The 11th Floor

A Perpsective Overlooking Jerusalem, Israeli Life, and Talmud Torah

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Ha'shkeydia Pora-- hey, that was fast

A late post about an early spring and Tu Bishvat.

I led the Tu B’shvat Seder for my yeshiva at the recent shabbaton. I obviously must have lost my mind for a period of time, because normally I would have said NO. Unlike a Passover seder, where the leader has the power of “nobody eats until I say so,” Tu Bishvat seder leaders have no such power since you put the food down at the start of the damned thing.

I should know better. The last one I led resulted in non-stop talking, minimal thinking or praying, the throwing of many nuts and related injuries-- its not funny when somone gets a raisin in the eye. Okay, it is a bit funny. This seder was about the same, with the addition of the eager abuse of alcohol on the part of guests and students. I know it sounds great- unless you are the ringmaster of this circus, in which case you have to imagine working for three weeks on a class that is attended only by rude drunk liberal jews- I guess this is what its like to teach at Brandeis.

We were at Kibbutz Hanaton (more to follow on that) and after dinner they put out a Tu Bishvat spread the likes of which might only be possible in Israel. Halved organic citruses of gem-like clarity and color, verdant stalks of herbs, and of course candied fruits of fluorescent colors which have never been found in nature.

Grocery stores love Tu Bishvat. A whole day devoted to produce in a nation with a year-long gorwing season? You bet they love it. There are displays and stands with special fruits and nuts. No valentines day bins of chocolate, but every supermarket has enough dried mango to crush a man to death. And it’s the peak of strawberry season by the 15th of Shevat (the season is winding down, but its not done yet) which makes for even more good eating.

Temperatures have climbed into the high 60’s, with a high near 75ºF predicted for Friday. Fall, (what they call winter here) it seems is over, and spring is on its way. The bad news is with warmer temperatures comes the end of the rain, and drought is always a real threat here.

As for ha’shkeidia porachat, the almond trees really are in bloom. In fact, most are done blooming, the petals falling poetically to the ground. Every thing else is getting ready to explode in blossom. Israel remains green throughout the year, even if February is a bit grey and dull by comparison to other months. But one can tell, with the rains being soaked up by the earth that was so dusty and dry but a few months back, that nature is getting ready to put on a show.

As for Hanaton, the kibbutz that hosted our shabbaton, it was once the darling of the Conservative movement. Hebrew Schools did fund-raising to help them build homes back in the day (the 1980's). Synagogues had posters up proclaiming the “realized dream of a Conservative/Masorti Kibbutz in the heart of the Galil.” But after a few years, Hanaton faded off the radar screen of Ramah Camps and Hebrew schools. USY groups still stay at their guest center, but the Conservative movement in the US seems to have forsaken them otherwise. It’s a terrible shame. Why?

First, there is fantastic food. Everything made from scratch. Salads like you would not believe. Incredible grapefruit grown on the kibbutz. And then there’s great scenery. The national water carrier is on the plain below, and the ancient city of Tzipori is on a nearby hill. The place has room for more families, more projects, and more facilities. Its ready for people. The area is gorgeous, but its so close to Haifa you can get there in less time than it takes most Americans to commute to work.

Of course Jenin is only 8 km away- that’s less than a day’s walk. Katyushas fell on nearby settlements, and they had to close the door on their bomb shelter for the first time in decades over the past summer. No conservative rabbis are coming back to live here. And yet the place is still hanging on, with a dairy and fruit groves that are doing great.

I know there is a vet or other Jewish professional out there who is tired of the rat race, and would love to raise his or her kids in a decent place where there is no commute and there are neighbors you not only know, but eat with and work with. Steve, one of the remaining kibbutnikim said he hasn’t gone into a bank in 14 years. Can you imagine that? How many hours spent with family, outdoors, and enjoying life instead of zig-zagging through the common feeder line? This man walks to work- up a hill. That’s it. He only gets in a car when he wants to go shopping in Haifa, which is only 20 minutes away. There have to be a few conservative Jews with a Zionist heart that are looking for a real life where hours are not wasted. Hanaton is waiting for them, and just like the Kibbutzim of 45 years ago, the risks and the rewards are all there.


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