Loads of Laundry at Kibbutz Ma’agan Michael

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.
                
 

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