THE KIBBUTZ WITHOUT A NAME
BY RAPHAEL ROTHSTEIN
Copyright 2001 Raphael Rothstein
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Elliot Landau, a pleasant-looking, tallish man in his mid 50’s, climbed up and down the steep, rocky slopes, stopping now and then to study clusters of dun - colored broken walls and heaps of brownish boulders and to read the concise explanations the tourist authority provided on nicely designed signs. There were many quotes from the Roman-Jewish historian, Josephus, who had written that in the end the defenders chose suicide over slavery.
Tourist literature calls it the “Masada of the North,” this rugged mountain in the Golan Heights, which is ringed by a narrow valley. Some ancient travelers thought its shape resembles a camel and that is why it was named “Gamla.” Others see the site as anvil shaped.
The nationalist archeologists, who had first excavated it, promoted the saga of a brave Jewish rebellion against Roman rule in the First Century, an uprising aimed at re-establishing Jewish independence in the land. But like so many other stories, the popular version was now being challenged by writers of the new generation who shared a distaste for their elders’ myths.
After an hour or so, Landau returned to the ticket seller’s booth to ask advice on where to stop for lunch. The attendant was a member of a nearby kibbutz, a girl in her early 20’s and quite pretty, her black hair worn in a ponytail. She suggested the newly opened restaurant at her kibbutz called “The Gamla Inn.”
“The food is pretty good,” she said, “but it’s decorated with murals based on the Matityahu nonsense,” she added, using Josephus’ Hebrew name.
Elliot smiled at her. She apparently shared the dissenting view of this shrine.
“What about Josephus, you know, Matityahu,” asked Elliot. “You don’t agree with his account.”
“So convenient for him,” she said dismissively. She wore no makeup or jewelry, just jeans and a dark blue, snug T-shirt with “Gamla Fortress” written on it. “All the Roman ideas of honor: kill yourself rather than become a slave. It’s not very Jewish, this idea of suicide.”
“What about Masada?” Elliot asked, happy to be in a conversation.
“Oh,” she said with a little snort, “that’s pure Matityahu. The suicide business and he wasn’t even there. Just justifying himself and sucking up to the emperor. He was a traitor, you know, a Jew and an officer who went over to the Romans and wrote all that stuff to cover up his own traitory.”
“Treachery,” Elliot said, correcting her with a smile. “Your English is very good.”
She smiled back. “Thank you. You know, my teacher in the seminar used to say, ‘He who writes the history has the last laugh.’ We just don’t buy all that ‘brave and honorable’ suicide stuff, it’s not a Jewish thing. We’re supposed to choose life. Always.”
Elliot nodded sympathetically. “Well, it’s a powerful myth, Masada. How many millions of people go there and get the Josephus version? And here too,” he said, motioning to a rack of brochures.
She shrugged and flicked her hand in front of her face, as if shooing off pesky insects. “Never mind the history. This is a beautiful place. And today you can see the eagles below us there,” she said, pointing to a sign. “Go in that direction to the observation points.”
She was right to be enthusiastic about the eagles and hawks. After sighting the powerful, gliding, wide-winged birds, he decided they were as great an attraction as Gamla’s ruins and epic story.
It was the best time for a few days of touring in the Golan Heights. In May, right after Independence Day, everyone was back home after their excursions and family picnics. No crowds and fine weather. Elliot had started out early from the Galilee border town where he had spent the night and had crossed into the heights just as the day was warming. He soon came to the springs by the ruins of the Roman Temple devoted to Pan, god of nature. The Arabs, lacking a “P” sound in their language, called it Banyas. There were the inevitable columns and broken walls of a Roman ruin and a reconstruction of a graceful marble arch. A sign told of the devotions to Pan and the dance of wild goats in celebration of his life-affirming virility.
The flowing water and the lush, green thickets enclosing the ancient stone work and shards of pottery and glass made the place quite appealing and Elliot ordered coffee at the little snack stand with the idea of sitting there awhile and taking in the scene.
