A picture from those days, some 40 years ago. I was working with my friend Mordo in the banana fields. I had chosen to work in bananas, because it was seen as hard work, and I was starting out as a kibbutznik, a little late in life. I was seen as an intellectual in a society that revered the common worker; a religious man in a community that was resolutely atheist or agnostic, and my gentle un-calloused white hands were held against me. There were reservations against book learning, and I remember a number of my fellow kibbutzniks who couldn’t help but smile when they saw volumes of texts on the subject of growing bananas on my book shelves. Wasn’t it enough to just work at it? Did I have to read about it too? But all the same, I made friends with my fellow workers, and the neighbors who lived to my right and left, and they respected my determination. I had traveled to far away places… and I could tell them stories that seemed romantic and amusing. And they could see I wasn’t afraid to work… even if I didn’t come from the same background. I could always be counted on to translate to and for the foreign volunteers, and to explain the attitudes and the cultural differences between this socialist society and the world of orthodox Jews in Jerusalem, or Jewish immigrants from the far away diaspora. Despite the many differences, I found generosity, and a noble spirit about my fellows in my adopted society.
And this one day, working with Mordo, we were trimming banana leaves to make the trees grow straight and tall. And we had turned off our transistor radios that were tied to our belts, so that we could listen to talk programs and music as we worked the long day alone… and now we were talking to one another as we slowly made our way across the endless field, trimming leaves with our long wide knives of steel, which we sharpened ourselves on a wet stone. Both of us were very tired, for after an eight hour work day, we spent time with our children… and did all those things that people have to do just to keep their lives from coming apart, as responsible adults… and the night before, we had stayed up late, drinking wine, and listening to some Jazz records published in France, that he had found a month ago, while on a trip to the big city. We were talking, partially, just to keep ourselves awake despite the eroding weariness. It was hard to take. Perhaps harder for me, because I wasn’t that used to physical labor day after day… but then, he wasn’t used to staying up till midnight, drinking wine… And here we were, slogging through the muddy earth, on a damp grey day.
Strange as it may sound, we found ourselves telling each other stories of different beds we had seen. Beds we had slept in… beds we had seen in the houses of the rich… beds that our parents had slept in… and beds in the movies… and a bed in the museum which showed a re-creation of a wealthy home in the renaissance period of history. For the longest time we spoke of beds… till laughing, we realized where our conversation had lead, and why. In our immense weariness, the thought of bed had seduced our imaginations. It was the most pleasant thing to think about. And finally, straightening up from the work of trimming those fat juicy leaves, we stood face to face, in the tropical environment of the banana trees, our long knives in our hands… and looked at each other… slightly mad from being over tired… and laughed. Great laughs that brought more and more oxygen through our heaving chests to our blood stream. Oh, it was wonderful. And if any sane person had seen us at that moment, they would have, no doubt, called for an ambulance to take us straight to the insane asylum.
Just a few years earlier… I had had no idea of how a banana grows in nature. I had thought of them growing individually, like peaches on a peach tree. And here I was, in a man made jungle, wielding a machete, and telling tales of fancy beds in rich people’s homes. What a crazy life this was… and how wonderful to be alive!