Earlier this week, we joined 10 or so other families in the Chader Ochel* on the kibbutz for a potluck communal dinner. I got really excited when the invitation arrived in my inbox; for one, I understood the Hebrew flyer almost in its entirety without the assistance of my part-time translator (who also acts as my husband.) But also, a communal dinner in the Chader Ochel reeked of summer camp, and this, my friends, is why I moved to a kibbutz.
When I think back to the most dramatic, intense, inspiring moments of my childhood, I’m transported back to camp. I split my adolescence between two overnight camps: Camp Wohelo, an all-girls camp in the Blue Ridge mountains of Pennsylvania; and when Wohelo closed, I joined Camp Wekeela, a co-ed camp in Maine. And perhaps it’s the intensity of once having been a part of those camp communities that has me continually seeking to replicate the experience.
I would come home from camp at the end of each summer and instead of hopping off the bus with utter joy at finally being reunited with my parents, I would weep in despair. I remember one summer my parents picked me up at the IKEA by the Plymouth Meeting Mall where the bus dropped us off, and we stopped at Pizza Hut for lunch before getting on the road to Cherry Hill. My parents tried to engage me: Asking me to share tales of my adventures or filling me in on the local gossip. But I just cried into my pan pizza, in between hiccups moaning, “I want to go back. I want to go back.”
The dinner in the Chader Ochel on Wednesday was only vaguely reminiscent of the camp dining hall. While there was plenty of noise and chaos, there were no twenty-year-old Scottish lads delivering big plates of steaming hot schnitzel to my table. Instead, I was doing the waitering, filling up my kids’ plates with homemade pizza and mac and cheese; while said kids ran around like wild maniacs. I have to admit, though, since running around like wild maniacs is a regular evening activity for my children, I’d rather it be in someone else’s noisy dining room than my own.
I sat across the table from my new friend Anat, who arrived to Hannaton with her family only a few days before we did. Anat was explaining the traditional kibbutz movement to her 10-year-old daughter; particularly the part about the children living together in a house, only seeing their parents a few hours every day. Anat and I both shared with sparkles in our eyes that, as kids, we both thought the idea of living on a kibbutz was cool.
Anat’s daughter wasn’t sold on the idea. She thought that children would want to spend more time with their parents, and she might be right. There is an Israeli film (which I have not seen) called “The Children’s House and the Kibbutz” which supposedly emphasizes the “emotionally deficient childhood that [kibbutz members] experienced in the children’s house of their kibbutz.”
However, thanks to sleepaway camp and a library filled with young adult books set in boarding school, I’ve always had the impression that living with other children far away from your parents was the best way to live. In my mind, only in dormitory-style rooms or in the woods behind said dormitory style room did fun and exciting things happen.
And, perhaps, I still retain that notion today. Is it possible that my choice to live on a kibbutz is partly inspired by my unfulfilled dream of year-round summer camp?
There are a lot of similarities, as I can tell so far. Seeing and interacting with the same people day-to-day; moving from activity to activity in groups; retreating to the quiet solitute of your cabin when you need some down time.
Making friends on a kibbutz is camp style, too. I almost feel like the camper who arrives for the second four-week session super excited to become part of what looks like an awesome scene, but hesitant to integrate herself into the groups and cliques that already organically formed earlier in the summer. My kids, thrust into school and Gan without a choice, are getting over the shy hump a lot faster than their parents. But kids have a lot less relationship baggage to keep them from sharing of themselves authentically and without hesitation, don’t they?
Have no fear. Just as it’s impossible for me to be late to a party no matter how hard I try, I know that I won’t be able to maintain this level of shyness for much longer. It’s not in my nature.
My nature is to play, to laugh, and to make others laugh: And sooner or later I will need to leave the safe confines of “Ani lo m’daberet Ivrit” to get a much-needed fix.
Chader Ochel = Dining Hall
Ani lo m’daberet Ivrit = I don’t speak Hebrew
Jen Maidenberg is is a writer, editor, activist and former assistant editor at the Arizona Jewish Post. Visit her website at http://jenmaidenberg.com/. She originally posted this column on her blog on Jan. 28, 20111.