Israel Journal
December 1973 - April 1974

By Marvin Marcus

Part 1:
My sojourn in Israel was part of a longer trip that I took during a year’s leave of absence from my teaching position at Hagerstown Junior College in western Maryland, a trip that began in November 1973 and ended in August 1974. Motivated in part by wanderlust and also by the more pressing need to distance myself from a difficult romantic relationship with a woman whom I’ll subsequently refer to as L, I equipped myself with a backpack, my Leica M4 camera, a bag of film canisters, travelers checks, and basic hippy paraphernalia and set out for Europe and parts unknown. 

Following a month of vagabonding— chiefly in Greece— I went to Israel in early December, in the company of Marie and Paul, fellow backpackers I met in a hostel in Corfu. Marie was a poet and musician from California; Paul was an Aussie free spirit intent on seeing the world.
The Israel stay began with my signing on as a volunteer at Maslul, a moshav (cooperative settlement) in the northern Negev, not far from Be’er Sheva. Given the national emergency in the wake of the Yom Kippur war, labor was in short supply. And so I was placed, together with Marie, with a young married couple— Chaim and Rina— who raised flowers for the export market. They employed several Arab laborers; we were a windfall— two extra pair of hands, free of charge. Marie and I were an ‘item’ at that point. For various reasons we had a short stint at the moshav. From Maslul we would move to a nearby kibbutz, Urim, where we remained for the duration of our four-month stay. In the interim, our relationship cooled.
Aliyah was an option that initially appealed to me, but I eventually soured on the idea. The open road beckoned, and I ended up leaving Israel, flying to Athens, and making my way to the ‘Hash Highway’ that linked Istanbul and Delhi. The account of that sojourn is a story for another time. Suffice it to say that I survived four arduous and trying months in ‘suspect terrain.’ Israel, in other words, was a stop along the way.
What follows is an attempt to reconstruct my journal notes of the Israel stay— written some forty-five years ago, in longhand, in several ratty notebooks that have long moldered away in various boxes and closets over the years. My actual recall of the events I’ve recorded is essentially nonexistent, and so this transcription will both serve to cast light on the memory recesses while requiring considerable guesswork and creative restoration. My hope is that this exercise will serve to resurrect a segment of my past that has long been dormant. And it may be of interest to those wanting an unusual perspective on Israeli society at what was an important juncture in the nation’s history.
DEC 13, 1973. MASLUL
Chaim and his buddy Shabtai returned home from their military unit, placing their Uzi machine guns on the sofa. We were in the middle of lunch; It had been a trying morning spent picking gladiolas. Chaim says that Egypt is hell. Shabtai chimed in about some of the more interesting spots in the Sinai, noting, though, that the local mosquitoes were formidable.
The family had contracted with several Arab workmen— Ahmet and a fellow whose name means ‘war.’ They are Sinai Bedouins who’ve found themsel
My sojourn in Israel was part of a longer trip that I took during a year’s leave of absence from my teaching position at Hagerstown Junior College in western Maryland, a trip that began in November 1973 and ended in August 1974. Motivated in part by wanderlust and also by the more pressing need to distance myself from a difficult romantic relationship with a woman whom I’ll subsequently refer to as L, I equipped myself with a backpack, my Leica M4 camera, a bag of film canisters, travelers checks, and basic hippy paraphernalia and set out for Europe and parts unknown.
