Book of Life
A Minute to Myself (85)

An Israel Story: Tomatoes Anyone?

My life in Israel started on a kibbutz, which is basically a community of a few hundred families that lives and works together, and shares in all of the support systems of that society. Everyone works for the kibbutz, in different capacities, and even those who work outside of the kibbutz deposit their salaries into a common fund. [There are a few hundred kibbutzim (plural for kibbutz) all over Israel; the first one, established in 1910, was down the road from where I lived.]

Since I lived on the kibbutz in 1982, things have changed, but at that time all of the members ate their meals together in a community dining hall. Just think, you could go years without having to prepare a meal, or you could go a year or two preparing meals for hundreds; or you could not fold a towel for years, and then, well, you could supervise volunteers from all over the world as they folded towels in the laundry for you and your neighbors. There were children’s houses for the care of children so the parents, especially the mothers, could go to work. The premise here (remember this idea goes back to 1910) was that instead of one woman staying home to take care of one child, the kids would be “pooled” together so that mothers could go out to work, and the adults could take turns caring for each others’ children.

In short, a kibbutz is a self-contained socialized system. As I said, things have changed (for example, the ascendancy of the communal dining room has waned, and more people work outside of the kibbutz than at that time), so what I am recounting is life as I knew it then, and as it was followed on the kibbutz where I lived for six months.

First Job: Tomato Selector
My first job on the kibbutz was in the preparation room. I, of course, had no idea what the “preparation room” was, but quickly found out that it is part of the kitchen, where the food gets prepared. Made sense. So off I went in my very worn cast-off clothes, since my own clothes were still somewhere between New York and Tel Aviv.

I was placed in front of a large sink and counter, and told to inspect a couple of crates of tomatoes. I was to rinse the tomatoes, put the good ones in large bowls in preparation for being served in the dining hall, and put the bad ones back in the wooden crates.

I don’t know about you, but up until that time I had never encountered a tomato outside of a supermarket. Since I grew up in an apartment, I had never even encountered a home-grown tomato. My tomato expectations were: red, uniform shape (meaning round), firm, and clean. But the tomatoes in the crate did not conform to that standard; there were mushy parts, there were green parts, there were tomato booboos. They were not round. They were uninviting. And they were not clean. (Okay, I did understand that that was part of my job.)

Going through one crate, out of the hundred or so tomatoes that I inspected, I found about four tomatoes that I thought were of almost supermarket-quality. I was proud of having saved the kibbutzniks from having to eat less-than-standard tomatoes.

My supervisor came over to inspect my work. She was horrified. I was made to understand that I am a wasteful American woman. She gave me a knife and told me to cut off the bad parts and not to be so picky.

What? It had never occurred to me that just because part is bad, that does not mean that the whole is bad. I thought that the entire tomato must be perfect in order to be purchased or eaten. Why had I never seen these imperfect tomatoes before? I mean I had touched tomatoes with bruises, but these were not bruises, these tomatoes had serious issues.

I welded the knife and picked up the first rejected tomato. I felt it; there were mushy parts. Conquering my revulsion, I cut off the mushy parts and placed the surgically-altered tomato into a bowl. And on I went, dispensing with imperfections and creating a new kind of perfect tomato. In the end, there were about ten tomatoes that were not salvageable. The process was perspective-altering. It had never occurred to me that just because part of something is not good means that the rest is not good.

This first lesson in a new land was a good lesson to learn; in fact, it became more than a lesson in tomatoes, it became a life lesson. If a tomato is not all bad, don’t discard the good parts along with the bad. In life, this insight enabled me to understand that there is good with the bad, and to look for the good parts, and not to focus on the bad parts. Yes, this could be a useful lesson. Only problem was, I went overboard, and focused too much on the good, forgetting that the bad was not cut away as with a tomato, and so was still a part of the whole. I guess there are some problems extrapolating things from tomatoes to people. So the revised lesson has become: focus on the good, but don’t overlook the bad.

