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A Kibbutz Snapshot

One of those glorious early spring days was drawing to a close. The solid blue of the sky was interrupted only by a few 56bright clouds stretched thin, parallel to the horizon. As they changed from white to pink with the reddening sun, the breeze was mild, the air delicious.

A group of us spent the hour after dinner in Theo and Reggie’s room. Reggie and I were the center of attention; he played his guitar, and I my flute. The others sang along with the familiar songs we played. By this time, a standard repertoire had been developed, including folk songs and rock songs known to both of us, as well as to the majority of other volunteers. Once we had exhausted most of the songs we knew, people started to leave.

Theo and Reggie sat talking as I played random snatches of songs on my flute for my own amusement. Eventually, I tired of it and put my flute away. We three, the only ones left, talked for a while, then walked out onto the wooden porch and stood quietly, looking up at the moon. The air was clear and calm and pleasantly cool. We lingered, enjoying the evening and the company, none wanting to alter the moment.

“Let’s go for a walk,” Theo suggested.

“It sounds great,” I responded. I had been enjoying his company more and more, and was glad for any opportunity to prolong our contact. “It really is time to go to sleep, though,” I reluctantly added. The early hour at which we had to rise was still a bit difficult to manage, and we all had six hours of physical labor ahead, the next day.

Reggie offered,

“Well, why don’t we just sleep outside?”

“My sleeping bag is ready,” Theo grinned. He slept in it every night, on his mattress, to avoid having to make his bed. Reggie and I laughed.

“Where should we go? I asked.

“Let’s go out to one of the fields,” said Reggie, “out past the refet (dairy).” Theo and I agreed.

“I’ll be back in a minute,” I said.

Thus was formed the plan to take our sleeping bags and wander out to the darkening fields until we found an appropriate spot to lay them down and spend the night.

Quietly, so as not to awaken my roommate, I took my sleeping bag then met Theo and Reggie at their door. We stepped softly out of the Ulpan toward the refet, feeling like conspirators. I forgot about the need for sleep. Once we had passed the bulls’ pens and approached the open fields, the vague guilt faded. An exciting sense of freedom subtly grew within us. Soon we were chatting happily and walking a bit more quickly.

The half-moon was bright, and we had no trouble following the pale dirt road which separated the fields. Night was almost upon us: the sky was a dark grayish-blue, and the first few stars were just noticeable. We walked for close to half an hour before the conversation turned to our purpose.

We decided to march into the alfalfa field on our right. It was filled with soft leafy green plants, close to two feet high, like deep clover. We waded through our chosen carpet until we could no longer see the road, then unrolled our sleeping bags, putting the head ends together. We lay down on top of our open bags, nestled deep in alfalfa, and talked for a while longer. There were endless topics to be discussed, and questions to be asked and answered, regarding our lives at home, our life at the kibbutz, other travel experiences, the political situation in Israel, our jobs, our new friends, our old friends, and more. Finally, the moon set and, despite the stars, we had difficulty seeing each others’ faces. Tired from the long day, we were finally calmed enough to say goodnight and sleep.

I saw many tiny green leaves against a pale sky, and realized where I was. The cool morning air bathed my face. As I turned toward Theo and Reggie, I heard a faraway hum. I thought it was an airplane. By the time we had made eye contact, the sound had grown loud enough to cause us to sit up and look around. There was no plane to be seen in the sky, and the hum had become a rumble. We scanned the extensive field with our worried, sleepy eyes, and made out an object in the distance. We squinted and stared as the huge shape approached. The sudden realization that it was a thresher was immediately followed by our jumping up and grabbing our sleeping bags. “Oh no!” I breathed.

“Come on!” said Theo.

“Let’s get the hell out of here!” yelled Reggie.

It was moving very quickly, now only about fifty feet away and coming directly toward us. Terrified, with pounding hearts, we ran.

Over our shoulders, we saw the giant machine more clearly: an enormous, rolling cylinder in front, formed of two hoops of green metal connected by many sharp horizontal blades, powered by a large green tractor with a glass-enclosed booth on top. As we ran out of its horrible path, still staring at the slicing beast, we saw a furious kibbutznik leaning out of the booth, screaming at us. We turned away and ran harder, unable to avoid noticing the flattened wake he had left behind.

We ran all the way to the road, then stopped to roll up our sleeping bags, which until then had been clutched in our sweaty hands and dragged. Once this was done, we looked at each other openly, seriously, still breathing heavily. None of us knew who the driver of the thresher had been, but we were sure he knew us.

It was still early enough to get to work on time. Shaken, and with a sense of impending doom, we walked the rest of the way back to the Ulpan, changed clothes, and left for our respective jobs: Theo to the refet to feed the cows, Reggie to the fields where irrigation pipes had to be moved, and I to the pardess (groves) to pick oranges.

When we went in for lunch, I saw them. We three sat together, feeling even more like guilty conspirators, sensing the members’ eyes upon us, waiting for the blow.

The blow never came. There was no reprimand through Reuben, no angry kibbutznik pulling us off to the side of the dining hall to tell us that we were foolish and irresponsible, no notice of any sort given us regarding that morning’s events. Like a wise parent, the member who had caught us - or the body of members, as it is unlikely that he would have kept the incident to himself - apparently thought our terror had been punishment enough. Like good children, we were worthy of that trust. We never did such a thing again.

Excerpted from A Journey by Ellen Rubinstein. To learn more about this book, please visit

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