Following a month of vagabonding— chiefly in Greece— I went to Israel in early December, in the company of Marie and Paul, fellow backpackers I met in a hostel in Corfu. Marie was a poet and musician from California; Paul was an Aussie free spirit intent on seeing the world.
ves in occupied territory over the past six years. The growing Arab labor force has emerged as a new working class in Israel. Chaim remarks that since the Six-Day War in 1967, much work and responsibility have been delegated to the Arabs, which has led to a diminishing sense of initiative and the vaunted chalutz (pioneer) spirit among the Israelis. The country has grown fat, Chaim laments. Morale is low. But elections are in the works, so perhaps the situation will improve.
Marie and I are newcomers to Israel, having arrived a couple of days ago. El Al transported us to Lod airport, amid taped orchestrations of the standard inspirational melodies— Yerushalayim shel zahav, Heiveinu shalom aleichem, and the like. I for one was deeply moved. I almost cried. I almost kissed the tarmac. But the security precautions for the flight were unbelievable. Machine guns everywhere. Body frisks every fifty yards. We were met by a Jewish Agency lady at Lod and sent off to the Hotel Monopol on Allenby Street, adjacent to the beach, where we would be processed for volunteer service. We had a surprisingly nice room and feasted on the local falafel, which was fantastic. (I learned the recipe: soak the beans for ten hours and put them through a grinder. For every ten kilos of beans, add one cup cumin, one cup coriander, one cup flour, and one cup soda. Salt to taste, then deep fry. Simple, eh!)
We watched some Arab TV, which is a gas— greasers in Cadillac convertibles singing something or another.
The next morning, the Jewish Agency desk opened up, and the assembled volunteers were duly “inspected, detected, selected, and dejected. . .” Basically, the Jewish Agency folks receive daily calls from kibbutzim and moshavim in need of volunteer help, whereupon they dispatch individuals here and there accordingly. One has little say by way of personal preference. Marie and I learned of a promising placement in a moshav on the east bank of Lake Kinneret, but they rejected Marie due to her low blood count; yes, we were given physicals! Instead, we were sent off to Maslul, a small moshav specializing in horticulture. We were told that the families were chiefly Persian Jews who had made aliyah relatively recently.
And so on Monday December 10 a number of us signed on as a Maslul volunteer labor force, and we were taxied to the site— a small moshav, some forty families, in a rather nondescript area. We were met by Shula, the 18 year-old organizer of the mitnadvim (volunteers). Shula assured us that all of our needs would be provided for, but that this would take time, since the war had changed everything— the men had been called up for military service, which left the work to be done by a small number of women.
For accommodations, we were installed in the old moshav infirmary (mirpa’ah), where we’ve been sleeping on the examination tables. Shula had assured us that they’d install a television. So far they haven’t. At least they managed to get the electricity turned on.
Marie and I were assigned to Chaim and Rina. They have two young sons, Oren and Dror. Upon our arrival, Rina took us around to meet the neighbors, who plied us with food— and more food. Our mission is to pick flowers and sustain the moshav export economy. But we are not off to an auspicious start.
(June 10, 2019)

