We arrive and are well-treated
Usually when you arrive at a kibbutz where you’ll be staying for a few days, they’ll hand you your room key, show you where the dining hall is, and that’s it. After that, you’re on your own to figure out where to go. There was one place we stayed at on one of these study trips where it took us from when we arrived Monday to checkout time on Thurs. to figure out the quickest way to get back to our cabins from the dining hall, that’s how convoluted the route was. Not so at Ketura, which made it kind of special. Once we got off the bus and located our luggage, we were introduced to Dar (pronounced ‘Dar’ in English and ‘Darrrr’ in Hebrew), who was there to make certain we were properly looked after. (As I found out, she was from the wilds of Ramat Gan, did graduate work in Florida and South Dakota (?), and returned ‘home’ to The Land, although a different part of it.) Our quarters were a minute or two away from the building that served as a reception area and a gift shop. When it was time to go to and from the dining hall, which was a five-minute walk, or anywhere else on the kibbutz – also a five-minute walk – there was a golf cart and a young driver eager to make certain we wouldn’t get lost or run out of energy.
As for our accommodations, the most appropriate description would be ‘spartan,’ as in perfectly fine for the groups of young people who were expected to occupy them. To access the room where Barbara and I would be staying, we needed a swipe card – with the appropriate inscription, ‘Plurality is the key,’ which led us to a small, shared kitchenette (equipped with a refrigerator, kettle, microwave, and a specially marked faucet for drinking water, because you do not want to drink the regular saline stuff). Off of the kitchenette were two individual suites (as in a room with a bath) each accessed with a room key. Everything was clean and in good repair, although you would not mistake the décor for what you would find at the guest house at Kfar Blum.
Likewise the dining hall, which is ostensibly communal, and which does serve three meals a day. (I say, ‘ostensibly communal,’ because there’s no way that the 150 families who live here, plus all of the students at the Institute, plus all of us AACI-ers were in that facility for any one meal.) If I had to describe the cuisine, I would say (in fact I am saying) tasty, healthy, and fairly limited – compared to the offerings at other such dining halls. The AACI (as in Jeff Rothenberg, et al.) paid to get us a little more variety than the regular fare, including some baseline Barkan wine at dinner, which somewhat compensated for lack of any dessert except for fruit. To put a positive spin on things, if one were to spend six months on the kibbutz, one would leave healthier than when one started and not have gained an ounce. Something to be said for that.
‘P’ stands for Pluralism
But before we were wined and dined that first day, there were things about the kibbutz that Bill Slott – who had lived there for so many years – wanted to impart to us. Yes, we had been told that the kibbutz was ‘pluralistic,’ but what does that mean and how does that work? The first thing would have to be (and this you can figure out in the comfort of your home) respecting other people’s choices and decisions. The dining hall is kosher (supervised by the Rabbinate from Eilat). ‘Non-essential work’ is suspended over Shabbat. There are Young Judea-type communal prayers and a weekly Torah reading. Beyond that, whatever individuals want to do on Shabbat, they do. People get along. They probably have no choice – unlike other places, where people have a choice and don’t get along.
Because of their isolation, the kibbutz members have created their own ways of celebrating events. Bill pointed to a cliff behind where he was standing. Up there, he said, young children and their parents get to light torches each night of Chanukah, probably visible from miles away – assuming there are people out there to watch.
But what I found most interesting was the description of their soccer tournament. There was a fellow on the kibbutz who was an ardent fan of this bizarre sport. He died before his time, and the kibbutz decided to honor his memory by building a soccer field. (OK, it wasn’t a full-sized field, the way that a basketball court in a playground isn’t full-sized either.) It took a lot of effort and a great deal of the kibbutz’s resources, but they did it. And then they had to use it, another matter, as most of the kibbutzniks at that time were Americans, who don’t go around kicking balls at random. Once they got a tournament of sorts going on the kibbutz, a number of neighboring enterprises said, Hey, can we play too? And so there developed a real tournament with lots of teams: little kids teams, big kids teams, boys team, girls teams, mens teams, womens teams, teams for old farts. These days, the festivities last for an entire week. Think about that! The point being that when you’re in the middle of nowhere, you have to make your own entertainment, your own culture, your own activities. Otherwise… Fortunately, you out there are not so deprived. You have all sorts of entertainment, even (ahem) these wonderful articles prepared for your edification and amusement, of which there will be more to come.