A nostalgia trip?

So the kibbutz weekend was lovely. We drove up on Friday morning, had a delicious lunch of salads, spreads, and chips at an unassuming roadside restaurant, and arrived at Kibbutz Mishmar HaEmek in the early afternoon.

A quick aside about Mishmar HaEmek-it's 93 years old, has about 1,000 residents, and is apparently one of the few kibbutzim that's been able to retain a secular, socialist way of life (I mean this-they refused to take our money in exchange for beers on Friday night, and they reportedly open their dining hall on Yom Kippur and serve pork). They're able to maintain the traditional socialist kibbutz model because they apparently own one of the world's largest manufacturers of plastic sheets used by farmers for bundling hay and such. If you go to their website, you can find adoring testimonials about their products from farmers in, like, Nebraska. I wonder if they know that their beloved products are manufactured by a secular, socialist commune. Anyway, I digress.

After dropping off our bags and taking a few moments to learn about the history of the kibbutz, we headed off to a nearby event hosted by an organization called Givat Haviva, a co-existence group founded in 1949 by several of the kibbutzim in the area. When tensions between Jews and Arabs escalate, Givat Haviva sets up a "peace tent" in a large open field and hosts various events, such as dialogue sessions and rallies, in an effort to reduce tensions in the area. 

On the day we were there, they held a large roadside demonstration, where about 200 Jews and Arabs from the area held hands and waved signs at the passing cars. After about an hour of this, the group split into a few dialogue circles, and everyone discussed their thoughts on the recent escalation in the area. Following the dialogue sessions, people provided coffee and cake, and there were a few musical performances. It was all wonderful. Really, it was the first time I'd felt optimistic about this place's future since getting here.


After the wonderful Givat Haviva event, we headed back to the kibbutz, had dinner in the massive collective dining hall (like your college cafeteria, but with a better salad bar and with wine), drank beers in the socialist pub that doesn't take money, slept well without street noise/jackhammering from construction sites/terrifying news alerts, lazed in bed until we missed breakfast, ate lunch, read, played soccer, etc. It couldn't have been a better weekend. So why, then, did I feel an undercurrent of despair?

The Israel that I saw this weekend-a pastoral scene, with secular, progressive types working the land, building communities, and hoping for peace-is the Israel that existed at one point, I think. It's certainly the Israel that I'd always envisioned. However, it does not seem to be the Israel that exists today: the Israel that I see in the news and on the street every day in Jerusalem is an increasingly fundamentalist, economically stratified, paranoid, authoritarian one (on both sides). I don't think it's a coincidence that many of the people that I encountered at both the kibbutz and at the dialogue session were older, from middle-aged to elderly. Both socialist kibbutzim and grassroots dialogue sessions feel a bit anachronistic in today's Israel, so it makes sense that the people participating in those institutions would be older people with memories of a different era.

The title of this post-"A nostalgia trip?"- can refer both to the physical trip we took this weekend, and the emotional journey that I took in conjunction with the physical trip. For all the reasons I just described, a trip to spend a weekend on a kibbutz and to participate in a pro-peace demonstration reflects some degree of nostalgia for a different era, I think. But this weekend, I also went on an emotional nostalgia trip, to a time when I thought that socialist kibbutzim and local, grassroots peace demonstrations were what Israel is. It was an innocent, comforting conception (and, lest I seem too pessimistic, I'll reiterate that these things still exist, albeit to a lesser degree than I think they once did), but living here has made me realize that it's so much more complicated than that.