A Letter, Re: Kfar Giladi

Posted on Updated on

Dear Friends and shul-mates,

I was so excited to hear that you will be visiting and staying for three days in Kfar Giladi. This kibbutz was my home for 5 ½ years between 1981- 1987. I want so much to be showing you the kibbutz myself, in my way, as I used to do for English and French-speaking groups back then. I will have to trust someone else to do the job.

I have alerted by cousins that you are coming and I hope they will come forward to say hello or perhaps show you around. I say, I hope, because one of the traits of kibbutzniks is their reticence or shyness. That can be interpreted as aloofness or sometimes downright rudeness. It is this reticence that contributed to my learning to speak Hebrew fluently. Although they may understand and speak English, the adults tend not to try. Therefore I struggled and conquered Hebrew.

Kfar Giladi is one of the oldest kibbuzim. In its earliest period, it was called Kfar Giladi-Tel Hai. Tel Hai is directly below, on the way to the main road. Make sure your guide tells you about the heroism and massacre at Tel Hai. It is part of the early “mythology” of the country and its self image. Ask about Yosef Trumpeldor. Some of you may already know the story. Anyway, this history can be learned in the Museum of the Shomrim which is on the kibbutz overlooking the entire Hula Valley. The museum is worth seeing. Go all the way to the top and see the reconstituted room of Israel and Manya Shochat, early players.

After you pass the gates of the kibbutz (There are fences all around the kibbutz and the entrance is guarded at night. Ask to be shown this feature. And ask to be shown the early bunkers from the 1948 period that look out to the Golan!) …the first thing on your left is the cemetery. It has all the Shomrim buried there and is a must see. Check out the famous statue of the Guarding Lion. Additionally, if you enter from the right-hand gate, the first gravestone on your left belongs to my father’s first cousin and who shares my father name. Since my father Sioma Trigère, chose to be cremated in California and I was living on the kibbutz at the time, my cousin Shlomo Triger’s grave served as a stand in for me. I would be grateful if someone would stop and leave a pebble there for me.

I came to Kfar Giladi on Dec. 25, 1981. I was divorcing in Jerusalem and I had no means of support, had relatives in Kfar Giladi, and a keen interest in the kibbutz ideal. So I asked to be a visitor for 6 months with my 2 daughters. I didn’t know then that my situation was presented as a “mikre sociali” (a needs case!). I would have been embarrassed to know that then. At the time I wasn’t feeling pathetic or needy. I was thrilled to be on kibbutz. At the end of six months, I asked to be a candidate. This requires a vote which went my way overwhelmingly. That’s called a vote of confidence, I guess. A year later, the general assembly voted again overwhelmingly to make me a “haverat meshek,” which translated means “a member of the economic unit.” A kibbutz sees itself as an economic unit. Ask the Rabbi about the root meaning of kibbutz.

Now I want to tell you a bit about the less obvious aspects of kibbutz life. This stuff I would discuss with tourists who were particularly lively and interested. Not all were!

With all the emphasis on equality, how do people get status in a supposedly status-less society? Well, there are basically 2 ways:

One, is by marrying into large and older clans—the older the better. That is, if you are a descendant of founders you have status. Larger is important because even if members of one clan may disagree and quarrel with each other, they can form a voting block. The General Assembly met once a month in my time, and shares all the features of a town meeting.

Two, is by the job you have. And that depends on the decade we are speaking of. So in the early days, working the earth was the highest status; then working outside in the regional counsel might do it (One needed a different set of clothes for this job); later it might be “shu shu work” in Europe. This was secret forays into Europe during and after the war to get Jews out, and into Palestine. Still later, working in an income producing, rather than a support branch of the kibbutz was seen as status. More recently, while I was there, I perceived that status was arrived at by working at any income producing job that “required” the use of a car. All the cars are owned by the kibbutz and are assigned as needed to members—for work or, as available, for pleasure. If you had a car for your job, you could sort of park it near your apartment and it sort of looked like your own car. I’m smiling as I recount these thoughts and theories, but I am serious.

Now for women it’s different. When I arrived in Kfar Giladi there was only one other woman who had a driver’s license! And, she, and most future female drivers only used an automatic shift. What I figured out was that women achieved status when they had jobs that no one would consider having them leave to replace another female at the latter’s place of work (i.e. should they be ill or have to be elsewhere.) In my third or fourth year I had achieved that position; that’s how I figured it out.

When I complained about being stuck in my long over due six-month stint in the kitchen, I was told that one usually finds one’s place in the work world by five years. Work. Now that is a really important part of kibbutz life! How you work is critical to how you are perceived. Being seen as a hard worker is the best compliment. I guess, seeing the crazy American taking on the cleaning of the kitchen was a way of advertising what a valuable member of the kibbutz I would be. I was working in this highly visible job when I was a candidate. By the way, some of those huge titling pots came from an American Naval ship that was sold in Haifa many years back.

Let me tell you one of the things I learned on the kibbutz:

The world is run by how well connected you are. This Upper East Manhattanite needed to come to kibbutz to learn this. And basically, this principle is the main reason I finally left the kibbutz. Inequity, in a society built on equity, is galling, whereas in a capitalistic system, it’s just annoying. I’ll be glad to tell you anecdotes about this when you return.

