Community isn’t just a funny show on the TV

Living in community is hard.

It’s also engrossing, fulfilling, heartwarming, and at times, heart-breaking.

More than anything, living in community is a sure-fire way to be present at any given moment to your self-worth, your self-esteem, and self-sufficiency.

Living on top of each other — which is what you do when you live on a small kibbutz, at least — means you are every day faced with fitting in, belonging, needing, giving, taking, believing, doubting, judging, questioning, accepting, committing, avoiding.

Your heart just sits there in the front seat of a roller coaster ride.

Some days trekking slowly slowly to the top — excitement building. You can hardly breathe. Other days, a swift ride to the very bottom. You can hardly breathe.

But in a different kind of way.

Who chooses this life? This togetherness?

Who forfeits the privacy, the independence, the safe separate-ness of living in a large city or a large suburb with long driveways and electric garage door openers?

There are days when I want to run away to that large city; hide inside a dark suburban garage.

You can’t do that on kibbutz.

You can’t avoid the neighbor who insulted you.

Or the friend who disappointed you.

Or the child who bullied yours.

You can certainly try.

But as you cross paths time and again, each time reminded of the injury, the insult, the suffering, you have a choice to make.

Be with the suffering,

Or heal.

There’s no avoiding. Not for long, anyway.

There’s just choosing to suffer or choosing to heal.

Living in community is hard.

But no harder than life.

Living here, in community, is like living in a petri dish of evolution. Of social innovation. Of personal development.

Of love and compassion.

For yourself and for your neighbors.

And it’s hard some days.

Other days, though, miracles happen .. right before your very eyes.

 

The Blooper Reel

In the movie that is my life, this period in time will be filled with perfect material for the end of film outtakes. The bloopers and practical jokes that roll after the credits; that end up on disc 2 of the DVD set.

Hopefully, by the time such a movie is made I, too, will be able to laugh at the time when I was a  consistent perpatrator of the Hebrew version of “Who’s on First?”

Let me explain by example.

Here is a loose transcript of the cellphone conversation I just had with an Israeli parent of a friend of my son’s:

Me (“my” Hebrew translated into English for your convenience): Hello [parent’s name]. Speaking is Jen. The mom of Oliver.

Other Mom ( in 100 mph garbled cellphone Hebrew): Yes?

Me: You call me?

Other Mom: Yes.

Me: Yes?

Other Mom: No, I was talking to Tal blah blah blah my laundry.

Me: Um. Ok. Did you call me?

Other Mom: blah blah sent a message blah blah blah

Me: You sent me what?

Other Mom: No. I didn’t send.

Me: What you no send?

Other Mom: No, you sent me a message.

Me: Yes, yes, I send SMS with new cellphone number.

Other Mom: Oh, ok. I wanted to talk to you.

Me: Ok. About what?

Other Mom: No, no. I don’t want to speak to you. I was speaking to my son.

Me: Oh, excuse me. I am so sorry.

Other Mom: (laughs and says in English). No, we will speak soon. Goodbye.

[END OF CALL. BEGIN SELF-DEPRECATION.]

Every single day of my life in Israel is an exercise in embarassment and humility.

It sounds a lot worse than it is. Daily humiliation by no means leads to unhappiness.  I think, in fact, my willingness to speak Hebrew at all to these people is indicative of the fact that I am starting to let down my guard. However, as I continue to become more confident in speaking Hebrew to my friends, colleagues, and neighbors, I also continue to make lots and lots of mistakes. Something, generally speaking, I work hard at not doing.

Veteran immigrants to Israel, the folks who learned Hebrew 20 years ago in an ulpan, as opposed to “Jen Style” (ie. figuratively flat on her face with a dictionary in her hand) all recommend “making mistakes.”

“Don’t be afraid to speak Hebrew,” they tell me. “This is the way you will learn.”

The only problem with this advice is that most Israelis don’t have the patience for my learning curve.

When they speak to me in Hebrew (usually very fast), and I respond by saying, “What did you say?” they usually will do one of two things:

1. Tell me again, but this time in English

2. Repeat what they said the first time, just as quickly, if not more quickly, but louder

What I really need them to do is repeat it in Hebrew, but at the pace of a person who has just regained her use of speech after being in a coma for nine months.

