Saturday, September 5, 2009

All in the Family for a Chayal Boded on Kibbutz

My parents visited kibbutz this past Shabbat, the fifth of September. We ate by my other parents, the kibbutz couple that have "adopted" me as part of a local effort to make my garin members and I feel more at home. Most folks do not sit down with two sets of parents unless a wedding is involved. But as everyone in Israel likes to tell me, when you are a chayal boded, a lone soldier (actually, the term literally translate to lonely soldier!), well, you're special.

Lone Soldiers have a long tradition in the Israeli military. In the modern army, all soldiers whose immediate family are overseas are designated as a chayal boded, bringing a host of minor benefits like increased pay, several weeks off a year to visit family overseas, and the suspicion of your Israeli army peers that you must be plum crazy to have walked away from the good life for the danger and drudgery of army service. What most folks forget is that before the state of Israel was established in 1948, most members of the Haganah, the precursor of the modern Israeli army, were essentially Lone Soldiers. Having left his comfortable life and loving family for an uncertain future in British Mandate Palestine, the typical Haganah member lived on kibbutz while struggling to master the language and customs of his new home. Sounds almost familiar, no?

My own status as a chayal boded is somewhat unusual as my parents spend several months a year living in Israel. Since they are not citizens, their extended visits do not impact my formal classification as a chayal boded. Yet I cannot quite claim to feel the pangs of loneliness from my family when my mother and father are hanging out in an elegant apartment in Jerusalem. Considering that I have lived on my own since age fourteen, when I was first separated from my family in order to attend a Jewish high school in New York, I was probably never going to be a typical chayal boded to begin with. Though perhaps my bodedness, my loneliness factor, refers to my siblings and close friends, most of whom remain firmly planted in the exile, far from the small strip of land I now call home.


My host family on kibbutz, Ruti and Moshe, are a lovely couple, parents to four children, the youngest of whom is my age though he now lives in the Golan Heights. Their eldest daughter is a Tirat Zvi local as well, and her three-now four young children ensure that I have oodles of little 'uns in my family tree. After just two weeks with the family, I already have two more little nephews to get to know following the birth of baby boys in successive weeks to two of my 'siblings.' I am not sure if I can claim credit for the flood of familial mazal, we may have to see what lies in store in week number three!

Sharing a shabbat table with my respective parents made for an interesting culture clash. Outside of the obvious difficulty in communicating (both my mothers are multilingual but neither of my fathers are quite expert in the other's native tongue), there was the more subtle different expectation that my parents have for me versus what my adoptive parents have for their twenty-four year old son. I do not mean to suggest, in any way, that my parents expectations for me are better or worse than what may be expected of a young man on kibbutz. Just different. Just one observation, at any rate, from observing city mice and country mice come together over a shabbat table in eastern Israel.

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