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.

 

What’s a little gossip?

You know when you’re having lunch with your friend in the local diner and even though you know you shouldn’t, you start gossiping about someone you both know? And all of a sudden you realize you’re in the local diner and the room just got really quiet, so you casually turn your head back to the left, then back to the right, and then back to face your friend? And then you continue the conversation, but this time in a hushed whisper, particularly hushed when mentioning names, and even more particularly hushed when you’re mentioning last names?

Yeah, you do. Don’t pretend like you don’t. Even though the bible prohibits it, the fact of the matter is, you likely engage in gossip on occasion.  Studies show that a little bit of gossip (done “correctly,” whatever that means) is healthy and the reason it’s so addictive is not necessarily because you like to speak ill of others, but because gossiping apparently “helps build and cement connections with others.”

This study makes sense to me. I consider myself a fairly good person and I never (okay, hardly ever) gossip about anyone with the purpose of “causing the subject physical or monetary damage, or anguish or fear” as “Lashon Hara” is briefly defined at torah.org. If I were to analyze why I gossip, intentionally or unintentionally, it’s usually to learn more about the person I’m gossiping with or about. It’s more interrogative than vindictive or malicious.

When you live in a small community, gossip is inevitable. It may be outwardly or subtly discouraged. It may be frowned upon. It may be  practiced by some, and shunned by others. But, regardless, there’s a reason you get more than 5 1/2 million results when you google the words “small town gossip.”

On a kibbutz, take the diner example above, and multiply it by 100.

I kid you not, but on the (ahem) rare occasion when my husband, Avi, and I talk about one of our new neighbors, we make sure to turn our heads from left to right and back again, and carefully whisper — even when we are inside our own home. It doesn’t matter if we are saying something nice, or something not so nice. We don’t want to be known as those “gossipy new olim down the street.”

We look around. Are the windows open? Did someone just peek their head through the unlocked door? Are there any children in our home that don’t belong to us?

Today, my husband and I were returning home and drove down the main road of the kibbutz. The car windows were down a smidgen so I whispered to him when I asked, “Does Shlomo (names changed to protect the innocent) have a job?” Avi stared at me as he placed his pointer finger to his lips. “Shhh…”

In the States, I might have continued in broken Hebrew, but unfortunately, in Israel there’s no talking smack about people right in front of their faces unless I manage to teach my husband Gibberish.

As we approached Shlomo, he stared at me, as if he knew I had been asking about him seconds earlier. I’m sure I was just being paranoid. But maybe not.

What’s the big deal?, you might ask. Is it so wrong that I wondered, innocently enough, if Shlomo had a job? Perhaps not, but in a small town, or a kibbutz in this case, asking a question like this out loud is as dicey as playing “Whisper Down the Lane.” 

Your question, and your willingness to ask it, implies something about you. It implies whether you’re willing to let someone in or to be let in by someone else. It may be the make or break of a friendship. It may be the start of a rivalry or a resentment. As torah.org tells us, “Some statements are not outright Lashon Hara, but can imply Lashon Hara or cause others to speak it.” Meaning, much depends on who asks the question, in what context the question is asked, and who it’s asked of.

Therefore, wondering aloud if your new neighbor has a full-time job can be construed as gossip. Someone might think I’m implying Shlomo is a good-for-nothing, lazy bum because he doesn’t have a full time job. Someone might think I’m implying his wife thinks less of him or wears the pants in that family. Someone might think I’m sizing him up or down, and take it personally, even. Wondering, How do I measure up in her eyes?

It seems to me that the rules of Lashon Hara were created expressly for people living on a kibbutz. And if I want to play it safe as a newbie to this community, at least for a little while, I’d follow the Lashon Hara guidlines. (I’ve not yet read A.J. Jacobs, The Year of Living Biblically, but maybe it’s high time I should.)

Or at the very least, gossip like I do “It:”

Only with my husband and behind closed doors.