The couple in attendance were members of a kibbutz that owned the concession and they served the coffee with an indifferent air. He had noticed that at a lot of shops and restaurants around the country run by kibbutzim the service was almost always perfunctory and disengaged. The kibbutz workers were so unlike the shopkeepers and restaurateurs in the cities who were welcoming and friendly and tried to entice you with warm hospitality and bargains, especially in times of conflict when few tourists arrived. In many of the privately owned souvenir and jewelry shops you were offered coffee or tea, cake, cookies and halvah -- “Please, no obligation, Ahalan Wahalan, Baruch Haba. You are welcome. You do not have to buy, but just look at this. Please, no obligation.”
Most kibbutzniks waited on you, it seemed to Elliot, with an attitude of “we couldn’t care less - - buy, don’t buy, live, die; it’s all the same to us.”
He tried to make conversation with the couple, asking about the ceramic jugs and pots and other local handicrafts on display, but they were preoccupied with a discussion they’d been having about inventory and answered Elliot curtly, offering no opening for schmoozing.
So he particularly appreciated the friendly response of the good-looking girl at Gamla. As she had told him, there was a sign for the restaurant. He turned as indicated and thought he was on the right road until he had been driving for ten minutes without seeing a building. Then, after a few more kilometers, he saw a sign that just said “Kibbutz,” nothing else. It was odd, there being no name and nothing about a “Gamla Inn.” He saw a water tower and was soon driving by fenced-in fields that signaled the approach to the settlement. Even at the gate there was nothing more than the word “kibbutz” neatly painted on a white metal background.
The gate was open and he drove into a parking space and walked up to a small building where several teenagers were standing around on the terrace, smoking and talking, actually arguing about something.
They greeted him in a friendly manner, asking if they could help him. He saw a rusty metal box on a table.
“I’m looking for the Gamla Inn kibbutz restaurant.”
“How did you get here?” one of the girls asked. “It’s not around here.”
“I guess I took a wrong turn,” Elliot said, “I thought I was going in the right direction. What kibbutz is this?”
“Just plain kibbutz,” they said laughing. “We don’t have a name.”
“No name,” Elliot said, puzzled. “A kibbutz without a name?”
The boys and girls nodded with an air of resignation. He saw now that the rusty metal box on the table was actually an old Rolodex with many bits of paper in it.
“Why don’t you eat here with us,” one of the boys said, gesturing to a nearby building. “We’re going to lunch now.”
“Yeah,” the girl who had spoken first and who sounded American said, “you don’t have to go to the Gamla Inn. The food here is just as good.”
Elliot thanked them. “Are you sure it’s okay?”
They assured him he was welcome and he sensed they were glad to see him. Kibbutz people, in his experience, usually meant what they said. “What are you doing with that Rolodex?” he asked smiling. “It’s seen better days.”
One of the boys turned to the others and said in a tone of vindication in Hebrew, “You see, I told you it was called a Rolodex.”
“Where are you from,” he asked Elliot, returning to English. He, too, had an American accent.
“From the States. I’m just visiting here for a while.”
“Come to see the Golan Heights before we give it back, huh?” said the only girl who had spoken so far. “You know that we’re going to give it back, don’t you?”
The boy with the American accent said, “No more politics, okay? Maybe our guest has different opinions.”
The other boys and girls just looked at Elliot while the English-speaking pair continued arguing.
“Haim atem midabrim anglit?” Elliot asked, and one of the other kids replied, “Yes, we know some English, but not like Rafi and Ety. They’re from the States. But you speak Hebrew.”
“I studied here years ago,” Elliot explained, “long before your kibbutz was started, before the Six-Day War.”
“That was when the Syrians were here and they used to shoot at the kibbutzim below here, around the Kinneret,” Rafi said, using the Hebrew name for the Sea of Galilee.
“And they’ll be able to do it again when we leave here,” Ety said with considerable feeling. “It’s crazy to even think of giving this up.”
“Well, that may not happen so soon,” Elliot said. “I don’t think there’s any rush to leave the Golan.”
“Come,” Rafi motioned. “Let’s eat.”
