A brief introduction to kibbutz life in Israel

Middle East
November 8th 1974
Published: October 7th 2021
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The Olympic Airways flight from Athens to Tel Aviv was pretty uneventful apart from a special airways meal of trout, veal and veges, with cake, cheese and biscuits to follow. And I was able to double up on most from the dieting pair of English girls Lyn and Claire, who were on their way back to their kibbutz at Beersheba. They extended an invitation to come down and stay later in the week. The flight made it down into Tel Aviv right on 2pm. I found that Tel Aviv from the air resembled most modern cities, although I was surprised at the number of areas of barren land so close to the city. I was met at the airport by Shirley, after completing a non-hassle entry and ensuring I did not have my passport stamped. I was also seemingly met by a number of soldiers brandishing rifles and noted that Henry Kissinger’s plane was next to ours on the tarmac. We later came across a police entourage and assume that was also for our boy Hank.

We hitched into Tel Aviv, where we briefly checked out the old port city of Jaffa, with its abundance of attractive cafes. From there, we went straight on to Jerusalem, arriving late afternoon. Immediately noticeable was the shocking driving of most locals, and even more so, the herds of army boys and girls hitching lifts home for the Sabbath, with up to 50 army types and 20 civilians all hitching at the one spot. However, as a sign I guess of their patriotism, almost every car stops to pick people up. Service in the army was compulsory for both sexes at 18 for between 2 and 5 years, so it was no wonder there were so many, and that so many fellow citizens were trying to help them out. And just about all of them were carrying rifles slung over their shoulders! We booked into the Jerusalem Student House, which looked really good value for 6 IL. The main observation of the Old City is that the wall and all buildings are built of Jerusalem stone, which are honey-coloured very large bricks. We had a wander down to the Wailing Wall, where we just missed out on the main prayer show, but there were still dozens of Jews at private prayer, along with their characteristic long side hair and wide-brimmed hats or skull caps. We then strolled right through the Old City, and right along the walls before returning for a kebab dinner and a hot shower.

It was a real scorcher for the Jewish Sabbath next day. The only activity anywhere centred around the Old City. We were up at 8am and down to the Wailing Wall to again watch the Jews in prayer – ranging from black bearded Hasidim with broad fur coats and black gowns to those with the wide-brimmed hats and the long side hair. We strolled around the shops and cafes, mainly full of Arabs and black northern Africans. The Old City is actually divided into the Jewish, Armenian, Moslem and Christian quarters, and was only annexed from Jordan in the 1967 war. We took in the Mosques of Omar (Dome of the Rock) and El Aqsa, before taking a stroll through the Garden of Gethsemane and the Russian Orthodox Church of Mary Magneleine, then to the top of the Mount of Olives for a panoramic view of the city.

We made it back to the Tourist Bureau for pamphlets after walking along the wall (which was pretty precarious at times!) between St Stephens and Damascus Gates, which gave us a real feel for the living conditions within the city. The area from Damascus to Jaffa Gate was primarily markets, which were choked with tourists, so we gave these a wide berth. Lunch was a meat and salad sandwich, on Arab bread, and a grapefruit juice – my third for the day, as fruit juices were great value over there. We then returned to the hostel for a rest from the heat until around 4pm. We chatted to an American couple then strolled down to the Old City again, where I picked up a charm for Joan and had a snack of falafel on pita bread. Then, for a change, we made it up to the New City, which opened up again at the end of Shabat. We just strolled about and got an orientation before taking in a dinner of fish fingers and salad at a cafe on Jaffa Road. We took in some evening entertainment of Israeli folklore dancing and folk singing, but tired very quickly of the ‘participation’ of nauseating US tour groups who seemed to think the show was about them.

We were up very early next morning at 5.45am and out on the road to hitch by 7am after a substantial breakfast. We were fortunate to pick up lifts straight away, first to Jericho, then to Ein Gedi, and finally down to the Dead Sea, all within an hour. The drive was through hills and desert, scenery that reminded me very much of Afghanistan. We got a fantastic first view of the Dead Sea, on an extremely hot day with the sun shining across the water through a general haze. I then had one of life’s more memorable experiences – a ‘float’ in the Dead Sea – a strange sensation of floating on your back and reading a book. Needless to say, many touristy Kodaks were taken! The downside was that the salt and sulphur made your body very slimy, and given the high temperature, it ‘caked’ on you as soon as you got out, even before you could dry it off with a towel.