Part 2 

DEC 1, 1973. MASLUL:
The Jewish Agency has truly screwed up. They sent nine volunteers when only four were needed. And so Marie and I are unemployed as of today. In the meantime the Arabs are getting paid. Chaim returned home, with a tale of woe. He’d gotten a letter from Rina telling of serious problems with the family business and was tempted to go AWOL. Evidently the workers don’t listen to her and she’s at her wit’s end. Chaim says that he’s ready to throw in the towel with the gladiolas. And their roses aren’t selling well, either. It simply doesn’t pay to continue. Rina can’t handle the situation. And things won’t improve as long as Chaim is on active duty. In the interim, Rina may need to return to Tel Aviv.
Elsewhere on the moshav, people appear to busy themselves doing nothing. The situation is quite serious. As for Paul, the Aussie— he’s perfectly happy. He has his sheep to tend and enjoys tooling around on his tractor. We had a nice music session in the infirmary last night, and went out this morning for our final round of gladiola picking. Had to destroy many of the crooked ones (akumim), since they won’t sell.
Alas, Shula, the so-called moshav ‘organizer,’ is totally inept. And the moshav turns out to be an Israeli Dogpatch. We may need to return to Tel Aviv for a re-assignment. A sorry state of affairs. But I really have enjoyed the gladiola work— it’s been a welcome workout.
DEC 17:
Still in Maslul, but no longer with Chaim and Rina. Shula somehow managed for us to move to the ‘Persian sector’ of the moshav, near her own place. We’re now with Simantov Rafaelson and family. The Rafaelsons are pretty well-off, or so it seems. Simantov was born and raised in Azerbaijan and moved to Iran when he was around ten. He currently works in a bakery in nearby Ofakim. He has five children. His daughter Chaya is married to Iraj— a big guy. Works somewhere, but I’m not sure where. Son Bennie is in the army. He has a taste for pictures of nude women.
Simantov is busily engaged with Iraj in a game of sheshbesh (backgammon). The girls are drawing something or another on paper, which are supposed to reveal their personality traits. No idea how this is supposed to work. Frankly, these folks all seem rather common— shallow, superficial.
Shabtai went off to the army today, and his sheep ranch is now entirely in the hands of Paul and Jim, who’ve otherwise been taken up with doing knot-tying and macramé. The food situation has been good. We’ve had turkey legs and potatoes, and a lot of Persian fare. The gender-role division here is pretty strict. And there’s a general craving for stuff— Levi jeans in particular. Overall, I’ve noted a predisposition toward sloth and indolence— and lechery on the part of the menfolk. Well, no one’s perfect.
Guess where we are today! Here’s the story: There wasn’t enough work for two in the Rafaelson household, so a phone call was made to a nearby kibbutz— Urim— and it was arranged for me to be taken in there. Marie was told that she’d have to stay at Maslul, since she was needed to do housework. Well, Marie was none too pleased with this arrangement, and we managed to convince Yaakov [?] that we were both intent on moving together to the kibbutz. And so we made our way to Urim, without having time even to let Paul know; he was busy tractoring around for Shula’s family.
Paul, by the way, is one interesting guy. He was kind enough to teach us how to divine for water, using two metal rods. And divine we did— each of us finding water at a depth of some four or five feet! Paul fancies that he can make some money in this country with his unusual skills. In any event we had henhouse work earlier in the day. Ran out of feed— some problem with the supplier— and had to borrow from neighbors. Then I went to the doctor and got some honest medicine. [?] Returned for a heart-to-heart talk with Yaakov. . . [No idea what’s up with the medicine, or the topic of conversation]
[Later that day:]
Following a Hanukkah ceremony (tekes) in the kibbutz auditorium. Many flashbacks to those summers at Camp Massad. What can I say— This is the essence of it! Here, right here! A Habonim kibbutz— a KIBBUTZ! And I’m here, on an actual kibbutz! The communal feel is deep. The kids are arranged into small groups (k’vutsot). Competition is encouraged. They made swords for the tekes and got involved in their games. Winners and losers.
But there’s a sense of depression brought on by the war. Kibbutz members (haveirim) are only recently emerging from mourning those lost in the war— three deaths among the members. Came across a little girl lamenting that her Israeli director [?] is off doing Zionist propaganda in New York. He has a position tutoring English in Be’er Sheva. She listens to his voice on tape, nightly.
The food here is great! And there’s music. A lot of music.
One wonders— How is introversion dealt with here? Are there sanctions against preferring to be alone? And what of the flaming extrovert?
Learned that Zina [?] knows Simon Greenfeld [an older classmate at Beth Tfiloh day school in Baltimore], who’s a haver at Gesher Haziv, another Habonim kibbitz in the north.
DEC 21
Shortest day of the year. Had my first taste of actual kibbutz employment— picking lemons. Lemons! The lemon grove is an olfactory delight! By the way, spotted a new species of hummingbird today in the grove— around three or four inches. Black body, iridescent coral-blue head. Must find out what it is.
And I must comment again on how great the food is. I’ve got to exercise real restraint! My current roommate is a Dutch guy named Cornelius. Nice enough guy. Very orderly. A bit stiff. He’s had unfortunate run-ins with Americans of the freak persuasion.
(June 21, 2019 (Summer solstice))

Part 3:

DEC 22, 1973.
Still amazed at the food served here. So good! Was introduced last night to Carmi and Shulamit, the couple who are to be my kibbutz surrogate parents. Received my kitchen work assignment. We shall see how this works out. Went to a kibbutz auction in the cafeteria. [No recollection of what was being auctioned.] Some of the more hard-core kibbutzniks were opposed to this sort of thing, resenting the nefarious intrusion of ‘private enterprise.’ I for one enjoyed it a lot. People were saying that this was the first really fun activity they’ve had since the war. Returned today to Maslul, where I discovered that Paul had broken a finger operating a hay baler. But he still managed to outdo everyone in a basketball game! The moshav felt strangely deserted and barren, after only two days at the kibbutz. Jack [?] seemed very disgruntled. Paul is getting there, too. But it was a beautiful day, and people were taking their lunch out on the lawn.

