At the beginning of my time on the kibbutz I was disappointed that I was not put to work in the fields, for some reason after I was stuck with assorted dining room duties (which included a week of “paying my dues” in pots and pans, which required me to clean many, many pots that were bigger than I was) they kept putting me into the children’s houses. I wanted to be a pioneer bringing the soil back to life, taking part in the connection between how Jews lived on the land two and three and four thousand years ago. Granted, there were probably some form of children’s houses way back then, but it didn’t have the same feeling as touching dirt. Besides, it was humiliating to not understand anything the kids said to me. I understand that one of the reasons why I was there was to learn Hebrew, but anytime a five-year-old knows something that you don’t know, your self-esteem is bound to take a beating.
So I was quite excited one morning when a friend and I were selected to work in the orchards. My Parisian friend, Arielle, was not so excited, but I more than made up for her lack of spirit and desire to dirty her hands. We didn’t quite understand the word for orchard in Hebrew, but we assumed that it was orchard using our basic Hebrew skills.
On the morning of our orchard work, we were confused when we were told to go to a building rather than to the tractor gathering site, but we figured that we were going to a different orchard. So there we were in our navy blue field work clothes (she had somehow managed to make hers look chic with a cloth tied around her head ala Lucy in some episode and me, well, I looked ready to sweat) when we got to where we were told to go. We were quite surprised to have the door opened for us by a man in a suit, not only because he was a man in a suit on the kibbutz but because he didn’t seem ready to prune avocado trees.
He eased Arielle’s concerns and annoyed me no end when he told us that archion did not mean orchard, but archives. We had been selected to work in the kibbutz’s archives. Lucky us. It was before Passover and we were the clean and dust team. Seriously, I did not go to Israel to be given a dust rag. For some reason he was pleased with us and had us back for a week of non-stop pulling books out and dusting off shelves. I don’t think that we even got much in the way of reminisces from him, so intent was he on getting as much work as possible out of us. Yes, that vaunted kibbutz work ethic, where did I put mine?
But someone must have felt bad for me (could it be because I kept saying I want to work in the fields?) because not too long after that I got to work in the cotton fields for a few days. For me, one morning in the cotton fields turned out to contain the one moment of my life that was truly perfect. It might be sad that I can only identify one moment that was so pure and beautiful and holistic, but it is enough for me. Enough for me to know that on a mountaintop in Israel, just moments after the sun rose, I stood up from my task, looked around and was touched in my deepest being by beauty and purity, and I knew it.
Before and after that moment I was walking across the barren field that would be a cotton field laying tubing that would bring water to the plants that were to thrive there. Since it was already hot during the day, we got to the field long before sunrise so that we wouldn’t have to work in the heat of the day. I was told how to lay the tubing and how to insert the little drippers into the tubing (so no water is wasted, it only goes right to where the plant will grow) and was given my section of the field to work in.
Since it was dark when we got there I didn’t realize that we were on top of a mountain (some might call it a large hill, but for Israel this counted as mountain). I had gotten into a rhythm and was fully focused on my work when I felt the darkness end and the light begin. I stopped, and looked out at the horizon and the contours of the land stretched all around me and the sky, and I had my moment of perfection. There was no one with me. I was not creating anything, I was not talking, I was not thinking. I was being one with that I was a part of. One with that I am part of.