In the dining room, they placed the Rolodex on a table while they went to wash their hands and take trays. Once they were seated, Elliot saw that the Rolodex was full of torn cards and tiny bits of paper stuck in all the sections. It reminded him of the notes that people put into the crevices of the Western Wall in Jerusalem.
“That’s a really old Rolodex,” Elliot said in a friendly way. “Where did get it? It looks like something from an archaeological dig.” He smiled at them but they all looked serious.
“Do you know archeology?” one of them asked as the others noisily ate soup.
“A bit. You’ve got some interesting stuff around here. I’m sure you know that. In ancient times, there were many Jewish settlements in the Golan Heights. There’s Gamla and the synagogue at Katzrin, and then there’s the Roman ruins, like the Banyas Temple, and even older places.”
They had stopped eating and were listening intently to Elliot, who felt somewhat uncomfortable lecturing to them. “I’m sure I’m not telling you things you don’t know.”
“We do know some of it,” one boy, who introduced himself as Binyamin, said slowly and seriously in a heavy accent “But we want to know about this place, about why we don’t have a name. We thought there’s maybe something in the Rolodex. It comes from the first settlement in 1968. Someone lost it or threw it away when the kibbutz moved to this place.”
“We found it last week when we were playing soccer,” Rafi said. “It was in a field all these years covered with dirt, just lying there all these years. The old-timers say it belonged to one of the original members who left a long time ago. He used to keep all sorts of information in it, not just names but all kinds of things, like receipts and notes, and lists of cattle and stuff about the milk.”
“What is it you’re trying to find?” Elliot asked. The dining room was full now, and quite a few people were staring at their table, but no one came over.
“We’re trying to find out what was here,” Ety said. “What was here a long time ago. Something to do with why we have no name. It’s ridiculous, isn’t it, to be called just ‘kibbutz?’”
“We’re the joke of the kibbutz movement,” the serious boy said. “Everyone are laughing at us.”
Ety corrected him and added, “It is a joke not to have a name.”
“Well, I suppose it’s up to the members,” Elliot said.
“They never deal with it,” Rafi said, and the others joined in, speaking Hebrew rapidly, saying it was a busha, a shame, and tiruf, craziness, that such a veteran and well-established settlement on the Golan should be without a name.
Elliot looked around the clean, airy dining room and the counters and steam tables loaded with soup, fish, meats and vegetables and said, “Believe me, in many parts of the world no one would be laughing at you. They’d envy what you have, with or without a name.”
They ate for a few minutes without talking, and then Elliot asked, “What’s your address?”
“Rural mail, Golan Heights,” Rafi said impatiently. “The Post Office knows us. Everything is just addressed ‘Kibbutz.’ The Post Office knows everyone’s name.”
“So what happens when you raise the issue with the Kibbutz council?” Elliot tried to make it seem like he was asking all of the boys and girls, not just Rafi and Ety.
But it was Ety who replied. “They say no one can agree on a name, so they just leave it and say it’ll be brought up at the general meeting. But whenever it is, it’s always postponed. Supposedly there’s a committee that’s going to propose some names and then there’ll be a vote, but it never happens. The members don’t really care; they just want it the way it is.”
“Thirty years here and we’ve done all right just the way we are,” Rafi mimicked the usual stubborn response of the older members whenever the question of a name came up.
“What do we need it for?” the serious boy said with the same mocking intonation.
“So, how’re you doing with that Rolodex?” Elliot asked. “Find anything?”
“No, nothing,” Rafi said. “Nothing useful.”
“Are there any kibbutz records, archives of early documents, like correspondence?” Elliot wanted to know.
“Avner, he’s the Kibbutz chairman, he lets us see files and correspondence,” Ety said, “but everything’s just addressed ‘Kibbutz, Rural Delivery, Golan.’ This place has never had a name.”
“The old place was originally an army outpost,” Rafi added, “Golan 109. But the army never gave this location a name.”
“What about the Druze around here?” Elliot asked. “What do they remember about this spot?”
“We’ve spoken to them,” Ety explained, “but since there wasn’t anything here before us they just call it the ‘area.’ There’s no village name or anything like that.”
