December 3, 1970
Mr. Sevi Yarkoni dropped the admission applications on his desk and wearily removed his glasses. Without thinking, his right hand came up and gently fingered the resolutely expanding bald spot on the back of his head. Queens Street was alive with cars, buses, and people during the late afternoon rush hour through the windows behind him. A slight pall of smoke filtered the indirect rays of the fading sun over the crowded streets of New Jerusalem.
Sevi was tired. No, more than just tired, he was emotionally and physically drained dry, and he knew it. He knew this was the price he was paying after years and years of hard, wrenching work in kibbutzim recruitment and development since he was a young man of eighteen years of age. Fueled by his family’s deep involvement in the Zionist movement since before the heyday of the 1948 war, Sevi Yarkoni had worked ceaselessly in establishing kibbutzim from one end of Israel to the other. He had personally been involved in the starting-up organization of no less than thirty kibbutzim over his career. And since the ’67 war, the pressure to build kibbutzim in the West Bank had run into the white-hot anger of the Palestinians already living there, ratcheting up the stress and danger for everybody. Now, twenty-nine years later and a victim of his own success, Sevi found himself thinking more and more about his family’s kibbutz near the Sea of Galilee and less about his work.
His back hurt. His head hurt. Even his eyes hurt. ‘Someone used my eyeballs for teabags,’ he thought to himself. ‘Again.’ With an effort, he returned his attention to the new recruits, two twenty-year-old Americans from the northwest part of their country seated patiently in front of him.
“So…” Yarkoni said to the Americans, “you have cleared the preliminary interviews and background screenings. You both deny criminal records and drug problems, and this is supported by the documents sent to us by the authorities where you come from. I will approve your applications for kibbutz placement, and I wanted to welcome you myself and fill you in on some final details. Either one of you familiar with Israel and the geography?”
The two recruits shook their heads no. Yarkoni turned and pointed absently at a large wall map that was dotted with numerous little colored flags. “These, gentle-man, are the kibbutzim, our collective farms. There are thirty-three of them all together in our own system alone, from the very northern border in the Upper Galilee all the way down to the Sinai desert. And new ones are being started even as we speak.”
He moved closer to the map, adjusting his glasses as he did so. “This is Mount Hermon,” he said, his finger circling a spot. “It is the northern-most boundary of Israeli-controlled territory. At Mount Hermon, the borders of Syria, Lebanon, and Israel all come together. We control this mountain currently, but it certainly is a disputed area. That did not stop us from putting in the only snow ski set up in all of Israel and the entire region.” Yarkoni stopped briefly, then continued, “Moving south of Mount Hermon is a long, narrow valley, the Huleh Valley, part of the Upper Galilee. It is a beautiful country; we have five kibbutzim in that area, in the west on the Lebanese border, and to the east near the Golan Heights. Then you come to Lake Tiberias, the Lower Galilee, and down to the Jerusalem area. Everything south of Jerusalem is mostly desert, and it goes a long way. And we are starting new kibbutzim in the Dead Sea Valley as well as the Sinai Desert.
“Now, while I am thinking about it, I wanted to ask you two what you know about kibbutzim and how you first heard about us.”
“I understand they are like communal work farms which can absorb new immigrants and volunteers like us,” Shilo Harper spoke up. “A friend of mine from college spent six months on a kibbutz near Haifa. He said it was the best six months of his life and is thinking of doing it again. That got me thinking about it, and then I read up on it. And it was time for a break from… college. Next thing I knew…”
“I came along to keep an eye on Shilo,” interrupted Mike Sandau. “I’m his best friend, and he needs me desperately.”
Yarkoni gave a pained laugh despite his headache. “Good to have friends. And yes, like communal work farms, it is helpful to think of them as cooperatives. Everyone contributes what they can, and everyone receives what they need. No kibbutz member receives a salary, and no one goes without. The Israeli government subsidizes new and struggling kibbutzim as required while at the same time, guides them toward financial independence. Kibbutzim performs two crucial functions for Israel as a whole.