Masa Israel Journey Blog

Published : November 26, 2012
By Isabel Atkinson, Kibbutz Ulpan
It wasn't what I’d bargained for. 
When I decided to spend five months in Israel living, working and studying on a kibbutz, I imagined myself amongst a shining, earthy community.
I pictured early mornings, rising with the rooster to greet the soil. In my daydreams, my body was toughened and brown from hours of labor in the sun. For a taste of rural life, the land of milk and honey appeared on the horizon as promising as ever.
Reality soon presented itself harsh and unforgiving, like the air conditioner that reigned over my new workplace. 
A communal lifestyle defines a kibbutz, with laundry included. Instead of rows of olive trees, I found myself surrounded by rows of tidy, gracefully aging women, chatting with one another as they folded clothes. 
So, this was my job- clean and easy.
My manager Noa, an owl of a woman in platform sandals, assigned me to fold a heap of shirts. Within minutes, a smiling, wrinkled woman demoted me to the towel bin. Luckily for me, towels are all rectangular. 
My years of experience doing my own laundry were proving worthless. 
"When I first came to Israel, I didn't know how to fold either," she sympathized. 
Thus, I awakened to the hidden infrastructure of the laundry room. Amateurs like me settled snuggly to the bottom.
Days blended together like watercolors and Noa bounced me from task to task. I had no choice but to press through them all. 
Meticulously, I sorted never-ending stacks of clothing into their number coordinated cubbies. I fretted over impossible bottom sheets with elastic edges that never looked neatly folded. For umpteen minutes I hunted for a nonexistent number on supposedly numbered items of clothing. 
Some days, I sweated for hours by the oven of a sheet ironer, slowly baking for the sake of flattened bed linens. 
Often I spent excessive amounts of time squeezing a final shirt into an overstuffed laundry box of a family late to collect, to have the entire contents spill onto the floor. 
Only when I began ironing, did I feel myself moving up in the eyes of my motherly peers. As Noa demonstrated how to properly iron a shirt, another woman nodded knowingly and cooed, "You are learning to be a good wife!" 
Was this why I came to Israel?
Despite my lack of enthusiasm for the particular trade, I found myself sucked into the cycle. 
I became part of something larger than myself that didn't require the patriotism of a nation, or the fanaticism of a sports team.  
I solely needed the sense of duty that defines the kibbutz at the core. 
For the first time, I was a component in a community that relied on me, if only for one aspect of life. 
Just as I expected an edible meal from the dining hall, the kitchen workers expected their aprons to be returned clean. Every member is a cog in the socialist machinery of kibbutz Ma'agan Michael, and I was no exception. I accepted my responsibility, and my kind of life there. 
Though I certainly didn't get the farm-girl experience I had anticipated, I've been exposed to a different way of communal thinking, unique to Israel. 
It wasn't what I’d bargained for, but I would never replace it.
Published : November 21, 2012
by Sharona Rosen, Young Judaea Year Course
It is the 3rd of April around 10 P.M. and the city of Tel Aviv is more alive than ever. 
People are walking the streets, laughing and talking. 
Then suddenly a siren sounds, and the city freezes.  
It is Yom Hazikaron, Israel’s Remembrance Day for Fallen Soldiers and Victims of Terrorism, and every single person, whether walking or driving, stops what he or she is doing and stands for a moment of silence in respect of the soldiers and families affected by war.
 One minute of nationwide silence and prayers, and then the city is back to normal. 
It’s the 4th of April, 11:00 A.M. and the cities of Israel are bustling. 
Like any normal morning in the city, people are rushing to work, cars are honking, and people are walking, talking, and laughing.
 Then suddenly a siren sounds. Rapid silence rushes through the streets of Israel, and again, everyone gets out of their cars, stops whatever they’re doing, and stands for a moment of silence in respect of fellow Israeli citizens, family, and friends who have been affected by wars. 
Though the scene can be described, I know that until I experienced it during my gap year in Israel, I never truly understood it. 
At 11:00 A.M. on the morning of April 4th, I was standing on a bridge above the highway.   Thirty seconds before 11, cars began pulling over on the road and people began getting out of their cars to await the siren. 
Chills rushed through my body as I experienced a sense of unity and spirituality that I had previously not known.  I was sure that this was the most amazing sight in the world--until later that evening. 
Even after living in Israel for close to nine months, I had never seen Tel Aviv shut down—neither at 9 P.M. nor 5 A.M.  
Tel Aviv is usually rustling and bustling—except on the night of Yom Hazikaron.  Every single café, bar, restaurant, store, corner store, gas station, supermarket, and pharmacy was closed. 
The quiet confused me at first.
 There I was, trying to find a place that was open for dinner when I arrived at Rabin Square.  It was packed with over 50,000 people, Israelis and tourists alike, who had come together for a memorial service.
Once again, I was struck by the unity in the city.  
Not only did the whole city participate, but the instant the speeches began, the city was silent. 
Not one cell phone went off.  
Not one child cried.  
Not one person spoke.  
Everyone stood still and listened. 
The city mourned together.
* * *
Morning of April 5th: Tel Aviv is itself once again, except for a few details.  
The streets of Tel Aviv are filled with music, and only 24 hours after the day of mourning, the Israeli people celebrate Yom Ha’atzmaut, Israel’s Independence Day.   
The mood is celebratory now, but much remains the same.  
The feeling of national unity is alive in Tel Aviv.

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