Israel Trip: Kibbutz, Gaza & Shabbat
On Friday of our trip, we headed south to the Ashkelon area of Israel (right next to the Gaza Strip) to visit my Aunt Judi & Uncle Moti, and to see my cousin Yasmin and spend some time learning about the kibbutz where she and Harel and Ofek live.
Instead of ancient history, we tried to wrap our minds around some of Israel's more modern history and territory struggles.
We started the day at Aunt Judi's house, where we visited for a few minutes and got the grand tour of their house - via Grandma. She took over. Judi added comments though to compliment Grandma's tour. :)
I made sure to make a visit to the matching secretary desk to the one that's in our entryway at home. Their desk is being used as a changing table for Ofek in Israel and has been refinished as well with a dark stain. These desks were originally a part of a bedroom suit that my grandparents bought for my mom and Aunt Susan when they were in high school, I think.
We didn't stay long at Aunt Judi's house, because they had a big Shabbat dinner to prepare for all day, and Yasmin was expecting us at Kibbutz Yad Mordechai.
As we drove out of Judi's neighborhood, we saw this playground along the road. Every playground, the bus stops, and most other public places in Israel have a safe room (called a Mamad), which is used for quick protection in case of missile attacks.
Unfortunately, as close as this area is to Gaza, that's a fairly common occurance. They had safe rooms in Jerusalem as well, but it was certainly more prominent here, and mentioned by my family much more often as a room we should be aware of how to use -- just in case.
We met Yasmin at the main parking lot at Yad Mordechai to begin our kibbutz experience.
If you aren't familiar with what a kibbutz is, here's a very basic definition, but I highly recommend reading more about the history and evolution of kibbutzim if it interests you, or if you have questions:
A collective community is a planned residential community designed from the start to have a high degree of social cohesion and teamwork. The members of an intentional community typically share responsibilities and resources.
Yasmin's husband Harel and his family grew up at Kibbutz Yad Mordechai, so it was especially interesting for us to learn more about its history.
We started at the Yad Mordechai Museum, where we learned more about the Holocaust, the creation of this kibbutz - made up of mostly immigrants from Poland - and the famous attack by the Egyptians in 1948, where the farmers and members of the kibbutz (called kibbutzniks) were able to hold the Egyptians off for several days, giving Israel time to get supplies and defenses in Jerusalem.
The museum was small, but very well-done, and included this replica (above) of one of the Warsaw Ghetto in Poland, to show how the Jews were forced to live during the holocaust.
After we finished at the museum, we walked over to the "baby house" - or day care center - where we picked up Yasmin's little boy, Ofek.
Yad Mordechai was one of the last kibbutzim to switch from their communal child rearing practices, which means that as recently as Harel's childhood, the children on the kibbutz were raised communally. Children would spend most of their time in houses divided by age group; learning, playing and sleeping. Parents spent 3 to 4 hours a day in the afternoon with their children after work and before dinner.
Imagine having a baby, and after a couple of weeks, turning over most of the minute-to-minute care (day and night) to a day care facility in your neighborhood. It might be fun as a kid, to grow up with lots and lots of friends around you all the time. It would sure be nice as a parent to get some sleep every night. But, it also has the potential to be traumatic for the kids not to have their parents in close proximity, especially at night. According to Yasmin and Harel, kids who were raised in those communities can have very different responses and feelings (both good and bad) from their experiences. Harel, for instance, had a very positive childhood experience.
In any case, kibbutzim have phased out this style of child-rearing. Ofek attends just as we'd send our kids to preschool or day care and it's a service that they pay to participate in.
With Ofek in tow, we headed to the hill in the center of the kibbutz to see the statue of Mordechai Anielewicz, a leader during the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, for whom the kibbutz is named, and get a great view of the kibbutz. Yasmin and Harel's wedding ceremony was held at the top of this hill.
I spent a little bit of time bonding with Ofek, while we rested and visited and asked questions about the kibbutz. Someday, when Ofek is a teenager, he'll come to visit us in the States and I'll tell him about when I came to see him in Israel when he was a baby. :) He is seriously the happiest baby on the planet. So cute.
Continuing our tour of the kibbutz, Harel's father Yoel joined us to show us more about kibbutz life. They had just celebrated Yad Mordechai's 70th anniversary with a big party the night before, so we took a peek at one of the galleries that was still on display, showing off the current and past generations of kibbutz members. In the photo below, you can see Harel holding a photo of his grandmother.
Yoel took us into the "Yesteryear" museum, where Yasmin translated and we were able to see materials and tools used in the kibbutz throughout the years and learn more about some of the old ways they used to run the kibbutz, and how it's changed over the years.
Below is a photo of the kids in one of the children's houses.
I got a chuckle out of the staged bath house (mainly the cardboard artwork), demonstrating how before the homes each had individual bathrooms, several families would share a bath house and use the showers on a schedule.
Yad Mordechai's major source of agricultural income is from their honey, jams, balsalmic vinegar and olive oil production and sales. We took a quick look at the honey-bee museum and were thrilled to come home with a couple of bottles of honey and olive oil. (Thank you Medina family!)
