At age 10, I joined the Habonim Labor Zionist Youth Group in Baltimore, not knowing how significantly this event would change my life. Our group of age-relevant members met weekly in the fall and winter studying Hebrew, participating in Israeli songs and dances, and discussing Jewish history and social justice issues. Every summer, we attended Habonim camp Moshava which was modeled after the kibbutz movement. All the campers joined in daily activities which included exercises and stretches before the raising of the flag, work around the grounds, singing and dancing, special nightly programs and Shabbat. During the eight years that followed, I strengthened my connection to Jewish culture and established solid friendships that would last a lifetime.
After graduating high school, I decided to spend a year before college working on a kibbutz and touring Israel on Habonim’s Workshop program. In New York, I met with thirty-nine other graduates from all over the country and boarded The SS Israel Zim Lines ship for the two-week trip across the Atlantic and Mediterranean. Being hurricane season, the crossing in the Atlantic was very rough, and many passengers got sick. Once we entered the Mediterranean, it was like sailing on ice; and we stopped at Madeira and Athens. The most emotional moment occurred as we approached Haifa and all the people on the boat got on the deck and sang Hatikva…the national anthem of Israel.
We were loaded on trucks and shuffled off to Kibbutz Gesher HaZiv --“Bridge of Splendor”—located in the Western Galilee, north of Akko on the Mediterranean just south of the Lebanese border. The weather was gorgeous, and we were introduced to our kibbutz “families” – those who would work to make us feel “at home” throughout the year. Along with Sam Flesher, another Workshop participant, I was assigned to the Malinovsky family. This included Ishai, who was funny, warm and loved acting, and Orah, also loving, who was an extraordinary baker, as well as their two children, Hila and Zohar.
The housing consisted of one-story train-like buildings with 2 people sharing each of four to six rooms; and there were also a few spacious cabins built for six people in each side. All these accommodations were on a hill overlooking the Mediterranean Sea with a view to the north of Rosh Hanikra, the Lebanese border. It was a very romantic setting, and often, we would watch incredibly beautiful sunsets.
Our daily schedule began with waking up at 6 a.m. for coffee and rolls in the dining hall. Then we were off to work until lunchtime. I worked with turkeys— doing everything from hatching growing chicks, to sending them off to market. Others were assigned such jobs as harvesting fruit in the banana fields, picking cotton, taking care of children, washing and drying laundry, and cooking and cleaning in the kitchen. After lunch, there were classes in the Hebrew language, Literature, and History. Dinner was in the dining hall, and often we would go to our families for coffee and home-made desserts. Then off to bed to collect energy for work the next day.
Every now and then, we would go on a local hike or a trip to Tel Aviv or Jerusalem. One of the most exciting excursions involved walking for two days from a point in the desert to Masada.
When the year came to an end, I was an expert in raising turkeys, had bonded with an Israeli family I loved, made life-long friends, and had become fluent in Hebrew. Life in Israel felt more relaxing than in America because every day the focus was on the beauty of nature and an appreciation of human needs for food, shelter, family and friends. There was no emphasis on material possessions or social status. The most important insight was the realization that I felt I had found my real home. Sailing back to New York on The SS Israel, I could feel the pull of this country, which has never left me.
Questions or comments may be addressed to Sue Liberman at firstname.lastname@example.org