Very…

Very…

Slowly.

On the other hand, when I try to speak Hebrew (and I deserve an A for effort these days), I find myself five words into my attempt and either:

a. I don’t know the word for…let’s say…”repulsive” in Hebrew and then I have to go about trying to describe what “repulsive” means using the limited Hebrew I do have. By the time I am finished with that task, I forget what was so repulsive to begin with. Or,

b. The person I am talking to looks absolutely and completely bewildered, though still hanging on to my every word hoping that by the end of my discombobulated, grammatically incorrect sentence she will be able to piece together something comprehensible from what just exited my mouth.

At the very least, thanks to a good job at a company in the hi-tech industry, I think I’ve managed to establish myself as a reasonably intelligent person…despite the fact that I walk around in fool’s clothing most days.

And considering that it must require a lot of patience for non-English speakers to interact with me, I suppose I should take it as a good sign, then, that some people continue to do so.

Hopefully, within time, we’ll understand each other, too.

What’s a little gossip?

You know when you’re having lunch with your friend in the local diner and even though you know you shouldn’t, you start gossiping about someone you both know? And all of a sudden you realize you’re in the local diner and the room just got really quiet, so you casually turn your head back to the left, then back to the right, and then back to face your friend? And then you continue the conversation, but this time in a hushed whisper, particularly hushed when mentioning names, and even more particularly hushed when you’re mentioning last names?

Yeah, you do. Don’t pretend like you don’t. Even though the bible prohibits it, the fact of the matter is, you likely engage in gossip on occasion.  Studies show that a little bit of gossip (done “correctly,” whatever that means) is healthy and the reason it’s so addictive is not necessarily because you like to speak ill of others, but because gossiping apparently “helps build and cement connections with others.”

This study makes sense to me. I consider myself a fairly good person and I never (okay, hardly ever) gossip about anyone with the purpose of “causing the subject physical or monetary damage, or anguish or fear” as “Lashon Hara” is briefly defined at torah.org. If I were to analyze why I gossip, intentionally or unintentionally, it’s usually to learn more about the person I’m gossiping with or about. It’s more interrogative than vindictive or malicious.

When you live in a small community, gossip is inevitable. It may be outwardly or subtly discouraged. It may be frowned upon. It may be  practiced by some, and shunned by others. But, regardless, there’s a reason you get more than 5 1/2 million results when you google the words “small town gossip.”

On a kibbutz, take the diner example above, and multiply it by 100.

I kid you not, but on the (ahem) rare occasion when my husband, Avi, and I talk about one of our new neighbors, we make sure to turn our heads from left to right and back again, and carefully whisper — even when we are inside our own home. It doesn’t matter if we are saying something nice, or something not so nice. We don’t want to be known as those “gossipy new olim down the street.”

We look around. Are the windows open? Did someone just peek their head through the unlocked door? Are there any children in our home that don’t belong to us?

Today, my husband and I were returning home and drove down the main road of the kibbutz. The car windows were down a smidgen so I whispered to him when I asked, “Does Shlomo (names changed to protect the innocent) have a job?” Avi stared at me as he placed his pointer finger to his lips. “Shhh…”

In the States, I might have continued in broken Hebrew, but unfortunately, in Israel there’s no talking smack about people right in front of their faces unless I manage to teach my husband Gibberish.

As we approached Shlomo, he stared at me, as if he knew I had been asking about him seconds earlier. I’m sure I was just being paranoid. But maybe not.

What’s the big deal?, you might ask. Is it so wrong that I wondered, innocently enough, if Shlomo had a job? Perhaps not, but in a small town, or a kibbutz in this case, asking a question like this out loud is as dicey as playing “Whisper Down the Lane.” 

Your question, and your willingness to ask it, implies something about you. It implies whether you’re willing to let someone in or to be let in by someone else. It may be the make or break of a friendship. It may be the start of a rivalry or a resentment. As torah.org tells us, “Some statements are not outright Lashon Hara, but can imply Lashon Hara or cause others to speak it.” Meaning, much depends on who asks the question, in what context the question is asked, and who it’s asked of.