Hitched a ride back to Urim after sunset. Tanks are being shipped to Sinai. Heard that Shabtai is in Egypt. Went to the kibbutz library tonight and took out a number of books. I’m feeling put off by the hyper-American face of the kibbutz. It’s too familiar, and too easy to fall back into old habits. Otherwise, I’m spending time tinkering at the grand piano and playing recorder together with Marie. She needs to work on her tonguing technique.

I’m supposed to be up around 5:30 for kitchen duty. Have been forewarned about Avramele, the temperamental kitchen head. He lost a son last month to the hostilities. My roommate Cornelius has screwed up another new year’s greeting [?] and is now engrossed in the study of introductory psychology

DEC 23:

A hoard of Israeli kids from Dimona arrived today. They’re staying five per room, and we have theme on either side of our own room. They’ve been using Cornelius’s towel, and he’s beside himself. Cornelius does not like disorder— or rock music. We have plenty of both, alas. So he barks order at them, tells them they must obey! “Gone with the wind,” he laments. “That’s all I can take.”

Had my first kitchen experience this morning. Much rinsing of dishes. Not unpleasant, though. Rinsing somehow seems to suit me. Avramele, the taskmaster, reminds me of Jimmy Finlayson. Goes on and on about disorder, wasted effort, chaos. Eric, from Baltimore (student at U of Chicago; he has a fondness for Leicas), was my mentor. [Note: I was traveling with my trusty Leica M4 rangefinder camera. As for Eric— no recollection.]

In the late afternoon, there was a music session for the kibbutz school kids, out on the lawn— guitar, recorder. They then adjourned for Hanukkah candle lighting and singing.

DEC 24:
After dinner. The Dimona crowd has been continuing their revel— Jimi Hendrix tapes and other tomfoolery. They were screaming at each other as of 5 a.m. I walked through the nearby wadis [dry stream beds] today, looking for evidence of the alleged abandoned movie set for a film that featured Gregory Peck [??], to which the kibbutzniks supposedly drove their tractors until recently.
Somewhat frustrated with my communicative skills, I requested a Hebrew language tutor tonight— specified ‘advanced,’ but would be happy with ‘intermediate.’   This was motivated in part by a gnawing sense of not belonging. I recently found myself sitting alone, in the midst of the kibbutz chevra, recalling Melford Spiro’s Children of the Kibbutz, which cautioned against the danger of privacy and insularity— the evil of egocentrism and the threat it posed to community.

Then again, Ezra [?] mentioned only last night that privacy and individuality have their positive aspects, which include a more comfortable living standard for the kibbutzniks. In short, the old standard of austerity and self-denial is passé.

Ezra is an interesting guy. He makes a good cup of Turkish coffee. He loves jazz but doesn’t want to play anything until he’s had a chance to feel us out first. He’s forty-seven, having made aliyah twenty-one years ago— a committed Zionist at an early age. Ezra claims to have no regrets about anything. Sporting his yellow jacket, he looks a lot like the redoubtable Professor Irwin Cory. Marie and I were very tired, but I managed to ask him a lot of questions, which he may or may not have regarded as interesting.

As for the wadis— closer in to the kibbutz, they were far from pristine, littered as they were with kibbutz trash, dead heifers, and assorted bones. At a further distance, though, the big irrigation project became apparent— lush green vistas, which I’m told will become an Israeli national park in several years. The kibbutz has been enlisted to contribute to the project.

So here I am in mid-wadi. At a certain point the kibbutz was no longer visible, and I found myself alone in this labyrinth of ravines. I had come straight from my work detail, had my heavy shoes on, and was good and tired. And so I found a likely spot on the grassy ground of the park-to-be and promptly fell asleep. It was chilly when I awoke. A black spider was climbing up my arm. I got up and wandered back in the direction of the kibbutz, climbing the hills and enjoying the sunset. Two Kibbutzniks on horseback rode past. The sun set, impressively, between two trees overlooking the wadis.

I spotted many birds today— an owl, some hunting hawks, wrens, and assorted others. A lot of dead birds, too. Out of morbid curiosity, I picked some of them up, inspected them, ascertained that they were in fact dead, then dropped them on the ground. And that was that.

I’d wanted to call home today. After all, it’s the Big Day at Marcus Pharmacy, and the whole family will have been on hand to help the last-minute Christmas shoppers buy everything in sight and help enrich the family coffers.

