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.

Angry mom

This was originally posted as my alter ego, “The Wellness Bitch.” Please take that into consideration as you read it. The WB posts with a slightly different tone. Considering the relevance to my Aliyah experience here in Israel, however, I choose to re-post it, despite the chance that it might incite my friends and alienate my neighbors.

With any luck, though, maybe a few of you will join me in a “Makolet Ban” or an “Anti-Makolet March” or at the very least, one “No Makolet Day” each year. 

I feel blessed in my life for the moms who get it. I’m glad for the ones I’ve met in real life and the ones I have come to know and love virtually.

It’s these moms — the ones who struggle day in and day out to provide their families with their version of “healthy” despite society’s constant roadblocks — that bring me back down off the angry ledge. It’s these fellow moms who struggle as hard as I do; who understand the often daily battles I fight with myself and my kids. The struggle between giving my kids what they want and giving them what I think they need. The struggle between saying yes and saying no. The struggle between choosing to fight a battle and choosing to lose it. The struggle between choosing easy and choosing hard.

I need such a support group desperately here, in my real life community, where I am forced to make choices all the time between what I know is right for my kids and what other moms let their kids get away with.

I’m feeling very, very “angry mom” lately.

Here, in the small community in Israel where I live, there is so much I love. But what I hate to my utter core is the “makolet.”

The makolet is basically a corner grocery store. The Israel equivalent of a NYC bodega. Internally, I like to call it “the kiddie crack house.” Sure, conceptually, it’s nice to know I can run up the hill for a carton of eggs or a package of baking powder, but 99% of the time, it’s the bane of my existence here and representative of something I really can’t stand about Israel: For as advanced as this country is, it is still very far behind in the healthy eating revolution, and in denial that what you feed your kids contributes to their physical and emotional well-being.

Israel's national snack food, bamba

Every day here, it seems, the average Israeli child walks out from his preschool and is taken by the hand to the makolet where the average Israeli parent buys his child the average Israeli after-school snack — namely a popsicle, a chocolate milk, a snack pack of peanut butter puffed corn, yogurt topped with candy or just plain candy.

It’s the Wellness Bitch’s worst nightmare. Can you imagine?

A family "favorite"

For over a year, I’ve tried to make peace with the makolet. My husband and I have tried various incentive plans to get our kids on board with the idea that we don’t feed them makolet crack every day. These are kids who, up until a year ago, were happy to get candy once a month at a birthday party, and whose daily sweet treats included an organic sandwich cookie or a beet-colored fruit roll up. Now, these kids can be seen walking once a week clutching a bag of “Kliks,” slurping on sour gummy worms, or sucking down a spray bottle filled with the EU version of Red #40.

We’ve tried “Makolet Day,” one day a week when our kids get to pick something from the little store. But one “Makolet Day” a week suddenly turns into three when Saba comes to visit, or when the 3-year-old goes home with a different parent for a playdate and the two kids wind up sucking down “Shock-o,” the  chocolate milk drink packaged in sports bottles mechanically engineered for preschoolers’ tiny mouths. “Makolet Day” becomes a way of life here when my kids are treated to a “krembo” by their teachers or tutors or soccer coaches for doing a job well done. “Makolet Day” in not just a day here when it’s piled upon birthday parties and holiday celebrations and kiddushim, for which the focal point is sugary, processed crap masquerading as food.

Yesterday, I lost it because my daughter walked out from preschool with a snack bag full of candy thanks to an in-school birthday party (which they seem to have twice a month here). I told her she could have the birthday candy or “Makolet Day,” not both. She agreed. She proceeded to eat a handful of m-n-m’s and then ran to the makolet to pick out

"Krembo" the Israeli chocolate coconut cream treat

her weekly treat. When I reminded her of our agreement, she had a meltdown. That melt-down turned into a kicking and screaming performance for all my friends and neighbors (Did I imagine the tongues clicking in compassion for my daughter ?)

As I buckled her into her car seat, I screamed out loud in frustration to her and her two brothers, “That is it! No more makolet! I hate the makolet. I hate it so much I am going to come here in the middle of the night and spray graffiti all over the makolet! Do you hear me?? Graffiti!!!!”

Don’t you love days like that? When you are so angry, and yet so defeated, that graffiti is your best threat? (What would I even write? “F-off Makolet?” “Die, Makolet, Die?” And, really, how long would it take before they discovered the English expletives belonged to me?)

Don’t you love it when, in an effort to do right by your kids, you completely do wrong?

Don’t you love it when their meltdowns produce your meltdowns?

Somebody, please hand me a Krembo.

For years, I was luckier than I realized. I had a built-in community and support system in New Jersey. I lived in an educated, middle to upper middle class, health conscious neighborhood. I had a Whole Foods Market ten minutes to the West and one ten minutes to the East. I had a “Holistic Moms” network nearby, five yoga studios to choose from, a “green thumb” and a “wellness” committee at my kids’ schools.

For all that I gained when I moved to a small, country kibbutz in Israel, I lost that wellness-focused community.

And now I have two choices: I can stay angry or I can build…community, that is.

I do both really, really well.

I simply need to choose now, as we all do at some point, which one serves me best.

I recently mentioned to the members of my bi-weekly woman’s group that I think it’s time I start speaking up — getting “my leader on,” so to speak. On the one hand, it’s been nice living in my bubble, the one in which I pretend like I don’t have much of an opinion and don’t have experience leading community efforts for change.

Inside this bubble, I’ve allowed “little Hebrew” to become synonymous for “little voice.”

But the truth is, I have a voice. And it’s loud. And it’s lonely hiding here inside the bubble.