Camp Food

Earlier this week, we joined 10 or so other families in the Chader Ochel* on the kibbutz for a potluck communal dinner.  I got really excited when the invitation arrived in my inbox; for one, I understood the Hebrew flyer almost in its entirety without the assistance of my part-time translator (who also acts as my husband.) But also,  a communal dinner in the Chader Ochel reeked of summer camp, and this, my friends, is why I moved to a kibbutz.

When I think back to the most dramatic, intense, inspiring moments of my childhood, I’m transported back to camp. I split my adolescence between two overnight camps: Camp Wohelo, an all-girls camp in the Blue Ridge mountains of Pennsylvania; and when Wohelo closed, I joined Camp Wekeela, a co-ed camp in Maine. And perhaps it’s the intensity of once having been a part of those camp communities that has me continually seeking to replicate the experience.

I would come home from camp at the end of each summer and instead of hopping off the bus with utter joy at finally being reunited with my parents, I would weep in despair. I remember one summer my parents picked me up at the IKEA by the Plymouth Meeting Mall where the bus dropped us off, and we stopped at Pizza Hut for lunch before getting on the road to Cherry Hill. My parents tried to engage me: Asking me to share tales of my adventures or filling me in on the local gossip. But I just cried into my pan pizza, in between hiccups moaning, “I want to go back. I want to go back.”

The dinner in the Chader Ochel on Wednesday was only vaguely reminiscent of the camp dining hall. While there was plenty of noise and chaos, there were no twenty-year-old Scottish lads delivering big plates of steaming hot schnitzel to my table. Instead, I was doing the waitering, filling up my kids’ plates with homemade pizza and mac and cheese; while said kids ran around like wild maniacs. I have to admit, though, since running around like wild maniacs is a regular evening activity for my children, I’d rather it be in someone else’s noisy dining room than my own. 

I sat across the table from my new friend Anat, who arrived to Hannaton with her family only a few days before we did. Anat was explaining the traditional kibbutz movement to her 10-year-old daughter; particularly the part about the children living together in a house, only seeing their parents a few hours every day. Anat and I both shared with sparkles in our eyes that, as kids, we both thought the idea of living on a kibbutz was cool.

Anat’s daughter wasn’t sold on the idea. She thought that children would want to spend more time with their parents, and she might be right. There is an Israeli film (which I have not seen) called “The Children’s House and the Kibbutz” which supposedly emphasizes the “emotionally deficient childhood that [kibbutz members] experienced in the children’s house of their kibbutz.”

However, thanks to sleepaway camp and a library filled with young adult books set in boarding school, I’ve always had the impression that living with other children far away from your parents was the best way to live. In my mind, only in dormitory-style rooms or in the woods behind said dormitory style room did fun and exciting things happen.

And, perhaps, I still retain that notion today. Is it possible that my choice to live on a kibbutz is partly inspired by my unfulfilled dream of year-round summer camp?

Yes.

There are a lot of similarities, as I can tell so far. Seeing and interacting with the same people day-to-day; moving from activity to activity in groups; retreating to the quiet solitute of your cabin when you need some down time.

Making friends on a kibbutz is camp style, too. I almost feel like the camper who arrives for the second four-week session super excited to become part of what looks like an awesome scene, but hesitant to integrate herself into the groups and cliques that already organically formed earlier in the summer. My kids, thrust into school and Gan without a choice, are getting over the shy hump a lot faster than their parents. But kids have a lot less relationship baggage to keep them from sharing of themselves authentically and without hesitation, don’t they? 

Have no fear. Just as it’s impossible for me to be late to a party no matter how hard I try, I know that I won’t be able to maintain this level of shyness for much longer. It’s not in my nature.

My nature is to play, to laugh, and to make others laugh: And sooner or later I will need to leave the safe confines of “Ani lo m’daberet Ivrit” to get a much-needed fix.

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GLOSSARY
Chader Ochel = Dining Hall
Ani lo m’daberet Ivrit = I don’t speak Hebrew