In LA, we went to the same Coffee Bean morning after morning after morning not because we were loyal to the Vanilla Ice Blendeds , but because we wanted to feel like we belonged to a community: We liked seeing the same people every day. We liked teasing Jeff about his love affair with the Celtics after the Lakers won the title (ahem), and asking Earl how his twins were doing. We liked that they put our order in as soon as we came in the door (a small black coffee for B, small nonfat vanilla latte with an extra shot and extra foam for Ms. Low Maintenance over here, a carton of milk for M, and a chocolate chip muffin that we would divide and conquer as a family.)
I liked that they knew us, too.
It was our cozy community fix, and I craved it as much as I craved my caffeine.
I liked not being anonymous for a change. In LA where so much of life is spent in traffic on the 405, it was nice to come in and chat with the folks behind the counter. It was our ten minutes of community togetherness — our slice of Mayberry pie.
And I liked being able to walk out the door again – to have my sense of community and leave it too.
The community on the Kibbutz where my family and I moved a few months ago, however, is not a choice. It’s a way of life.
Remember that opening scene in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast where Belle is frolicking around bucolic little Bumblef*$k bemoaning the monotony of each day? From the butcher to the baker to the candlestick maker everybody is up in everybody’s business, and Belle craves adventure and change. (In some ways, it’s kind of what I would imagine Hodl from Fiddler on the Roof felt until she met Perchek, but I digress…) Anyway, Kibbutz living is like that…only in Hebrew. And even more so.
I walk the same path every day from our house to the gan (kindergarten) to the coffee place. The landscape seems the same, but if you look closely, tiny changes add up, and new flowers bloom and fade away. It’s all very Zen.
And because I’m an outsider, I notice things that the kibbutz natives take for granted. (In some ways, I feel like Margaret Mead – only in high heel hooker boots.)
And in the four months I’ve lived here, this is what I’ve learned:
Believe it or not, there are actual tribes here – large families married into other large families, thus creating uber large families so enmeshed and involved that it’s a wonder that the incest taboo hasn’t been broken, and I learned very quickly that you have to be careful what you say about someone to someone else because you never know when it turns out that you’re badmouthing a favorite cousin or a brother’s wife’s father’s sister’s son. You get the idea.
There are multi-generational relationships on this kibbutz: Alliances between the grandchildren of the alta kackers who became friends working the fields on the kibbutz since before the creation of the State of Israel. There are people who aren’t talking to each other because someone said something back in the winter of ’62, and memory runs deep.
The kibbutz never forgets: For instance, once upon a time, my husband a teenage boy “borrowed” a tractor and drove through the fields at three in the morning with some his friends. Even though this incident happened 15 years ago, he will forever after be a balaganist (troublemaker) – never mind that he’s married with two kids, and sturdy as the oak growing in front of the Hader Ochel (communal cafeteria).
And everyone has an opinion: “Why isn’t your baby wearing socks?” the same woman asks me every day, even when it’s 70 degrees out. (Yes New York, I know you hate me.) “Why are you buying the green apples? The red ones are sweeter!” the grocer tells me. “Here, try the rugelech, it’s fresh.” He puts it in my cart without asking. “What? Are the kids sick again?” yet another person asks when I wheel Little Homie into the Hader Ochel.
But I love it: If you live on the kibbutz, you’re part of a giant, intense and incredibly dysfunctional family where everyone is your Jewish mother. Sure, it’s stifling at times, but it’s the air we breathe. And because I am an outsider, I’m still reeling from the novelty of it all… and I think it’ll take me about 10 thousand lifetimes to figure this place out and get bored.