One of the best things about living in an apartment with five people ages 18-20 is the food. Specifically, it’s what I’ve learned about our abilities to make and eat food. For example, we eat large quantities of beans and rice regularly, partially because it’s cheap and partially because it’s easy to make and hard to mess up. We also stock our own fridge, meaning that apart from the beans and rice, there’s always an interesting kind of cheese (cottage, swiss, smoked gouda), a seemingly impermanent supply of apples, a bottomless bag of raisins, and all the makings of a typical salad. Oh, and pitot, lots and lots of pitot. As a result, we have made some pretty ingenious dinners in addition to our beans and rice. Two nights ago we had a delicious salad with cucumber, apple, raisins, and dried apricots. Last night we made pizzas by shoveling tomato sauce and cheese into a pita pocket and melting it in a Panini maker. Last week I had a breakfast of lentils from two nights ago, chickpeas from the night before, raisins, and cottage cheese…slightly gross, but oddly satisfying.
I’ve also learned an important lesson – that desserts can be made of almost anything. We’ve made so many vegan desserts that I’ve come to believe that dairy and eggs are no longer needed in after-dinner treats. Last night we made oatmeal raisin cookies with sourdough starter and bananas to add texture and bulk. Some of us even have a odd habit of sneaking tehina into many of the desserts. Cinnamon also manages to go into about anything. Crazy cake, as it was in the bustan, is a typical dessert go-to, involving no eggs or dairy and instead vinegar and other odd things (at one point tehina, peanut butter, banana, and chocolate; another apples, cinnamon, and beer). When we bake things, the temperature is either ‘high,’ ‘low,’ or ‘somewhere in the middle.’ If we’re not sure the proper temperature, we just guess and adjust as needed.
It’s amazing, truly, how much I’ve learned about self care. I came in thinking that I could only cook if I actually knew how, that the people who could cook should and the rest of us could do the dishes after. And yet here I am, experimenting with desserts, making salads out of random fruits and veggies, adding odd and questionable spices to beans, putting cottage cheese or sour cream on everything I eat, and realizing that often the best foods are the least thought out. I’ve learned that something amazing and delicious can be made by experimentation and that I don’t have to know all the answers to fix a problem. Teenage hunger or social justice issues or environmental problems, they don’t need an expert every time for a difference to be made.
This past week we began our service work, a portion of which deals with the gender segregation on public buses. For a long time in Israel, Orthodox buses were allowed to be segregated by gender – men in the front, women in the back. Just recently, a law was passed stating that public buses can not legally be segregated for any reason. Coming from the states, it feels so ridiculous that buses would ever be segregated, much less for gender reasons. To be honest, at first I thought it happened only in theory; I thought there were only stories about very Orthodox buses that I would never see, yet on our first bus trip as a group, Laura was asked to sit in the back of the bus.
Over the past few days, I’ve wavered back and forth about the issue. At first I felt awkward making other people feel uncomfortable. Orthodox men and women segregate for modesty reasons – men are not supposed to look at women and women are supposed to cover themselves from men. Sitting in the front of the bus, I felt I was making Orthodox men uncomfortable, disrespecting their personal and religious beliefs about modesty. Yet what if it was a question of race? What if I was supposed to sit in the back because I was black and I made the other white people uncomfortable? No one would stand for that, it would be completely absurd to ask someone to move because of personal discomfort. There is no way that it can be in any respect acceptable to ask an individual to move because of who they are.
And yet, knowing I was on the right side of the argument didn’t make sitting in the front surrounded by religious men any less awkward or intimidating. The namesake of our program, the Freedom Riders, traveled together (men and women, black and white) on buses into seriously racist areas of the southern United States in the 1960s. They were harassed, beaten, threatened, and arrested. For their bravery, the US changed significantly in its acceptance of racism and use of public buses. Our service work today is nothing near as extreme as what the original Freedom Riders faced. The extent of our confrontations with Orthodox individuals has been people asking us to move to the back. Often, it’s simply awkward to be the only women sitting in the front and given a wide three-seat girth around which I am alone and no men will sit.