Therefore, wondering aloud if your new neighbor has a full-time job can be construed as gossip. Someone might think I’m implying Shlomo is a good-for-nothing, lazy bum because he doesn’t have a full time job. Someone might think I’m implying his wife thinks less of him or wears the pants in that family. Someone might think I’m sizing him up or down, and take it personally, even. Wondering, How do I measure up in her eyes?

It seems to me that the rules of Lashon Hara were created expressly for people living on a kibbutz. And if I want to play it safe as a newbie to this community, at least for a little while, I’d follow the Lashon Hara guidlines. (I’ve not yet read A.J. Jacobs, The Year of Living Biblically, but maybe it’s high time I should.)

Or at the very least, gossip like I do “It:”

Only with my husband and behind closed doors.

Kibbutz Commute

This morning you might have mistaken me for a Folger’s commercial.

I left the house this morning with a big ceramic mug of piping hot, fresh, homemade coffee in my hand. My husband was alongside me loving up his own cup. My two little ones played “parade” as they walked single file up the hill to their respective ganim*. It’s January, and the sun was bright in the sky. There was a bit of a chill in the air — enough to wear a fleece over my long-sleeved hoodie– but clear blue skies heralded the coming of another gorgeous day. Unlike what our friends and family in New Jersey are preparing for — yet another snow storm.

This is our kibbutz commute. (Happy sigh.)

Of course, we’re new immigrants and, for all intents and purposes, still without signficant work to focus on, other than unpacking boxes and adjusting to life without our Blackberrys.

Both Avi and I are freelance consultants at the moment with a only few projects to keep us busy and to contribute to our cost of living. This is temporary, of course, so it’s too soon to tell if our morning glory will be permanent or if it will soon revert back to morning rush once we seek out and secure additional work.

Still, we took notice today on our walk back down the hill of the differences between the suburban and the kibbutz commute. For one thing, Avi said, you need to be chipper in the morning. No more eyes turned down, I-pod turned up, ignore your fellow train rider attitude. From the time we left the house until the time we arrived at our front door, we exchanged about 75 “boker tovs,” 25 “yom tovs,” and two dozen enormous smiles.

As a new arrival, these warm greetings are welcoming and reassuring, but will it soon get old? Personally, I’m having a hard time looking presentable in the morning — the water here is working against me, and my hair looks greasy no matter how often I wash it.  I’m really regretting the savvy, short hair cut I got before I moved because it makes a ponytail impossible.

Will I still welcome the friendly interactions when our kids inevitably revert back to psychotic, disagreeable rugrats after a bad night sleep or too many kosher marshmallows at a neighbor’s house? No one wants to be on display as they have to parent their child through a temper tantrum.

Oh well. That’s the kibbutz commute.

For sure, I don’t miss the bundling up of winter gear, the warming of the mini van so the automatic door will open, the driving up and down icy streets, or the three-stop drop off. So far, the smiles and greetings come easily to me because I’m significantly more relaxed than I have been in a very long time — at least since I gave birth to my first child.

But, the truth is, a lot of my relief likely comes from a reduction in tasks and demands.

My oldest dresses himself in a school “uniform” (iron-on t-shirts with the school logo and sweatpants) and walks himself up the street to the bus stop.  My littlest is fed a healthy breakfast and a hot lunch, so less for me to pack and prepare. My middle guy is the only one home mid-afternoon for lunch and, since he is the one who most benefits from one-on-one time, he’s a lot less grumpy at the end of the day when we all meet together again as a family.

Is this Israel? Or just a lifestyle shift? Many might argue that I could have achieved this by moving back to Arizona or putting my kids in daycare. Perhaps, they’d be right.

I’m not going to spend too much time carefully considering why and how I’m so relaxed right now. I don’t want to jinx it. But, I think it’s important to publicly aknowledge its existence so that when my kids come home with lice (God forbid) or the toilet backs up, I can count on you to remind me that once upon a time, my life was a cheery, sunny commercial for blissful living.

*GLOSSARY
Boker tov = Good morning
Yom tov = Have a good day
Ganim = kindergartens