Today’s participant blog post comes from Dustin Feinberg, a participant in the Yahel Social Change Program. Dustin’s group is living, learning and volunteering in Lod, Israel for 9 months this year.
What is community? This question may seem easy to answer, or maybe it may seem far too abstract to be worth entertaining, or maybe it may even seem irrelevant given our placement in society. However, based on my experiences during a seminar trip, I can say that community is both something profoundly beautiful and challenging all at the same time. I believe many of us in today’s society take community for granted—I know I certainly have. There are groups that we all in some way belong to, with or without or choosing, but a community is something unique in virtue of it being of our own creation and intimate participation. Our first exposure to community took place during the observance of the Sigd holiday, which comes from Ethiopian Jewry.
When we arrived to the location where an observance of the holiday was taking place, we headed toward the direction where people were gathered around and prayers were being chanted. In some ways I felt distant from the communal experience, given that I’m not Ethiopian and I understand very little Hebrew. Nevertheless, there is always something special to be felt and seen when large numbers of people gather for a singular purpose, and therein is the beauty of community.
From there, we made our way to a Druze village where we’d spend the next 24 hours. When we arrived we were greeted by a group of Druze kids and a fairly young couple that would guide us through the life and customs of the people in the village. We took a quick tour around the village, sat down for a cup of delicious tea, and then we split off for dinner. Later in the evening we all gathered together in the Ofakim (Volunteer Location) where a priest from the Druze religion gave us a brief explanation of the religion. Afterwards, we spent some time gathered around while music was being played and we conversed among ourselves. Each of us eventually went back with our host family. I went back with my host brother, where he provided me with a space for a much-needed rest—but before I was able to fall asleep his brother came knockin’ on my door and invited me to join their father and his friend for a cup of tea and some fruit. They were very gracious and hospitable, and even though there was some sense of awkwardness due a language barrier, I still felt very welcomed by them. The next day we spent the morning and afternoon exploring more of the culture of the Druze people, which was accompanied by more of their ever-graceful hospitality.
Eventually it was time to leave, for us to go on our way as the day began to wind down, and so we said our goodbyes. We all hopped on the bus and then we were off to a Kibbutz where we’d stay for the next few days and create our Shabbat experience there. The kibbutz is known for its pluralistic community (i.e. multiple forms of Judaic practices combined within one space), which was a fascinating example of what’s possible when creating community. The truth is, the kibbutz dealt with a number of issues when it came to making decisions that impacted everyone in the community. An example of something they struggled with is whether or not to implement Judaic studies in the schools. This particular issue is an example in which people with different backgrounds must come together to make a decision that’ll impact future generations—and although not an easy decision to make, it is a very important one; and the strength of a relationship can be determined by the ability to make tough decisions in an authentic way. This Kibbutz is unlike the original Kibbutz model, which was based on socialist principles and was focused on agricultural production for the purpose of creating a community out of practically nothing. With the establishment and development of communities, Kibbutzim have evolved in a lot of ways but have maintained some element from the original model. Some people may argue that the Kibbutzim model is one based on Zionism, and they may further argue that Zionism is no longer necessary now that the state of Israel has been established.
It was on our final day of the seminar that we took a tour of the Kibbutzim movement, from the very first Kibbutz up until a modern form of a Kibbutz situated right in an urban setting. The original movement was composed of people who had practically nothing other than a vision to make a life for themselves, and they came to the land with only the hope that one day they would have a sustainable community for themselves and their family. Over time this vision became a reality, and without getting into too many details, the land became sustainable and developed to a level at which it was no longer necessary to participate in agricultural production in order to ensure survival. This led to an existential crisis of sorts for both the kibbutzim and Zionist culture—for what meaning is there left in something if your purpose has been fulfilled? Well certainly life is more than just surviving, as we have the ability to thrive once we’ve reached a certain stage of development; and while some areas of the country may be thriving, there are definitely areas that are not. One of the areas that has room for progress is where the urban kibbutz is situated, and the purpose this kibbutz community is aligned towards is to participate in what they see as modern social Zionism, which is essentially urban development in Israel.
I think Zionism can be challenging to grasp in terms of what it really is and is not. I know there is a lot of controversy surrounded around Zionism, with some people claiming that it’s racism. I’m not here to argue for or against Zionism, because quite frankly I don’t think it really matters what it is or isn’t—what matters is that people are actually participating in what modern social “Zionism” represents, which is a passion to make a change for the betterment of community at large. I will admit that Zionism can become a tricky concept to grasp, because of its apparent exclusivity towards those that aren’t Jews. But ultimately, it is our compassion for humanity and passion for community, whether in Israel or elsewhere, that will allow us to evolve on a psycho-social-spiritual level.