Sunset changes everything. Back at the kibbutz, Cornelius was stoking the heater. Outside and all around, the native sabras were whooping it up. I felt strangely alone and private and uptight at dinner. Wanted to better understand what ‘kibbutz’ is all about. Is this really a commune, whatever that might mean? Are the hard-core kibbutzniks a breed apart? What do they really think about this place? About themselves? How can they live with each other in such close proximity and remain happy and fulfilled in this cage for five, ten, twenty years or more? What does it do to you? What do you have to invest in it in order to have it make sense— and to be satisfying and gratifying?

I’m the outsider, waiting to be invited in and taught how to live among others and feel truly connected to them. I share a lot with Howard, who would talk about having to await ‘cues for action.’ [Unsure who this Howard is.] Howard has his Dylan cap, his tales of parental trauma. He wants to know how to work it all out, how to get a sense of where he is heading. Don’t we all!

Well, the German volunteers will show up on January 5th. Until then, it’s us and the Israelis, picking potatoes.

(July 26, 2019)

Part 4

DEC 24, 1973 (Continued)
Re-read Arthur Miller’s View from the Bridge and continue to be astounded by Eddie. A man truly to be mourned. And how did Marco manage to pick up that chair? Meanwhile, I’ve been writing to people back home, telling them that I’m seeing hummingbirds, a lot of hummingbirds. And all the while I remain painfully aware of my self-centeredness— consumed as I am by assorted pains and angsts, joys, and the prospect of spotting birds— the ones that hum and others as well. I cry out, in silence, for recognition.

It crosses my mind that certain people find themselves in kibbutzim the way women ‘of old’ would find their way into nunneries— a ‘lofty vocation’ actually rooted in pain, self-doubt, and discontent. I see myself among their number. Can one truly be an ideologue without the psychic baggage? I think of myself as an egg not wanting to be scrambled. Christmas Eve here, surrounded by palm trees and bright sun. Out in the larger world, there’s a blizzard— in New York, to be specific. The Pope is showering. Wafers are being assembled. For his part, Cornelius is having trouble with a letter he’s trying to write. He’s screaming at the Israelis. He’s tearing up paper.

Christmas Eve in Israel— just another Monday in this Judaic land. There’s a book fair at the Moadon. [?] There’s the usual exchange of gory prisoner-of-war accounts; hair pulling, cigarettes encroaching upon noses, isolation, the breaking of bones, the cracking of toes. [I am confused by this.] Just another day. The frequency of sonic booms has diminished. Am reminded of the kibbutz air-raid shelter, whose décor is positively psychedelic. Wonder about the shelters in Guernica, or Dresden, prior to their destruction. Thanks to Vonnegut, we know of one such shelter in Dresden— the famous slaughterhouse. What of the others? What can they shelter you from, when the bombs rain down mercilessly?

DEC 25:

The Day of Days. Yom huledet sameach to Yoshke, the King of Kings. No movie tonight. Didn’t call home. Didn’t ask them to send a pair of sneakers and binoculars, which I sure could use. Continued my dish-washing duties today. Wash, then rinse. Just tuned in to Radio Cairo, which offers the only authentic Mood Music on the radio dial. I must be in the mood for it.

Returned to the wadi today. Sunset was especially beautiful. I’m told by Joe (the Sephardic chaver who’s a geologist and oversees planning for the park project) that it’s the biggest wadi in the Northern Negev. Lots of excavations going on.

I love roaming around the wadi. Birds everywhere. Over four hundred species in Israel, mostly migratory. The local wren is not a true wren, according to Bimban, the kibbutz birder-extraordinaire. Bimbam is into nature and bird photography. He craves a 28 millimeter wide-angle lens and needs a new tele-converter for his Spotmatic camera and its 500-millimeter telephoto lens. Alas, the duty on imported camera equipment is over a hundred percent. These are luxury items.

Bob [?] is another kibbutznik birder, and we’re planning on a Shabbat expedition to the wadi in search of avian rarities. Meanwhile, I’m eating like a Turk!