“And in the region? Archives in Katzrin or Metullah or Haifa?” Elliot asked, mentioning the main centers of the Golan and Galilee.
“We were at the University library in Haifa and there’s a lot about ancient things nearby, but nothing right here,” the other girl, the one who had not spoken in English so far, said. She apparently was feeling comfortable enough to risk a mistake. She pointed to a framed photo on the wall showing a huge, flat basalt rock perched on two large upright rocks in the rough shape of a table. “That’s called a ‘dolman’ .”
“Yes,” Elliot said, “I’ve heard of them. They think they’re very ancient burial sites-- they have them in Europe too.”
“They do?” the girl asked, surprised. “We thought they are special here.”
“No, it’s interesting,” Elliot said, pausing to sip his coffee. “But these ancient forms are found all over the world. The name ‘dolman’ actually comes from the ancient Breton language meaning “dul-table, man-rock.”
“You know a lot,” Ety said and looked at Elliot with a new intensity.
Elliot blushed. “No, I don’t, but I’m a teacher, so I’m supposed to sound like I do -- it’s a professional pose.”
He smiled and when she translated his answer, all the teenagers laughed good naturedly.
“It would be very good,” the serious boy said, “if you could help us find out about this place. Maybe we could find a good name.”
How about Kibbutz Shem Tov?” Elliot said, using the Hebrew for “a good name.”
They laughed again and Avner, the chairman, came over to the table.
“Ma hainyanim -- what’s going on?” He asked in a cheerful way. “You guys seem to be having a good time.”
A tall, heavy man, over six feet, Avner had the kind of build people call bearlike. His face and expression were open and friendly. Elliot liked his look.
“We’re working on a name,” Ety said.
“Oh, that again,” he said in a tone of slight exasperation while offering his hand to Elliot. Naim meod. I’m Avner Barzilai. Pleased to meet you.”
“Elliot Landau, and I’m afraid it’s my fault. I stopped to ask directions for the Gamla Inn and I wondered why the kibbutz has no name.”
“You’re welcome to our kibbutz,” Avner said. “But as they say, ‘what’s for a name?’ It’s still an all right place, even without a name.”
“Oh, yes,” Elliot agreed. “It’s more than all right. It’s beautiful here. And you seem to be doing well with your farming - bili eyin hara.”
“Yes,” Avner laughed, holding up his hand in a high-five movement, the fingers spread apart. “Let’s not tempt the evil eye. I see you have some Hebrew.”
Elliot nodded. “I studied at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem many years ago.”
“Me too,” Avner said. “I studied in Jerusalem for a while; archaeology, just for a year, a kibbutz sabbatical about four years ago.”
“This is a wonderful area for archaeology,” Elliot said.
Avner nodded agreeably. “You mentioned our farming, but actually that’s pretty much petered out as far as income is concerned. Most agriculture can’t compete abroad any more. Our apples do well on the domestic market, but our best hope now is our olive oil. We have a good grade here and we’ve developed some attractive specialty packaging. It’s starting to take off, but we need to do a lot of marketing and advertising. You can imagine there’s a lot of competition.”
The young people at the table showed signs of restlessness as Avner spoke and Elliot sensed they wanted to get back to what they had been talking about.
“We play up the biblical angle and we’re finding our niche, “ Avner continued. He pronounced it like the German philosopher’s name. “I come across that word all the time in the marketing magazines.”
“It’s not my field,” Elliot said, “but I know packaging and image are important.”
“Yes,” Avner said. “In the restaurant business they say it’s the sizzle, not the steak that sells.”
“You’ve been very hospitable,” Elliot said getting up. “I enjoyed lunch.”
“It’s our pleasure, “ Avner replied warmly.
“We have to go now,” Rafi said. “We have classes, but maybe you can stay with us tonight. We really like talking to you.”
The other boys and girls agreed enthusiastically and Avner nodded saying, “Yes, you should stay tonight. We have nice cottages facing the Hermon, and we’d be delighted to have you as our guest.” Without waiting for Elliot’s answer, he said, “They want to clean the dining room now so come and have a coffee in my office.”