We took the bus across to Masada, then took the cable car up to the top of the hill to check out the archaeological remains of the city and fortress, with a fabulous view of the Dead Sea and the desert through the haze. The weather was a real scorcher by this time – someone suggested it was around 115 DegF. We walked down the snake path down to road level again (walking up at this temperature would have been nearly impossible) and took the 12.45pm bus straight through to Beersheba via Arad. This was again a very hilly desert area, with the only occasional interest being sightings of occasional flocks of Bedouin nomad tribes, with their camels and goats in tow. We only had the chance to have a brief look around Beersheba as we wanted to make it up to Kibbutz Mishmar Hanegev (15 kms north), where we were due to catch up with Lyn and Claire, before it got dark. The total cost of all buses from Ein Gedi to the Kibbutz was only 11 IL. We also found out that day that money could become a problem. We heard news of an instantaneous Israeli “devaluation and price hike”, with the Israeli Pound drifting from 4 out to 6 to the USD, an instant inflation of 30-50%. Not very welcome news for one sitting on some 200 IL to potentially cash back on departure a few days later! We were entertained by Dutch Marianne until Lyn & Claire made it back to the kibbutz from the citrus fields. We discussed all aspects of Kibbutzim for 3 hours until dinner – a TCP salad, with soup, eggs, bananas and yoghurt, which was most satisfactory despite the absence of meat.

Shirley and I got away from the kibbutz around 8.30am after a semolina breakfast. We got an early hitch from an Arab to the Beersheba junction then spent an hour’s unsuccessful hitching, although we found we were on the wrong road anyway. Worse was to come when we had a most sickening spectacle occur right in front of us – an old Arab guy was run over by a car at high speed, almost certainly being killed instantly, and then witnessing the body being unceremoniously thrown into the back seat of the delinquent car, with the driver presumably required to dispose of it. This somewhat curbed our desire to hitchhike any further, so we ended up catching a bus to Tel Aviv, arriving by 11am.

After a brief stroll along the waterfront at Tel Aviv, we were on the road again to Nahariya, where we had accommodation arranged at a kibbutz through Shirley’s friend Jim. After another unsuccessful hitch, during which time we would have seen over 50 service people picked up, we caught a train into Haifa, before then taking a bus into Nahariya. Particularly notable was the change in scenery from desert land to more arable land, with many patches of green and numerous fruit tree plantations. This was somewhat offset by the sight of many ugly apartment blocks scattered throughout Tel Aviv and Haifa. We finally hitched from Nahariya to Kibbutz Gesher Haziv with a Lebanese border patrol jeep filled with Israel troops. At the kibbutz, I chatted for a couple of hours with Shirley and Jim before taking a most welcome hot shower. Dinner was another meat-free menu of soup, yoghurt and grapefruit, but was nevertheless quite filling. This kibbutz was not a patch on the previous one in terms of age and facilities, but beggars couldn’t be choosers! Most notable was that virtually everyone at the kibbutz, both male and female, carried around a rifle, both in the fields and in their quarters at night – a function no doubt of the kibbutz’s very close proximity to the border of Lebanon, a far from friendly neighbour. I had an early night as I had by then decided to split off by myself in the morning to see a little more of the country on my own.

We had a thunderstorm early next morning, but it cleared by around 9.30am as I was about to leave the kibbutz. I decided to give hitching away on account of a) too many army types, and b) the loss of my attractive blond companion, who attracted many more lifts than I did! The north seems to be swarming with military, so I decided it spelt the end of my Israel hitchhiking career. I took the bus through to Akko (Acre), a small but very attractive town on the coast with some really nice ancient buildings. After this was two further buses travelling inland, first to Safed, and then finally through to Tiberias, where I reached the Sea of Galilee by just after 1pm. The countryside was still very barren and rocky, but more trees were evident, as was the occasional fruit plantation. Many of the houses looked very basic, to the point of looking prefabricated in many cases. It was pretty hot at Tiberias, so I just strolled around after dropping my pack off at the local hostel. I walked over to the Hot Springs, but they were not open, so I just sat in the shade and read for a while. I booked in at the hostel, which was relatively expensive but at least had good clean facilities. After dinner with roommates, Americans Larry & Bob, I hit the cot early. Larry was a nice guy, but Bob didn’t endear himself to me by addressing me as ‘man’ and ‘baby’ all the time!

The next morning was overcast, so it was a bit more pleasant to stroll around Tiberias and take in the various views of the Sea of Galilee, although neither struck me as being anything special. I then had some time to kill, so decided to take in the movie “Operation Big Brother”, which was as bad as the billboards suggested it might have been! I gathered my pack from the hostel, bought some rolls and ham for lunch, then made it down for the 12.30pm bus back to Tel Aviv. This took the route via Afula, Hadera and Petah Tikva, but there was little of interest to report on the way. The scenery in the north of the country in my view didn’t compare with that in the south. The bus reached Tel Aviv late afternoon, and I had a 90-minute walk to the Youth Hostel, which was close to the coast. It was a rip-off at 15 IL for B&B but they advised me that all hostel charges were going up significantly as a result of the price hike. This resulted in a rationing of money for dinner of a modest cheese toast and coke. I chatted after dinner with first an American Jew, who gave me insights into the Middle East disputes, then a most interesting ex Czech refugee & political activist, who had fled from there and was now resident in Sweden.

It was a pretty sleepless night for me at the Hostel, but at least I had no trouble rising by the required 6am. I left after breakfast and two good bus connections had me at Tel Aviv airport by 7.30am. Clearance was the complete opposite of my arrival, with a very stringent security check and even a personal frisk. The TWA flight to New York via Athens was full, but there were no interesting incidents to report, apart from a mediocre breakfast and an unexciting standard of hosties.

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