DEC 27:

Bimbam says that the hummingbirds we thought we saw weren’t actual hummingbirds, which he claims are native only to the Americas. Other disappointments: the scheduled movie has once again failed to show up. And to top it off, Cornelius’s soap was stolen today. This led to his removing all his toilet articles from the bathroom and doing god-only-knows-what with them. The Dimona group leaves tomorrow, after a week’s worth of potato picking and their earnest emulation of 1966 American teen subculture. No cussing in Hebrew, the holy tongue— only English and Arabic will do. Then you can let ‘er rip. Which they do. They were running amok and blasting Jimi Hendrix tapes pretty much all night. We tried screaming them into silence, but to no avail. Nan [?] went out in her nightgown, trying to subdue the mob, but to no avail. Yesterday, I went to Be’er Sheva with Nan and Howie. (Howie happens to be a nephew of Rabbi Leibowitz in Baltimore, whose daughter I was known to consort with for a period of time. Howie is familiar with the Montreal Jewish community and knows my rabbi cousin, Sid Shoham, who has a pulpit there.) We went there to do English tutoring in a bomb shelter in one of the many ‘Eastern’ housing developments (shikunim). There’s a real need there, on many levels. They’ve settled large numbers of immigrants in the new shikunim. I had a group of around twelve kids, who knew next to no English. Could hardly recite the alphabet. A seemingly mentally-defective kid would come at regular intervals and make a ruckus. Not much I could do about it. I would have preferred working with them to help improve my Hebrew. There were some very attractive girls hanging around, and this inspired Howie to relate a recent affair of the heart. A comely local miss has taken a liking to the boy, and he’s already visited the family on several occasions. I tried to explain the gravity of the situation to Howie. It’s tantamount to engagement, given local morés. He’s on a major ego-trip, though. In addition to his physical appeal, he’s quite proud of his prowess on that Yamaha guitar of his. The thing is— he can barely produce a single chord on it.

The city is a welcome change of pace, though. Kibbutz Urim most certainly does not register the pulse of this nation. I’m thinking of making regular visits to Be’er Sheva— maybe twice weekly— to the bomb-shelter schoolhouse. Meanwhile, I start in on tree pruning as of next week. It’s supposed to be a desirable assignment— a 6:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. workday.

Last night, people got together for some folk music in the social hall. I was totally dragged out, though, and instead took in a little birthday party that Nan organized, complete with wine and real pretzels. Good mix of people there, including Frankie, who’s in charge of the boiler that’s recently been a problem. Tonight is Nomi’s birthday, but we couldn’t make it to Maslul, on account of the work schedule.

Some kibbutzniks are being called up for army service, and some are returning. Not much sense of any national emergency hereabouts. But there’s a glut of election ads and propaganda. Bobby [?] tried explaining the makeup of the major party coalitions. Seems pretty basic, but I didn’t pay much attention. Not my cup of tea. Urim is supposedly not very politically-oriented, as kibbutzim go, but there’s no shortage of private opinion and strong feelings. Urim is evidently known as one of the most liberal kibbutzim with respect to individual rights and privileges, and policy regarding childrearing. Kids don’t leave home until they’re fourteen. By way of contrast, Bruno Bettelheim’s classic Children of the Dream was based on six weeks spent at a kibbutz that took kids almost literally from birth and ‘communalized’ them. There is simply no such doctrinaire ideological or social agenda here. “Live and Let Live” has the status of a mantra at Urim. Be that as it may, dishes still have to get cleaned, chickens need to be inoculated, and eggs must be boiled.

Part 5
DEC 29

Completed the week’s kitchen assignment yesterday— which was also the final day of Avremele’s tyrannical control over the kitchen. He’s moved on to the chicken house. Avremele’s son was killed in the war, so his behavior is understandable. Still, it’s very freaky. The end of a tough week. Not much enjoyment to be had in the repeated lifting of trays and filling of cups. Surrounded by women baking and bullshitting. Marie and Nan blindfolded me and took me to the laundry room. I’ve been playing more piano of late. I’ll be returning to the orchard for picking, then more pruning. Spoke with Ezra about scheduling more sessions of the Be’er Sheva tutorial. He’s reluctant, though, to make arrangements. Have since learned that the kibbutz isn’t especially committed to such ‘regional outreach’ programs— especially as they involve Be’er Sheva, which is at some distance. Evidently, such humanitarian moves are at best tolerated and not at all encouraged. This is unfortunate and disconcerting.