Though I am documenting my bus rides, I still at times feel the work is slightly futile. Even if I am the first to board a bus and I sit in the front, the other women who board later will always move to the back, regardless of the fact that I have clearly attempted to desegregate it. I believe, to them, I look like an outsider, who doesn’t need to follow the customs of their more orthodox culture while they must. I don’t know if the very orthodox buses can be desegregated by women like me, I think it must come from inside the community, from women who want change. It’s awkward and often horribly uncomfortable to go against family and community values, and for these women I hope that me sitting on the bus is at least reminding them that there are alternatives to constantly sitting in the back.
On our third day in the Jerusalem, we went with a women named Nava who showed us around East Jerusalem (the more Palestinian side of the city). Specifically, she brought us to the giant wall of the city that separates Jerusalem from the West Bank. She told us of the people who once lived with their neighbors and family, who are now cut off from the city because of the wall. People have lost access not just to the city of Jerusalem itself, but from potential jobs, from gas stations and restaurants, from hospitals and municipal services, and from their friends and family.
Not only does the city cut of the former residences from their services, but it also takes advantage of the Palestinians living within the city. All pay their taxes to establish their residency in the area, but most don’t vote because they don’t believe in the state of Israel. As a result, their municipal services are minimal and their power in the government is nearly nonexistent. I’ve met people here convinced that if Israel gives back the West Bank, the Palestinians will be happy. I disagree, the people who’s children and brothers and sisters have been killed, the people who have been kicked out from their homes, the people who have been divided from the cities and the culture will not be satisfied simply with the West Bank. It is not enough to give back only a portion and call it peace and justice. What is just here? What is the right thing to do? I wish I knew, I wish there was an easy answer.
It’s strange hearing this side of the story. Back home in the States, we were
always told that we should be proud of Israel and defend Israel and that it was the place for our people. That the conflict there is another way the Jews were struggling for their survival as they are constantly under attack. Yet I can see now that it is more complicated than that; I see that both sides have been aggressors.
I’ve met so many Americans here who either have made aliyah or want to make aliyah. They believe Israel is an amazing country and want to live here for the rest of their life. Obviously, Israel is an amazing place, yet for me its beauty and its incredible cities is not enough to merit a move. I’m not sure I can stand behind a country when I don’t know how I feel about the conflicts it is engaged in. Yes, I know this sounds hypocritical coming from the States, but I was born in the States, I didn’t choose to make my life there and my family and friends are Americans – the country offers not just conflict but also home for me. Israel, I don’t know if I could choose to make it my home. I don’t know if I want to feel that responsibility and sense of family for a country when I see both sides of the conflict. Many Americans, however, do identify with Israel and the Jewish people there. They speak as an entire Jewish population. Interestingly, the last person I heard say that the West Bank should be returned was a man from Berkley, California who said we should give back the West Bank, as though being a Jew gave him the rights and responsibilities of Jews in Israel. I don’t think that I identify like that. I feel a connection to the Jewish religion here and the Jewish people, but not with every person in Israel just because they are Jewish. I don’t think simply religion is enough of a bond for me to truly identify with and stand behind the state of Israel.
Lots of thoughts in my head, lots of controversy, but ultimately it’s been an incredible experience to even think about the situation here and what it means to me to be Jewish in the Jewish state.
When I first began thinking about my time at Kibbutz Lotan, I knew there would be a strong sense of community. Not only is the kibbutz bonded by its Jewish identity, but also the smaller size and distribution of individuals lends itself to building a tightly knit community. I did not realize until I arrived just how truly special a community Lotan is.
