traditional Israeli way, I quickly learned. The signs weren’t a warning to unfriendly neighbors, people who might want to hurt us. Those “security risks” don’t pay attention to signs.

What I understood from her was the signs were to protect Harduf from lawsuits. They were placed there to inform people of their personal liability.

She didn’t mention specifics, but I wondered if something had happened to spark this decision.

I told her I was disappointed and a little hurt to come upon the sign. I told her that I consider Harduf a paradise, and was taken aback to see such a harsh statement at the entrance to a park I love so much.

She sighed. I understood from this and her from eyes that she’s proud of the paradise she’s helped built, but she said,

“Even in this paradise, there are reasons to be concerned. Even in Gan Eden, there was the serpent,”

Jutka said this with a sly smile. (Jutka is someone I’d like to get to know better some day.)

I breathed in deeply and nodded, her words hitting me. Even in paradise there are problems to solve; hard decisions to be made. And Harduf is no exception.

Suddenly, I wasn’t angry anymore — it helped that Jutka invited us to be her guest at the playground, should anyone ask — but I was a bit disheartened:  Reality bursting my bubble once again.

I shook it off — and instead accessed the gratitude I had felt for the few hours on Harduf before I discovered the sign.

“You can sense the spirit here, can’t you?” Jutka asked.

I nodded again.

“Come back here whenever you want,” she told me.

And I agreed that I would.

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