Thursday, September 3, 2009

Torah b'Avodah? Work on Kibbutz

"Must be tough working in the field in that summer heat," a friend told a few weeks into my arrival at Kibbutz Tirat Zvi. "Though I cannot imagine you, a vegetarian, enjoy working inside the kibbutz's huge refrigerated meat-packing factory."

As tough or unenjoyable as it may be to work in the fields or the factory assembly line, neither is really my concern. The unglamorous reality is that in my first month on kibbutz, I have only had a single opportunity to labor like a kibbutznik of old. And after three hours of folding cardboard boxes in the kibbutz date factory, I was more than ready to hang up my kova tembel.

Oddly enough, the kova tembel, the stereotypical Israeli kibbutz hat, is said to come from the hats worn by the German Templers, a Christian movement active in settling Palestine in the end of the 19th century. As Arabs could not pronounce the letter P, the German hats became known as the Tembel hats, or kova tembel!

Part of the reason I have not bee asked to get my hands dirty is that Tirat Zvi, like most kibbutzim in Israel, no longer resembles the socialist utopias of the past. When Tirat Zvi was established in 1937 as the first member of the Religious Kibbutz Movement, the German and Polish founders envisioned a community that would simultaneously combine and reject the passivity of the European Orthodox Jewish world they had grown up in and the radical secular socialism of the majority of the Zionist pioneers in Palestine. Seventy-two years later, Tirat Zvi still proudly identities as a religous Zionist community. But as of Tuesday September 1, kibbutz members no longer pool their salaries (the new system is akin to the revenue sharing practiced in the NFL), one more step in the gradual privatization of the community.

As the kibbutz privatizes, many of the customs associated with kibbutz life have disappeared (needless to say, kids no longer live separate from their parents as in bygone days). So while a minority of the residents still cultivate Tirat Zvi's date trees and wheat fields, many have outside jobs. Even in the fields and in the famous meat-packing plant, kibbutz members tend to have senior positions, leaving Thai workers or city folk from nearby Bet She'an the labor intensive positions.

The other reason my fellow garin members and I have not been recruited for kibbutz work is that our days are (somewhat) filled with other pursuits. Although my roommate insists that our life on kibbutz resembles lazy days at summer camp, the daily schedule includes four hours of ulpan and frequent activities in the afternoon. Life is not too strenuous, though I find myself quite busy with the extra hours of workouts and various China-related projects I have accepted.

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