Starting off, the real connections began through the Bustan – namely the volunteers living here who knew other volunteers. It quickly became apparent that though there are separate groups (shinshinim, shnadis, volunteers, and GAs), our time together on the kibbutz has connected us. We are all roughly the same age and share the same responsibilities, recreational activities, and dining hall. Thanks to the size of the kibbutz, our lives overlap and our bond grows. That sense of community has been invaluable in the way that I have viewed my time here. There is so much value in meeting new people – the sense of community means that every single volunteer or student has an unspoken understanding of our time spent together here.
Just this evening, I visited my “adopted family” for the first time. Adopted families are families living here on the kibbutz that host living routes, shin shin, or shnadi students for Saturday dinner. They will also, over time, become a family on the kibbutz as the relationship develops. I had a lovely time with my family, enjoying the dinner and the discussion, but most of what I enjoyed was the sense of being welcomed into a home on the kibbutz. Here in the Bustan, we have spent so much time and energy on feeling at home and making the Bustan into our home for the next four months. Understandably, this initial rush to personalize and bond with our domes, moa’dome’, and kitchen is a sort of natural nesting action. However, in doing so we somewhat displaced the desire to feel at home in other homes on the kibbutz. Visiting a home and being welcome for dinner was such a beautifully understated way to dramatically change my thoughts about my permanence on the kibbutz. The more I interact with the permanent members, the more I can feel myself relaxing and putting down my four month roots here in the sandy desert soil.
I was talking to someone in the pool today about his volunteering at Lotan. He said: “It’s a really special place, I’m glad I was placed here.” There are big cities all over the world teeming with life, yet Lotan’s sense of community and family is so special and welcoming. The community clearly places huge value on the individual and their interaction with the world around them – every interaction has its purpose and its benefits. There is not only huge importance in living integrally with nature, but also with other people. Here at the kibbutz, lives from all over the world are knitted together and form a beautiful and colorful tapestry.
My name is Meg Rauner and I am a current resident of Chicago, IL…though I am soon to be a resident of Kibbutz Lotan in Israel. I am so looking forward to this Living Routes program.
I am a recent graduate from Walter Payton School in the city of Chicago. I was accepted early decision to Dartmouth College back in December of 2011. In March I chose to defer enrollment to spend a year traveling and learning throughout the world. I love to travel, hike, play and listen to music, and to meet new people. I think that this program in Lotan is the perfect way to kick-off my year abroad. It seems like such a fantastic place to spend time and learn about sustainability.
I was first inspired to join the program when I visited Lotan a couple of years ago and saw the student residence complete with a solar oven and ‘domatories.’ I was intrigued by the incredible sustainable way of life, but also by the pride the community members had for their work. It can be argued that the fight for sustainability is an uphill battle in today’s wasteful world. The people of Lotan have made that hard struggle into something beautiful: paintings, mosaics, and beautiful gardens and learning centers complete the kibbutz. For that reason, I was inspired to join this Living Routes program at Lotan.
Currently, thinking about this program and my goals for the year, I’m excited for the novelty. During this program, I’m looking to develop new skills and new perspectives. I don’t want to walk onto the kibbutz with a specific predetermined idea of how I want to spend my time. Rather, I look forward to trying on different roles and responsibilities. Some things I hope to be involved in at Lotan are already included in our program, including eco-building, sustainable agriculture, and most importantly discussions about community development. Looking at the website’s project list, I am also interested in the outreach programs – specifically those involving children. I have a background teaching and tutoring young children (I have volunteered in elementary schools and worked as a teacher in a kindergarten classroom). Hopefully I will be able to connect my skills from home and apply them to my time in Israel.
In that patchwork blog post, hopefully there was some information about me and the things that I am interested in. Overall, I want to study community development and community sustainability. I have a passion for teaching as well as learning. I am trying to approach this program with an open mind and prepare myself for new experiences and perspectives.
I am really excited to arrive at Lotan and I look forward to meeting everyone and starting what sounds like an absolutely fantastic program. See everyone in a few weeks!
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Wow, its the last week of the program. The time passes...