I was also thrilled to come home with this silly picture of Chuck and Ben, who became quite good buddies during our week together:
As we walked through the kibbutz, we stopped to check out the laundry house. It's a paid service now, but that used to be how the laundry on the entire kibbutz was done. Just drop it off and pick it up clean and folded. The same with meals. There's a cafeteria where lunch and dinner are offered if you don't feel like cooking. I dream of having a neighborhood cafeteria with a meal plan! I'm telling you what...I think there's something to this community living -- everyone has a specialty, a job that contributes to the community and you don't have to do it ALL! American women especially could learn something from this...
After our tour of the kibbutz life, we headed over to Yasmin's home for some lunch.
We ate on the front porch and relaxed for a little while (well, except for Yasmin, who was warming up food, setting the table, feeding Ofek, and cleaning up). I helped. As much as I could. I promise.
Right across the road, we had a view of the mamads (safe rooms, which usually double as bedrooms) in the homes across the path. It was a glaring reminder of how touchy the politics and safety in Israel can be, and was a strange contrast to the gorgeous day and community efforts we were learning about and witnessing.
After lunch, Yasmin walked Ofek over to Harel's parents house for a nap. We got a kick out of the crib/stroller that is very common on the kibbutz. Every day the kids at the Baby House get loaded into these strollers and go for a walk around the kibbutz. Ofek seemed quite happy in it!
Just down the street from the kibbutz is a neighborhood that borders with Gaza, which is where the missiles originate. We went to take a look.
When we asked Yasmin how often they heard the "Red Alert" messages and had to use their safe rooms, she shrugged and said, "Sometimes just once or twice a month. Sometimes 20 times in one day. It makes it very hard to get ready for work when you are always running to the mamad."
I asked how recently the last "Red Alert" warning was, and she said "Last week." Wow. I don't think I had *any* idea of the daily dangers there are in Israel.
But, suddenly, as we stood looking into Gaza, where the rockets fly from, and as we considered that we were spending the night on the kibbutz, less than a couple of kilometers away, things got a little more serious. While we didn't really think there would be any trouble while we were there, we certainly raised our level of respect for the situation.
Speaking of spending the night on the kibbutz...Here's a look at our room, which is a guest room for visitors to use, since the homes on the kibbutz are fairly small and you wouldn't have room to stay in a family's home. Everyone who lives on the kibbutz gets equal space, based on the number of people in your family, so guest rooms and extra space simply don't exist. Our bedroom is the mamad of our little guest house. See the reinforced window? Yasmin gave us instructions for what to do in our 10 second window of getting to safety, should we hear the Red Alert message in the middle of the night.
Actually, it was a nice little place, and a very unique experience. Especially since as we looked around, we realized the closet was full of someone's clothes. Hmm... We were a little concerned someone else may have expected to stay there that night. While Yasmin tried to reach the woman in charge of scheduling the room use, we wondered how crazy that would be to have a strange man come into the room and find us there!
We decided to head back to Yasmin's house to get ready for Shabbat dinner there instead (just in case), while we waited on confirmation that no one else was expecting to stay there that night. I think it was a stressful afternoon for Yasmin. She really wanted us to be able to rest and get ready for the evening on our own, and was frustrated that she hadn't been able to check out the room ahead of time for us.
Other than an interesting story to tell, it didn't bother us though. We are easy to please, and at the end of a trip like this, where things NEVER went as planned (but always worked out), it was just par for the course and it rolled right off our backs. By the time we headed over to Aunt Judi's house for Shabbat dinner, we had heard back from the lady in charge of scheduling, and found out that some man who comes to the kibbutz a couple of times a year leaves his clothes in the closet. There was supposed to have been a note. There was no such note that we found, but the message from the lady in charge was enough to settle our nerves.
Next up -- Shabbat dinner with lots of family! We got to tell Harel how much we enjoyed seeing his childhood home and learning about the kibbutz. Unfortunately, he had been away at a wedding all day and wasn't able to join us for our tour.
Judi and Moti had set up long tables in their backyard to serve Shabbat dinner for about 25 family members and friends. I believe this was Ben's first experience with Shabbat. What a cool way to be introduced to a Jewish tradition -- in Israel, with family. :)
We spent the evening visiting with Chuck, Nitzan & Racheli, and Nadiv and really enjoyed getting to know them a little better. We also ate some amazing food -- in several courses! What a fun night!
After dinner, we headed back to the kibbutz with Yasmin, and settled into our mamad bedroom for the night. Yasmin's parting words for the night were "Remember, if you hear a woman's voice on the loud speaker, you have 10 seconds to pull the metal shield on the window and lock it, and close the bedroom door."
We practiced. No joke.
But thankfully, our own little drill was the closest we got to actual danger and we slept great our night on the kibbutz.
Thank you to Judi, Moti, and especially Yasmin & Harel for sharing a little bit of your daily life with us!
Israel Trip Wrap-Up:
- Israel Trip: Getting Ready to Go
- Israel Trip: Layover in Chicago
- Israel Trip: Traveling Across the World
- Israel Trip: Jerusalem - The Old City
- Israel Trip: Bethlehem & West Bank
- Israel Trip: Yad Vashem & Ben Yehuda Street
- Israel Trip: An Israeli Wedding
- Israel Trip: Mount of Olives
- Israel Trip: City of David
- Israel Trip: Sea of Galillee
- Israel Trip: Kibbutz, Gaza & Shabbat
- Israel Trip: Dead Sea & Ein Gedi
- Israel Trip: The Food