Elliot shook hands with the boys and girls and thanked them. He was going to say that he would like to stay the night, but he realized that as far as everyone was concerned it was already agreed upon.
As they came out on the terrace of the dining hall, Elliot was moved by the view of the green fields extending a great distance to black basalt rocks and beyond to the snow-covered Hermon peak dominating the horizon.
“This is such a beautiful place,” he said and Avner nodded.
“Yes, it does seem like paradise. I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.”
Avner’s office was a glassed-off area in the corner of a large warehouse where bottles of olive oil were packed and readied for shipment to specialty grocery and gift shops around the country and for export. It was the latter market, he explained, that they were trying to expand.
“I just got this machine,” Avner said, showing Elliot a gleaming espresso maker as he busied himself inserting a plastic capsule into an opening in front of the device.
“No grounds to mess with. The coffee is in these little plastic cups and when I push this little lever it punctures them and then the hot water is forced through and the coffee comes out. It’s Italian, very good coffee, and it really sells here. People love it; nothing to clean up. You just throw out the empty capsule. They made a big promotion, offering the machines cheap and then, of course, people keep buying the coffee. I wish we had a gimmick like that for our olive oil.”
A plainly dressed woman in her 60’s came into the office and without speaking laid some faxes on Avner’s desk.
“Todah,” he said. She smiled at both of them and left.
“That’s Renate. She doesn’t talk much, but she’s a wonderful assistant - - really keeps everything moving. She’s from the first group that came here. A Holocaust survivor. She was born in Poland and hidden during the war by her parents with nuns who were terrified that someone would hear her speaking Yiddish and betray them. So they were always shushing her.
“After the war, she settled on one of the kibbutzim survivors started below, and for years she would look up and see the Hermon every day
“Some of us grew up in sight of it. It was like a forbidden Shangri-La. We would dream about reaching it. So as soon as the fighting was over in ‘67 - - well before the government took a decision about settling this area - - we formed a group and came up. We told the army there were herds of abandoned cattle roaming around up here and they had to be rounded up and vaccinated before hoof-and-mouth disease spread to the animals below.
“The army commanders thought it was a good idea anyway to have civilians around and let us stay in what had been a Syrian army camp. There was still smoke from the brush fires caused by the shelling and there were land mines and the wrecks of army vehicles and burnt-out tanks everywhere.” Avner stopped and looked at Elliot. “Is your coffee all right?”
Elliot nodded, “Delicious,” and Avner was encouraged to continue.
“It was summer and we were roughing it. We found orchards with ripe fruit and the Syrian supplies with cans of meat from China and preserves, but we couldn’t sleep on the mattresses - - they were full of bed bugs. We tried to smoke them out, but you couldn’t get rid of them. Soon, some volunteers came from the states and Europe and we had a good time. It was a big adventure being up here that first year. There really wasn’t a work plan or any system, but being kibbutznicks we were disciplined to go to work every day and people tended to do what they liked. Renate took over the kitchen - - she was older than the rest of us - - and the others harvested the fruit. The fields were prepared for planting and we got loads of equipment from the kibbutzim below.”
He stopped to make another round of coffee. “Am I boring you?”
“No, no,” Elliot protested. “Please go on. I never really knew how things got started up here.”
“Well,” Avner continued, happy to have such an attentive listener. “As the months went on, things got more established. Several people joined us and so did the first families with young children. We knew then we would have permanent settlements. We planted crops and put in apple trees and grapevines.
“The army was all for it and the government made it policy. That first winter we played in the snow on the Hermon. Imagine finally being in a place that had been forbidden. Now we controlled the heights from where the Syrians always shelled us. It was exciting, believe me, exciting.”
Avner offered Elliot a short Dutch cigar and took one himself, lighting them both with an old Zippo bearing the U.S. Marine Corps insignia. He held it in the palm of his hand. “A souvenir from my time at Camp Lejeune in South Carolina in the late 60’s. That was an experience. I was just a young officer and the army decided to send me to a survival course. I never regret it. I learned a lot of useful things living in the woods and swamps and some of those guys were tough, let me tell you. I also learned a lot of slang - - You bet your ass.”