Here’s a question I would ask the tourist audience, after I had told them all the wonderful aspects of kibbutz life: “So, don’t you want to know what’s wrong or difficult on kibbutz?” They all did, of course. Imagine, I would say, that you have a disagreement with your neighbor about their encroaching collection of plants on your shared stairwell. Consider very carefully, before you explode at their stubborn refusal to cooperate or compromise, because… his sister watches over your child in kindergarten, his father is your “boss” at work, his wife’s mother sorts and folds your laundry, his brother is the work manager for the teens of which you have two. You can see the ramifications!

So, lack of privacy is a big issue. In the old, old days, one of the ways they dealt with privacy was not to show emotions, affection, etc. in public. In public, couples did not hold hands, no hugging and such. The people my age on the kibbutz were second and sometimes third generation kibbutznikim. Their cultural style was cool, aloof, taciturn. I believe this comes from this privacy issue. When I arrived with my hugs, my family was distinctly uncomfortable. But, they hugged me willingly when I visited last year. Things have changed. But, watch it: Gossip Reigns!

Things I want you to see, visit or ask to be shown:

  • The first building, a wonderful two-story stone structure now, housing the archives.
  • the infirmary/nursing home. The very young and the elderly are very well cared for on kibbutz.
  • the senior activity center (next door) Notice the large stain glass window there. I had forgotten that I had donated it to them when I returned to the States. It’s a bit incongruous.
  • Children “houses.” In my time, the children lived at home but spent the day in these houses. When they were of school age they would start the day with breakfast in the “house” and go the school, return for lunch and then return to school. Each child has a metapelet (a caretaker) and a teacher. See the toddler houses (where groups of 6 & 12 children spend the entire day) and the baby house. Each mother has a beeper and is called for feedings. In my day, the women in the baby house took their floor washing very seriously. When I sat on the floor with the tiny babies—it was an innovation. And check out the older children’s set up too.
  • children’s bomb shelters (so you see where they are living when you read about it in the papers)
  • the laundry. A must! Go see the windows where members sort their wash according to color, fragility, etc. And then peek in at the laundry itself. Then walk further to the area where things are ironed. There are huge mangle irons for sheets, etc. ( A Dutch volunteer once had an accident and lost her arm in one of these. I was sent to accompany her to the hospital in Tel Aviv and stay with her until the Dutch Embassy took her home.) Check out the room where all the clothes are folded and put into individual cubbies for each memebr. The children’s laundry is done in big batches and sorted in their”houses” by the “metapelets.” This room is the best selling tool for kibbutz life!!
  • Nearby ask to see the little stone building that serves as a shul during the high holidays. Some of you may have heard my story about this building on my first Rosh Hashana on Kfar Giladi. When I arrived there they were, a few older atheistic kibbutznikim, davening in Ashkenaz and there was a mehitza! I was non-plussed. Time warp. This is where they left off in Poland in 1925.
  • the Shomrim Museum. My oldest daughter had her Bat Mitzvah in the lower hall overlooking the Hula Valley. How a girl became a traditional Bat Mitzvah in an orthodox service is a story I will gladly tell and retell.
  • the theater. (Gosh, those evenings watching movies there were great. We all had our usual seats, so I remember being the first to laugh, to get it, when the cowboys around the campfire in Blazing Saddles lifted their rumps off their seats to pass gas. Everyone knew it was me!
  • the Gym. Once the largest northern gym, so all the major basketball games and teams came to us.
  • the library, which includes a good English library. I volunteered to run it. Mostly the foreign volunteers used it, but there were some serious English readers. It now is handled by my first neighbor Pesach Basevitz. He helped me translate my letters and poems into Hebrew. He is a vegetarian who was asked (forced) to become the tavoin, the pest exterminator of the kibbutz. When he was told to do something about the growing cat population, he revolted and I relinquished the English librarian post so he could thrive. We have sent them many boxes of books. When I was there, the library was in an old stone building. There are several of these buildings left along the central field of the kibbutz facing the old and the new dining halls. They are elsewhere too. First they lived in tents, then the stone houses, and then each succeeding wave of concrete neighborhoods.
  • Where the teens live—a 3-building complex
  • The apartments for those who are or have done their army service.
  • the pools. I hope you brought a bathing suits. New to me was the gigantic indoor swimming pool in the hotel.
  • typical family apartments. For those who are curious, ask to see where I, Hanna Triger lived. In my last apartment I lived in a block with yekkes—Jews of German origin. They came in the thirties and are culturally very different from the Poles and Russians who founded the kibbutz. They were mostly more educated, too.
  • the large kitchen. It’s fascinating, I think. Make sure you try to get one evening meal there with the members. Or walk through during lunch. All eyes will be on you whether you notice it or not. Believe me. What you will not see is the sociology of the seating arrangements at lunch. This is truly interesting, and I will happily tell you more about it when you come home…if you wish.
  • Notice, as you walk around the older neighborhoods (near the children’s houses) how some residents display their sculpture and pottery in their gardens.
  • The metal shop, the mess of discarded old farming storage buildings reflecting different stages of development.
  • the cows! 300 or so cows are milked 3 times a day. Can you imagine. This was Shabbat work (everyone was required to give a half day once a month on Shabbat to support ongoing concerns. I chose the refet, the milking station. I would have to leave the carousel to change the gates for the cows. At 5 am I would look at the sun rise and say to myself: I’m a long way from Manhattan!”And you’ll say the equivalent.

I hope I have given you a sense of it all. Take pleasure and tell me your impressions when you come home.

My relatives are Temie Triger, her daughter Yudit Triger and her half sister Tamar Meron. Yudit has 2 children. My friend Katie Kroll may come find you. She once was an English volunteer, married a founder’s son and raised 5 daughters there.


Jane Trigère
aka Hanna Triger