Went to Carmi’s for Friday dinner. They served up a very tasty turkey schnitzel. Turkey is cheap, hence it’s the meat of choice. Beef is virtually non-existent on the kibbutz bill of fare. After dinner we watched TV— a Canadian ballet production, with Albinoni accompaniment. Then a Bette Davis film, Little Foxes. Really enjoyable! We then headed over to the dining room for a Hanukkah party. Low key— warm wine and rock music. Pretty tired, but still managed to stop by Nan’s apartment. Frankie was there, and we shared notes about binoculars and birds. There was mention of a Syrian woodpecker spotted by the pool, and Nan proceeded to spit up. Some unkind and tasteless comments ensued. [?]

It had been arranged with Bob Levin to go birdwatching the next morning (Saturday) at 6:00 in the wadi. Alas, this was not to be. I slept ‘til 9:30. At breakfast, Carmi notified us that his daughter would be inviting us on a hike to the wadi, complete with lunch. Fine with me. I went to Frankie’s to borrow his 7 x 35 binoculars. Frankie plays the flute and has a good record collection. He’s the kibbutz boilermaker. The hike and lunch were fun. Went with Randy (volunteer) and four girls— one from Wisconsin. Endured a lot of giggling. We found a nice spot in the park, with a spring, some interesting rocks, and a smattering of birds.

Returned to the kibbutz just in time to miss the bus to Maslul. So I hoofed it. Learned that Shabtai is splitting up his sheep. There’s been a falling-out with Rafi, his partner. This means that Paul will have less work to do. Talk of ‘Sylvester’— the Australian new-year’s celebration. It coincides with Election Day. Saw the Hanai family, who were very happy to see us. We stayed for dinner. A beautiful family. We’d arranged to use Rina’s car to get us back to the kibbutz, but this plan failed to materialize. So we hitched back. Others went to Ofakim to see a film starring Jean-Paul Belmondo. The road was pitch black. We’d hoped to catch a glimpse of Kohoutek, which has put in an appearance in our neck of the solar system and has been touted as a big-deal comet. People have been getting up at 4:00 a.m. to try to spot the thing, but’s it’s been cloudy. Maybe it’s a hoax. Maybe it’s disintegrated. Who knows. . .

Marie received a letter from her parents in California, sent care of Maslul— in a mere five days! Christmas was hardly mentioned in Maslul. Paul was peeved, and so was Marie. Returned to the kibbutz and went straight to the library for more books— a Dali autobiography, The Little Prince, etc. Went to the moadon [clubhouse facility], just in time to take in a bris. Lots of booze, which was most welcome. Chatted with Bimban about focal lengths and wagtails and lapwings. I’d spotted him in the wadi, armed with his 500 mm reflex telephoto lens, photographing butterflies and birds. He’s a serious birder and promises to show me his slides and his bird books. Then again, he’s known not to follow through.

Meir invited me to the kibbutz general membership meeting, and so I went to check it out. The main item on the agenda was a motion to move to a cheaper brand of cigarette to be distributed free of charge to kibbutz members. This would result, so it was noted, in an annual cost saving of around $10,000. Sounds considerable. But what surprised me was the sparse attendance. I learned that the official quorum is a mere twenty-five members, and that of the roughly two hundred members, only around thirty or forty show up at these meetings. “Such is kibbutz democracy,” Meir opined. Most folks stay home and watch TV. Sad state of affairs.

The meeting was dominated by ho-hum parliamentary bullshit, and I sensed an evident pride among some in doing things the right (i.e., tedious) way. Many of the women attendees preferred to concentrate on their knitting. The great cigarette debate ended in a vote in favor of the cheaper cigarettes.

November 6, 2019

Marvin Marcus

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    Jamie Glaser
    Ralph Graff
    Marvin Marcus 
  Team Members and Writers 
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    Max Brown
    Daphne Drohobyczer 
  • Larry Friedman
    Richard Gavatin
    Jamie Glaser
    Ralph Graff
    Berta Hyken

  • Margaret Israel
    Roz Kohen
    Ben Levin
    Lottye Lyle 
  • Marvin Marcus
  • Joyce Olshan
    Carol Rose
  • Paula Sparks 
  • Marla Zimmerman
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