I wrote a blog about the topic of our most 'interesting' ancestor. Although I think a lot about people who are not related to to me. People I talked to and got to know a little bit and care about their stories. When I was 22 years old in the summer of 1986 after visiting Spain I went to Isreal after reading about it in a travel guide while taking one of those one month Europass student train rides. Perhas growing up on an Indian Reservation made me curious about small communities. I had few expectations and little understanding of what I would encounter I did ask someone at American Express if they thought it was okay and they said yes. I went to the Kibutz volunteer center in Tel Aviv and was directed to Kibutz Netzer Sereni. It is just outside Tel Aviv about a twenty or thirty minute public bus ride. Near a small town that we would eat at a fast food stand sometimes. The Kibbutz system is fading in modern times for a variety of reasons.
They have a website on facebook now and also are on wikipedia. I just thought of looking these things up this year. When I arrived at the Kibbutz I had met another travler in my youth hostel and we signed up together. They have a lot of volunteers from Europe and the office is used to people showing up and it was just a matter of a few phone calls for the volunteer coordinator to organize our stays. My first impression walking up the main entranceway was that it was pretty. The walls had lots of roses growing and it seemed like a country atmosphere. We met the lady that managed the volunteers and we were assigned a rooms in a small cabin. There were five three room cabins each with a bathroom not far from the sea. That is where I spent my summer.
I smoked back then and must have really annoyed my roommates now that I think about it. There were two other girls in our room besides me. There names were Judith and Ina both from Holland. There were two other rooms in our cabin and all the people seemed nice and easy going. I would guess there were about 20 of us that summer from different countries, mostly Jewish kids who had connections in Isreal and assorted travelers like me. It was a friendly atmosphere. I was not a confident person and was a little nervous about doing this but the situation seemed so nice I felt comfortable. I was assigned working in the laundry. I must admit that I was a little disappointed as the other people got assigned farm jobs and I felt kind of sad. Now I am grateful because I had gotten to meet Ani.
Ani managed the laundry which was a lot of work I can imagine doing this as your regular job. As the kibbutz had a community laundry and people could have their own washers and dryers if they wanted also. They used old military clothes to work in so we washed a lot of those. Ani didn't speak English very well and he spoke German, Hebrew and Yiddish. He was a Holocaust survivor. He had met his wife after their liberation who also was a Holocaust survivor. They were 15 and 16 when they met. They came to Isreal together and had three children and built up the Kibbutz with a group from the Burchenwald Camp. They at first even named the Kibbutz Burchenwald and later changed it to Netzer Sereni after an Italian WWII Freedom fighter.
We didn't have a lot to talk about because of the language barrier and the work in the laundry was really hard. I would say we hit it off and were happy in each others company. I only stayed about a month in the laundry and than was assigned lawn and garden work and also some time doing other types of work to replace a lady who went on vacation. (I must admit that I was relieved as I didn't love doing laundry or anything) The month I spent with Ani he told me that he had survived the the concentration camp because he was so young and small. If I understood him correctly he said that everyone received the same bread ration and he lost weight more slowly as a result of his small size. Also he said because he was 14 years old he also was in good health to begin with and that the war was nearly over when he was captured so he got out alive.
I didn't know what a kibbutz was when I arrived there really or any of the politics or anything. I am not Jewish and don't really have any strong beliefs about Isreal. The kibbutz system was basically a utopian type ideal of men and women being equal and that all the profits of that all the land was communually shared and that they joined together for things like transport and housing etc. I think all of the original members of Netzer Sereni were Holocaust survivors and in a way it is a good support system and also a group of like minded people to do this kind of communual living. Touching that such a group of hopeful people doing something so positive. In fact their logo is a tree stump with one sprout a new beginning from something that had been cut down. I had a t-shirt with this and kept it for a good ten years before it just fell apart.
They had cows and chickens and planted Jojoba and various vegetables. They had a small factory that had some kind of cold relief product of nasal spray or something. My friend I always stayed in touch with took care of the cows. I met a lot of nice people and we were mostly in our early twenties and it was a fun summer we drank tea and went to the beach and had camp fires. We were like a bunch of kids. It was a nice experience. What I find so sweet is that looking back I think the original members tried to create a fun experience for us. That is why it was a special time. I think the Kibbutz people wanted us to enjoy ourselves. Like a bunch of hovering concerned grandparents.
Ani and his wife had three children. I think one lived in California and one was on the Kibbutz another in Tel Aviv I can't really remember anymore exactly. I thought that Ani had really made a success of his life despite it's very stressful and hard beginnings with this communual living and his family. I was so young and thoughtless at the time. I just knew I liked Ani and thought well of him. He had the tatoo on his arm that was put there while in Buchenwald. He and his wife invited me for dinner once and his daughter would always talk to me. It was nice of them to try and make my time there pleasant.
In later years as the orginal members grew old and died the next generation didn't have the same ideals or motivations and the children eventually divided up the land into private holdings. Although this might seem sad to me it seems like a success because it means the next generation is more normalized. I read a history about the place on the facebook page and learned that the volunteer cabins have been torn down and replaced with modern guest rentals. That they no longer take volunteers like they used to since they decided to modernize and divide the property and live privately.
I am still friends with one of the girls that was on the Kibbutz at the same time as me we wrote for years and usually send a Christmas card to each other. I have found by going to the facebook sight this last year some other people I remembered. It is a cool group to belong with. I sketched out a storyboard about the experience recently and if I ever get the chance I would love to write a childrens book about it. Now I am more aware of the historical and political issues and find it heartbreaking that these people created something beautiful after suffering so much. For whatever reason I have few opinions politically still about Isreal, is that I am very moved that those original members created a nice experience for us one summer.
(I am laughing at myself because I have written two blogs now kinda on the topic of our ancestors but not exactly following the assignment; the first about my father which is not really an ancestor and the second on a memorable person I met, soooo my goal next week is to tighten up my blogging and follow the topic)