Mitali Parekh / MumbaiMirror.com
Posted On Sunday, May 16, 2010 at 01:54:34 AM
On the first day of the new year, I found myself walking six kilometres from Hiram junction to Kibbutz Ba’ram in 9 degrees centigrade. Israel is a small strip of tightly contained vehement religious sentiments.
You are never far enough from a hostile neighbour. In the case of Upper Galilea, Lebanon is a mere two kilometres away from the kibbutz, but not friendly enough to borrow sugar from.
I was facing an existential crisis (Who am I? Why am I here? Is paani-puri better with boondi or moong?) when I decided to visit a shelved ideal — to practise socialist living, farm in the sun and be grateful for nature.
As someone who has trouble sharing clothes, and spends a large part of life consuming and being consumed by Mumbai's capitalism, this was rehab.
Working class hero
The ruins of a synagogue at old Ba’ram
Kibbutzims have changed since Erich Segeal wrote about them in Acts of Faith and influenced a 17-year-old me. Since I went in winter, fruit-picking season was over and most jobs were indoors — the fruit-packing, kitchen, dining, laundry, communa, the Members' club, garage and the factory that makes medical supplies.
I joined the house-keeping staff in El Cam, the factory. Not the kind of job I'd volunteer for at home, but at NIS (New Israeli Shekels) 13 a day (approx @ Rs 155), three 40 minute breaks, a five-day week and two extra days off every month, it's the sweetest deal I've ever landed. Sweeping and mopping large floor spaces give you enough time to put your life into perspective. Plus my boss, Ragida, saved us sweet somethings on Shabbat and thanked us when we left every single day. Lessons to bosses: just a gracious thank you makes cleaning poop worthwhile.
Brown girl speaks good English
I lived among 50 volunteers from different countries, mostly European, who were surprised to know I spoke good English — despite my offers to parse their arse. My roommate, a South African with anger management problems and a tendency to punctuate everything with the F-word, was my prime source of entertainment. Not that I needed any. Girdled by pine trees and flowers, the scenic beauty of Ba'ram is a credit to the member who has managed the gardens since she was 16. She's a bit over 60 now, and sets out in the morning in her moded golf-cart, gardening implements in the tray behind, a beanie dog splayed over the steering wheel. Large almond trees bloom on the periphery, lavender bushes line the paths, daffodils and narcissus peep around corners and poppies leap out of grassy patches. When one tree sheds its blooms, another springs into colour.
Bereft of the hormonal cocktail of the early 20s and late teens, I enjoyed the high-charged teen drama playing around me. Drunken shenanigans in the bomb-shelter and pub, the uncomfortable morning-afters, the complex love triangles and hexagons are supremely enjoyable viewed from the vantage point of age.
Come weekends, me and my travelling companion—- a Guatemalan girl whose litany was: “Guatemala! Central America... no South America” — would pack bread and cheese from the kitchens, hike up to the tree on the highway outside the kibbutz that served as the hitching point and seek adventures across the country. Choose your ride benefactors right, and you'll have some of the best stories about the country.
You know where you stand with the Israelis — they are neither sycophants to tourists nor cold. They greet you if you greet them and perchance you tell the frail man with four small dogs that you're Indian, he'll sing Ichak dana, Ichak dana to you.
Money for nothing
Kibbutz life teaches the dispensability of money — it was rarely exchanged. We headed to the clothes room to pick up cast-offs, the boutique that sold basic clothes is open two hours a week and the convenience store (Colbo) opens in shifts and sells everything at non-retail prices. We labelled and dropped in the laundry and raced to the dining room for left-over pancakes. Drank our fill at subsidised rates at the pub, enjoyed quiet evenings with tea and Time magazine at the Member's Club. What we needed — alarm clocks, hookah pipes, plugs — we asked for and were provided. Cast-off sofas converted dorm rooms into suites.
After I brought in my 30th birthday among strangers in the pub, I was inebriated enough to do what I've wanted to every day. The universe did not align its complexities and subtleties so that I could pass a pool of poppies without laying down them and watching the stars.
A kibbutz is socialist community living practised only in Israel. Most kibbutzims are rooted in agriculture and you can volunteer in exchange for lodging and boarding. Ba’ram is located amid the pine covered hills in the north and its two main money-bringers are fruit orchards and a factory that makes medical supplies. A kibbutz is a healthy marriage of agrarian simplicity and modernity — wireless connectivity while picking apples.
Places to visit
• Bunk up in Old Jerusalem and walk around
• Go clubbing in Tel Aviv
• Camp by the Dead Sea; see the Masada
• Trek the Golan heights; ski on Mt Hermon
• Do the triangle — cross the Sinai to Egypt, snorkel in Dahab, take the ferry to Jordan to see Petra and cross into Israel in the north.
How to get there
The volunteer program is an essential part of the kibbutz life and you can apply through India's representative in Baroda via Nikitin.in, or land up in Israel, go to the Kibbutz centre (kibbutzprogramcenter.org) in Tel Aviv.
Travel - Going off track
Leaving Material World