* * *



What a change in perspective for you - city versus the kibbutz. Your post made me think of my mom, who grew up on a ranch in the middle of nowhere (she fled to the big city as soon as she could). Growing up, she would have us pare away the bad parts of the potato (or tomato) and use what we could. One didn't waste anything.

We're all bruised (but hopefully not mushy).

Laura of Rebellious Thoughts of a Woman

JC, why is it that more people seem to escape to the city than vice versa? I loved living in Israel, but after my two kibbutz experiences, I stayed in the city. Even now I can't wait to leave the suburbs when the girls go to college and live in a city where I will see more people when I take walks than bushes.

Mushy, who's calling me mushy?


You know, you've got pluses and minuses for both. I can see the attraction of living in the city where you're in the middle of things and can walk to the restaurants and theaters. Country life is beautiful but the attitudes are different. My sister who lives in the country has turned into quite the gadfly and sometimes I worry for her safety.

If anyone's mushy, it's me. I really need to exercise.

Btw, you havin' a bad day? Things have been getting ridiculous. I was reading some of the political threads and have written a couple on Blogher. I'm trying to stay out of the fray. Some of the arguments that I've seen make absolutely no sense and really seem to be illogical. (Does this make sense?)

Laura of Rebellious Thoughts of a Woman

JC, my day, no not bad, it was actually a lovely day. But when I read your comment here it made me realize that maybe my comment on your blog about the tone of the presidential race comes from my having lived in Israel when the prime minister, Rabin, was assasinated. The ugliness, the negativity, the inability to see the other side as people, are coming to mind when I hear some of the voices, and that is upsetting. I'm not looking for kumbaya moments, but we all need to recognize that no one is willfully trying to hurt anyone else, we are all just hoping to make the country go in the direction that we think is best. Life is to be lived, not lost for trying to help others.

You're asking me if I think that it is logical to recognize that some arguments are illogical? Of course! And only the innately logical can say that.


The ugliness has definitely been getting to me lately. I saw Michelle Obama on Larry King the other night and she was talking about the fact that we all just need to come together right now. I agree so much. The ugliness needs to go away, but it's going to get worse, I'm afraid.

Laura of Rebellious Thoughts of a Woman

JC, people just need to take a step back and realize that the Republic goes on. Maybe if people had a sense of history they would see that there is an ebb and flow to a public entity, such as a country, and the positions held by the other will not bring it all crashing down. Yes, I am appalled by what has happened in the past eight years and am appalled by the possibility of another four years, but since this is still not a dictatorship and we do have voices and representatives, we can still push to be heard, acknowledged and represented.


We've been talking about that a lot in this house; the importance of history. My husband's a history buff and we've often talked about the fact that our leaders seem not to know their history well and keep making the same mistakes. Shouldn't their be an office of presidential historian? Maybe there is.

Political campaigns are transitory; you're right. A long view of things needs to be taken, but it's hard with all the rhetoric flying. This election in particular has hit me the hardest. It's felt for a long time that the stakes are so high. I've found myself staring at the ceiling when I should be sleeping.

(On our website, we've tried to create a place where people can escape for a while. I was joking with you in my comment about reading the story, but it's true. We need to live in the light. I just need to remind myself sometimes.)

Laura of Rebellious Thoughts of a Woman

Elections: a positive side of things is that perhaps the right is fighting so hard and so nasty now because they are fighting for survival. Afterall, they had all of their dreams come true, and look what we got. I mean the tee-shirt could read:

We got our boy in the White House and we got:
2 Wars
+ 1 Economic Meltdown
+ 1 Justice Department Meting Out Injustice
+ 1 Geneva Convention Trampled by "Torture"


We were at a gathering last night and an older couple mentioned, "Why would you even want to be president?" No kidding. This is not a mess I'd want to inherit.

Laura of Rebellious Thoughts of a Woman

Ruler of the World. Yes, I could imagine many wanting the mantle. Not that I think I could handle it, but boy that would sure be an intellectual challenge. Only thing is, I probably couldn't fit in naptime. But then again, George probably does, so yep, I guess I'm ready.

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