Elliot joined in Avner’s laughter for a moment until the intercom buzzed and Avner excused himself to take a call. He spoke in Hebrew about marketing and promotion and Elliot could follow it pretty well. He looked around the office and noticed a glass-topped paperweight on Avner’s desk. It bore a seal inscribed with the words, “Ten Years of Golan Settlement.”
When Avner finished the call, he explained that a Tel Aviv marketing expert, a woman who had once lived at the kibbutz, was helping them with a marketing campaign.
“A big project -- brochures, press materials, ads, and even a video. Very ambitious. She’s first rate and she’s still a member of the kibbutz so she doesn’t charge us a fee. You’ll meet her this weekend.”
“Well, I’m only staying until tomorrow,” Elliot said.
“No, stay for the week-end! You’ll enjoy it. Is there someplace you have to be?”
“No, I’m just touring for a few days before settling down in Jerusalem for awhile.”
“What do you do?” Avner asked as he refilled Elliot’s cup.
“I’ve just retired from twenty-five years of community college, teaching English in Boston, and I decided I’d like to study Hebrew literature at the University. I’ve always wanted to go back.”
“No,” Elliot said, “divorced, but no children. I’m going to be in Applefeld’s seminar.”
“Great!” Avner said with enthusiasm. “That’s wonderful. I loved my year in Jerusalem. You know, I think college is wasted on young people. It’s now at this age, when we know something about life, that the university is a gift - - brilliant professors, lectures, the library, schmoozing and concerts - - a gift. And the girls; just to be around young people.” He smiled and paused to sip his coffee and re-light his cigar.
“Are you lonely sometimes?” he asked lightly in a sharp departure from the intense tone of his previous discourse.
“Yes, sometimes I am,” Elliot admitted. “But you get used to doing things alone.” He found it easy to talk to Avner who nodded sympathetically and sipped his coffee.
“Anyway, stay the weekend. On Shabbat we can walk and I’ll show you the ruins of some of the 4th century Jewish villages around here. There’s the synagogue at Katzrin that Gutman excavated. It’s pretty close. Ancient Jewish settlement in the Golan, that’s my subject,” he said with an air of satisfaction.
Later in the afternoon, Elliot was sitting contentedly reading on the porch of the guest cottage when Rafi and Ety and the other young people from lunch called on him. It was warm and a certain languor seemed to affect everyone. They were not as animated as before, but were curious about the guidebook Elliot had set down on the small table next to his chair.
“Anything about this area?” Binyamin asked.
“No,” Elliot replied, “There’s not much here about the Golan -- just the main attractions -- Banyas, Gamla, Katzrin.”
“What about Rujum Al Hiri?” Binyamin asked. He seemed to be the only one with enough energy to carry on a line of questioning.
“I don’t know what that is,” Elliot said.
“It’s a very old place,” Binyamin said. “Like Stonehenge in England. Circles of rocks that they think maybe was a temple of a sun religion. But nobody really knows. Hard to get to. You must go in a jeep.”
“I’d like to see that sometime,” Elliot said, and then, as a thought occurred to him, he continued. “There seem to be a lot of possibilities here for a name; you have all the ancient places. Why not something based on one of these sites?”
“Not authentic,” Ety said. “We think it’s got to be something from our experience here.”
“We’ve waited so long anyway,” said Tali, a small, dark-skinned girl who had said little until now. “The old-timers say it should be something that’s connected to the scenery, like ‘Hill of Pines’ or something like that.”
They talked a bit more and then Elliot was invited to go swimming with them. The kibbutz boasted a large, well-maintained pool fed constantly by springs.
At dinner, Avner welcomed Elliot to his table where an attractive, blonde woman with high cheekbones, who looked like she could have been in her mid 40’s, was already seated. She wore smartly tailored slacks and a white sweater and no jewelry except earrings and was certainly more stylish than the other women in the dining hall. ”This is Hila,” Avner said. “Hila Sadeh, our marketing maven I told you about. She surprised us by coming a day earlier. I’ve told her about you too.”
