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.

 

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Kibbutz Chic

I have one pair of “skinny” jeans. I bought them at the Gap outlet in Jersey Gardens right before moving to Israel. I wish I had bought more than one because they have become my favorite pair of pants since moving here.

Not because my butt looks great. (Although, maybe it does. You will have to ask my husband or someone who often walks behind me.) But because my skinny jeans fit best inside my ultra-fashionable green polka-dotted Wellington boots — which are the shoes I wear most around here. The skinny jeans and boots look is deceiving, though. Anyone who knows me well understands that I’m only fashionable by accident.

Having arrived here in winter (which is the rainy season in Northern Israel), I’m having a hard time trusting the folks who keep assuring me, “we need the rain.” They all to swear to me there wasn’t a drop of rain in December, and the rain came in with us, but that’s no consolation for the regular piles of stinking muddy socks. What’s worse is that the chemical-free, eco-conscious brand of laundry detergent I brought here from the States is no match for kibbutz mud or the mineral-heavy water.  No matter how long I soak and scrub their clothes, my kids still look dirty.

I probably wouldn’t even bother washing their clothes at all — since they are just putting them back on to go sit in Gan sand or dig through the mud behind the Migrash*– if it weren’t for the smell. Last week, my two-year-old daughter fell into a man-made puddle (man-made because it’s a hole no one has bothered to fill up), and she smelled like a dead cow that had rolled around in his own feces for two days before he died.

The smell was so wretched I considered throwing away her clothes. But then I looked at the tags and I realized they were from Old Navy, which is like saying Barneys here in Israel. Mustn’t throw the baby clothes out with the bath water…

I promise you, my kids look filty, but smell fresh.  And not the kind of synthetic fresh that makes you want to hold your breath or grab your government-issued gas mask. But, squeaky clean from nightly baths (together, to save water) in Castile soap I had my father-in-law buy in bulk on his recent trip to the States.

Considering what the water has already done to my hair and our clothes, I try to be diligent about brushing my kid’s teeth. Not about brushing their hair, though, because I don’t want to get too attached. I have a strong feeling that I will have to shave our heads once lice season arrives. 

There is one day of the week I recognize my formerly well-groomed and fairly tidy children. On Shabbat morning, I can actually pick out my ragamuffins from the others — they don their handsome clothes, clean teeth, and combed hair. 

This past Shabbat my littlest rugrat was confused. “Ima,” she called as she wandered from leg to leg. “Ima, where are you?” She couldn’t find the boots — the rain had finally stopped long enough for me to put them out to dry and trade them for crocs.

What? You think we wear heels to synagogue here on the kibbutz? We’d sink faster than you could say Manolo Blahnik.

That is, if I was fashionable enough to know how to say it. 

GLOSSARY
Migrash = Open space (here it’s the area where the playground and ball courts are)
Ima= mommy

Bubble

I work from home. And since my younger children are in Gan on the kibbutz and my older son takes a bus to his school in Givat Ela (a 15 minute-drive away), I don’t have much reason to leave. In fact, I don’t really have much reason to shower. (See? Already I’m contributing to the water conservation effort in Israel.)

This makes for a very insular life. Which, for the moment, I enjoy.

Especially since this type of isolation means I can forget I live in a country in the middle of a war zone.

Did you ever see the Christopher Reeve film, Somewhere in Time? It’s a time traveling story in which Reeve’s character, Richard, falls in love with a woman (Jane Seymour) he sees in a vintage portrait. Richard figures out how to travel back in time to the turn of the century to meet her…where they fall in love. He needs to be mindful, though, because if he sees anything that reminds him of his own time, he will be hurled back there in an instant.

I, too, need to be mindful. All it takes is one email, one conversation with a friend, or one visit to msnbc.com to remind me that I didn’t move to a communal farm in New Hampshire, but to a kibbutz in Israel, a land whose fate is consistently in question.

The other day I was driving to Nazrat Ilit, the nearest “city” to Hannaton with my friend Yitzhak, who is also a new oleh. On the drive, he asked me if I was concerned about the situation in Egypt. “What’s going on in Egypt?” I asked tentatively. He looked at me as if I had three heads. “Do you know what’s going on in Tunisia?” he asked. I told him I thought I saw a picture about it on Facebook. He sighed.

When I got home later, my husband Avi was closely reading an email in his inbox. When he saw me looking over his shoulder trying to make out the Hebrew, he quickly closed it out. “What was that about?” I asked. “Oh, nothing we need to worry about right now,” he replied.

The problem with his response is that I already saw the photo included in the email which, it turns out, listed the dates the local municipality would be handing out complimentary gas masks to each family in the region, and the specific locations at which we could pick ours up.

“I see,” I said, noting that the soonest date to pick up our stash was mid-February. I took a deep breath and glanced over at the miklat* in our house, which for now is filled with boxes we have not yet emptied, as opposed to gas masks, extra water, or bags of dehydrated food.  I was better prepared for catastrophe in New Jersey, where I kept a big tupperware box filled with 2012 End of Days supplies in my basement.

Is it ignorant or naive of me to think I could move to Israel and not be forced to confront the politics of living here? I think the clear answer is, Yes.  And, yet, I’m doing a really good job of it so far.

Or so I easily lead myself to believe…

I think it’s only time until I will be forced to confront, or at least acknowledge, what it means to be an American Jew living in Israel. When all the careful indoctrination I received studying International Politics in college, interning at the Embassy of Israel, and working in Washington, D.C. think tanks rises to the surface.  

I am, in fact, very aware and informed of the history of the land I now I live in. It’s one thing, though, to read Amoz Oz or write a paper on “Why the West Bank Is An Important Strategic Asset to Israel” (which I did in 1993). It’s quite another to pay taxes here, prepare my children for a bomb drill, or walk beneath fighter planes doing exercises in the sky.

When there is inevitably another media blitz about an Israeli military choice or when Israel is once again front and center in the international news, where will I be? Lobbying in support of my country? Or quietly insisting that the latest news doesn’t concern me?

Only time will tell.

Like many transformations I’m experiencing as a new immigrant here, my political leanings are still…TBD.

GLOSSARY

Miklat = Bomb shelter (which by law every new Israeli home built has to have. Most people use these as closets, storage rooms, or offices.)

The Why

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.

Community.

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.