After living here on the kibbutz for one year, I know this to be true: the kibbutz is a living, breathing entity that takes on a life of its own – and it will swallow you whole.
Look. On the surface, this place is paradise – the land is sumptuous, the homes are well-equipped. The gan (preschool) system is enviable, and the kids scamper free from worry.
But being here does something to you. Especially if you’re stuck day after day after day, eating the same food, drinking the same coffee, talking to the same people. For four generations.
You grow restless. And you turn your world into a cesspool because paradise is boring.
Hey, I’ve only been here a year, and I’ve felt myself sinking into the quagmire, which is one of the many reasons why I found a job, and spend my waking life outside these invisible walls.
I don’t want to hate this place, but it’s hard not to when over the last several months, I’ve become fodder for the rumor mill. At first, it was kind of flattering. After all, if people gossip about you, that means they notice you. But once the rumors grew beyond, “Hmm, I wonder where she goes all day when she gets on the shuttle and gets off at the train station,” it grew less amusing.
People. A word to the wise: You should never ever ever ever mess with a woman who is prone toward fits of righteous indignation and writes (very) publically. Because she will call you out.
So, dear kibbutz, let me break it down for you:
1. I am not shtupping anyone at the ulpan. As flattering as it is that you think that this stretch-marked mama could attract a 19 year old stallion, believe you me, it ain’t happening. Yeah, I’m friends with the other expats who study Hebrew here, but just because we share a beer or two at the pub does not mean we’re having wild orgies. This ain’t Cougar Town people. Sorry.
2. I do not have two secret lovers in Tel Aviv. Or Haifa. Or Jerusalem. Or Rehovot. Or Bersheva. I do not have two secret lovers anywhere for that matter.
3. And on that same note, I am not working as a prostitute. If I were, I’d be wearing much better shoes.
4. Nor am I an agent with the Mossad. Or a CIA operative. Seriously. Stop spreading this rumor. I could get in a lot of trouble. No really. This. Rumor. Must. Stop. Now. (Ahem.)
But I see a silver lining in all of this: It’s nice to know I live with such a creative group of people.
And not to get all Pollyanna on you, but in many ways, being embroiled in this maelstrom has been an incredible learning experience. You know, minus the humiliation of walking through the Hader Ohel (cafeteria) and trying to ignore the smirks. I used to think that there was a kernel of truth in every rumor, no matter how obscene or scandalous. And now, I know better. I remember once as a child waking up and finding that while I had slept soundly through the night tucked in my warm cozy bed in the safety of my home, thieves had broken in through our kitchen window and burglarized our house. And that’s how it feels to be talked about like this: it’s violating. It leaves me feeling vulnerable, like no matter what I do–no matter what safety measures I take to protect myself and my family–people are going to say shit that simply isn’t true.
So here’s what I’ve learned is you cannot believe rumors. Even if they seem plausible. Just because I wear stilettos and sit with a few guy-friends over coffee does not mean I have two (or 10 or even one) lovers. Just because I work long hours in Tel Aviv does not make me a whore.
And so from now on, when I hear people saying things about someone else, I’m going to do something I’ve never done before. As fun as it is to be “in” on the rumor, I’m going to say in Hebrew and in English just so I’m abundantly clear:
(And as hard as it is, I hope that others will do this, too.)
But setting this Lifetime Movie of the Week lesson aside, I see another plus to these rumors. Almost every family on this kibbutz has a dark secret. And by “secret” I mean a past that is common knowledge to even outsiders like me. Affairs? We got ‘em. Public divorce and remarriage within the kibbutz “family?” Just throw a stone and see if you can’t hit a family tainted by “scandal.” And yeah, even for those families who seem to have escaped public disgrace unscathed, there are kids here who look more like the neighbor than their own father. Just saying.
So I guess these rumors level the playing field. Even if they’re steeped in more bullshit than the presidential primaries, maybe this is the kibbutz’s way of saying “Hey, lady, we’ve decided to make you one of our own, so we’ll smear you with the same tar-brush. Welcome to the family.”