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.
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