“Yes,” she smiled. “I understand you’re helping the kids in their quest for identity.”
“Well, I don’t know about that,” he said, thinking that Hila was really quite beautiful. “Just schmoozing with them about a name.”
“And you’re from Boston,” she said with interest. “I studied there at B.U. I was in an international media program. I love that town.”
“I also went to B.U.” Elliot said, pleased at this unexpected connection.
“B.U., Hebrew University,” Avner said cheerfully. “We’ve got a little alumni circle going at our kibbutz that, how do they say ‘ shall remain nameless.’ ”
“Yes, we’re protecting the innocent,” Hila said, smiling at Elliot.
“Did you study in Jerusalem too?” Elliot asked.
“Yes, I did my B.A. there. I don’t know why, but the members here who want to study always prefer Jerusalem rather than Haifa or Tel Aviv.”
“That’s because we’re snobs,” Avner said. “Hebrew University is the Ivy League in this country.”
“ B.U. isn’t Ivy League” Hila added, “but it’s a fine school anyway.”
“I can only agree,” Elliot added.
Elliot again marveled at the quality and abundance of the food. He could see that Hila felt at home here and members stopped at their table to greet her warmly and exchange updates on families and mutual friends. As far as Elliot could tell, she was single and apparently divorced because there was no mention of a husband, only her grown children, a son and a daughter.
“Do your children live on the kibbutz?” Elliot asked Hila. She shook her head and made a little kissing sound with her lips that he had come to recognize as ‘No’ in this country.
“Mine don’t either,” Avner added. “ Hardly any of the grown kibbutz children do. They all move away.”
“What about Rafi and Ety and the others who are so anxious to have a name? Elliot asked. “They seem dedicated.”
“Yes, they do,” Avner said as he rolled an unlit cigar between his fingers. “But later, after the army and studying, they won’t want to live here.”
“I know I didn’t,” Hila said. “You have to be a special type to stay on. For a lot of us who grew up on a kibbutz it’s too limiting. Maybe when we’re older we’ll come back.”
“So we have the very young and the old, the grandparents, the ones who wanted to build a new order. But the heirs don’t want the inheritance,” Avner said. “ And some of them aren’t even ready to defend it. Imagine, a place like this, a beautiful enterprise, a fine way of life and we have no one to give it to. Who knows what will be here when we’re gone.”
“Maybe,” Hila said, “we won’t have to face that.”
“Oh,” Avner said, “you mean if the government gives back the Golan in a peace agreement? That could happen, I know, but we live here as if we’re staying permanently -- we make plans, build, expand our business like normal. How else could we go on?”
Hila and Elliot looked at him but were silent.
“You know,” Avner continued, “it’s a consensus issue in this country, keeping the Golan.”
“That can change,” Hila said.
Avner merely nodded. They ate in silence for awhile and Elliot wished the conversation would start up again.
Hila was the first to speak again, this time, it seemed, more to Elliot than Avner.
“I think it’s inevitable that we’ll leave the heights. How can 15,000 settlers force the nation’s hand? The mood is for peace and everyone knows there’ll be no deal with the Syrians unless they get this land back.”
“It seems a shame,” Elliot said, looking at both Hila and Avner. “Such a beautiful place.”
Avner again just nodded, this time with a small smile, but Hila replied quickly, “Yes, a shame, but zeh hoo zeh, that’s it; if we want peace with Syria, that’s the price.”
“And, as you said, Avner, everyone here works and plans as if you’re staying,” Elliot said. “Interest in a name is also an attempt at permanence.”
“Man tracht un Gott lacht -- man plans and God laughs. So who knows what will be,”
Avner said. “But this border with Syria has been quiet since ’73. So maybe, like they say, ‘If it’s fixed, don’t break it.’ “
“I don’t think there can be any other way,” Hila said firmly, looking directly at Avner. “Not if we want peace.”
Avner started to get up. “Let’s have coffee at my place. I’ve got those sesame cookies you like Hila.”
She smiled at Elliot. “Avner always knows what’s important.”