On Thurs. morning we boarded our bus and traveled southeast of Haifa to the Kibbutz Mishmar Ha’emek. It was a beautiful day, sunny and warm, and the area lush and green with well-tended flourishing crops and unlikely (at least to me) combinations of olive trees, varieties of palms, and evergreens growing side by side. But the most striking thing was the absence of rocks…everywhere else in this land the terrain is mountainous and rocky. I wondered where they had put them and still have visions of (neat) piles of enormous rocks on the ‘backside’ of the mountains where they can’t be seen!
Kibbutz Mishmar Ha’emek (Guardian of the Valley) was established in 1922 by Polish immigrants. It is a socialist and secular community (though Jewish religious holidays are celebrated in the traditional way and “some people probably pray to God in case there is one”-Lydia) with more than 900 residents. We began with a visit to the small museum which houses the historical documents and artifacts of the community. We then walked through the kibbutz to the home of Lydia Aisenberg, our hostess and guide.
On the way to Lydia’s home, we met and spoke with a group of international youth who are living there and participating in a one-year study program. Lively and articulate, they described their life there which includes Hebrew studies and daily communal chores,as well as teaching English to their contemporaries in neighboring Palestinian villages, and shared their hopes of breaking down stereotypes on both sides. They were a delight and once again I felt hope for the future.
We then assembled in Lydia’s garden with refreshments. She is a small, intense woman and an engaging speaker. While she is well-known for her wit, humor and cynicism, on this day she was also pensive, reflective and vulnerable as she wove her personal story into the history of the kibbutz.
Born in Wales, she worked in London as a young adult. She related stories of her own experiences with anti-Semitism…at age 11 she was brought to the front of her school classroom by her teacher who asked her to explain to the class “why you killed Jesus”…in another childhood incident other children accused her of “drinking the blood of Christian children killed by her parents for the Passover”…as a young adult she experienced loss of jobs and/or job discrimination because of her religion. At one point she paid 10 British pounds to change her surname from Greenburg to Green, and for a time “was accepted”. But she was unable to live with this and later paid another 10 pounds to restore her name.
Lydia moved to Israel in 1967 to study Hebrew and at the end of April will have resided in the kibbutz for 42 years. She subsequently married a Holocaust survivor and they had 5 children. Her husband died a few years ago. She regaled us with stories about her early days and chores there (“gave up a career as a journalist to collect eggs”) and her desire to be accepted. She still identifies herself as a committed Zionist, but then observes that it’s hard to know what that means anymore, asking…”what is Left, what is Center, what is Zionist?” She is also a staunch advocate for justice for Palestinians. She says she is not hopeful regarding the current conflict and cites the fear of terrorist attacks as a major stumbling block. She further knows that philosophical changes are inevitable in this community that she loves and that Mishmar could well become ‘privatized’ as so many other kibbutzim have done. Young married women in particular want to continue to live in the kibbutz but not turn over their paychecks to the community and simply pay expenses as incurred.
Lydia is a complex and fascinating woman at a kind of crossroads in her life and it was a pleasure to spend this time with her.
The remainder of our day was free and the majority of the group decided to make a trip to Akko (see A Brief Respite). Since Scott and I had been there, we opted to get off the bus and walk from downtown Haifa back to Mt. Carmel. Four hours later, I warned Scott that if I heard the words “nice day for a walk” coming from his mouth ever again, I would surely run screaming in the opposite direction!