working in the field

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.

the community dining room, back when we all ate together

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.

a fun vehicle meant for children’s play

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.

so that’s the way they grow

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!


79 responses to “working in the field

  1. Wonderful post dear Shimon, and I also haven’t any idea about in this working field of bananas. How nicely expressed and pictured us. Thank you, have a nice weekend, love, nia

    • Thank you, Nia. In the last couple of generations, we’ve become a bit alienated from nature. It’s not always clear where food comes from… Wishing you a good day and a good week.

  2. Another fascinating post. Part of me loves solitude and part of me has always loved communal living. Once again, it’s all about finding the balance. I will now go and eat a banana with much more appreciation:)x

    • I definitely enjoy solitude, Janet. I didn’t really choose the kibbutz because of the life style, but because I wanted to know if it was truly a workable system. While there, I fell in love with the society. Maybe I had good luck. But ultimately, I chose a different life.

  3. What a wonderful story Shimon. Thanks for sharing that wonderful memory. It made me smile.

  4. Fascinating
    I always love a banana,
    Just as I love red tomatoes.
    I eat five a day!
    For then they say
    I shall soon reach Nirvana

    • I’m sure you’ll reach Nirvana, Kathryn. But hope it won’t be too soon. And yes, there’s great pleasures in fruit and vegetables. Thanks for your comment.

      • I saw a short extract from a film with Woody Allen… somehow they were in a jungle of banana trees.I wish we had trees like that.We only have apples and pears.They are not so hard to deal with as those bananas.

        • I think I saw that film, many years ago. And if it’s the one I remember, it was quite funny. Actually, the banana is a very strange tree… more like a vegetable than a fruit tree. But it is very interesting working with them, and just recently, I heard that it might offer some solutions in dealing with the climate change which is predicted around the world.

  5. Great memory that you’ve shared with us. Little did you know at the time that you would look back on this time of hard work and enjoy the memory. And in closing I’ll just say that “time flies like an arrow, and fruit flys like a banana” 🙂

    • I try as best I can, to live in the present. Don’t wait too much for things that might happen one day… and don’t reminisce that much about the past. And you’re right, Angeline… I had no idea how I’d see those days in the future. But they were good days. And I loved them then too.

  6. I laughed out loud reading this….a real belly laugh!
    Well….as my Dad always said, there’s nowt so queer as folk! Brilliant post, I LOVED it!xxxxx

  7. This post delighted me Shimon! Way back when I was in high school I did a book report for my English class on a book by Bruno Bettelheim about communal child rearing in an Israeli kibbutzim. Although my fellow classmates strongly disagreed with a concept so foreign to their own upbringing, it fascinated me and I often wondered if communal living would prove in the end to be a better way. I would love to hear more of your experiences as a kibbutznik. If you have shared them here, please provide me the links!

    • Very glad that you enjoyed the post, Josie. I remember reading the book by Bettelheim when it came out, and disagreeing with him then… I don’t know how I’d see it today. Maybe I have to take another look. I have written about the experience in the past, but not yet on the blog. Maybe I’ll write some more about it here. It was a very important learning experience for me.

  8. Nice story–brought back lots of memories of communal living. I would have probably been good in the fields, but I didn’t have a clue how to cook. When it was my night for cooking, we ate boxed macaroni, while everyone else made full course organic meals.

    • I can imagine what that was like, Jordan. I learned to cook rather early, and have enjoyed it ever since. But I never had the opportunity on kibbutz. They had a fairly professional staff for that. And organic food was unknown to us at the time…

  9. What a wonderful story, so vivid and pure, Shimon. I could feel both the weariness and the relief, the sense of being different and how all the varied energies needed to adjust to, and accept one another. Communal living is so very challenging, but how rewarding to share the deep connection of sustained laughter! This is a story of blessing that left me feeling blessed as well. Thank you!

    • So glad you enjoyed the story, Catherine. I will always be grateful for this opportunity I had to live for a while in a utopia. Even though my life turned out differently. It was a very rich experience. And yes, laughter is a great high.

  10. It’s interesting how the time we spend on kibbutz and the friends we make hold such wonderful memories. You’re wonderful post really brought my memories flooding back…thank you. The first time I was on kibbutz when I was 16 I worked in the apple orchards picking apples and as teenagers usually partied until about 2 or so in the morning so our 4AM wake up calls were brutal but I wouldn’t change it for the world. Years later I lived on a kibbutz as a volunteer loving it so much and the people that I returned the following summer. By all standards I had a cushy job. Because I spoke Hebrew I worked with the children in the children’s houses…I absolutely loved it.

    • I am sure your kibbutz experience was much richer for you than for other volunteers, because you knew Hebrew. It makes such a difference, and helps to really understand what’s going on. Working with the children is also a very good job. Unfortunately, many of the children chose not to live in that society when they grew up… and this was one of the great failures of kibbutz. But usually they did quite well in the outside world. Thank you for your comment, Edith.

  11. Such neat story … anybody working hard can relate to it … even somebody like me … on the other side of the globe … working the land and walking the prairies … I remember the day at harvest time (grain) … I fell asleep at the tractoe wheel … and the machine kept going … straight through the middle of the field … making it’s own path … until some bushes on the edge of the field stopped the machine … some heavy duty repairs followed after that … to this day friends and neighbours are talking and laughing about the event … Be well, my friend. Love, cat.

    • Ah, cat. I’m sure it would be a lot of fun hearing your stories from your youth. I can well imagine that tractor story… and also the reaction of others to the disaster. So good to hear from you. Thanks for your comment.

  12. What nice memories, Shimon…and a nice story for the rest of us…. Thank you.

  13. I so love this story. Reminds me of a story I have of my mother, coming to Israel from Poland from a somewhat comfortable background, and her laughter about her nail polish when she was paving roads in Netanya with her bare hands. I loved being in the Kibbutz in SHERUT LEUMI, but never got to live there. How great for you that you’ve lived in so many places and had so many experiences, and your ability to laugh.

    • Ah, that sounds great, Rachel, doing sheirut leumi on kibbutz. I didn’t know there was that possibility. I can imagine that your mother had a lot of wonderful stories to tell, about adjusting to this country from a very different background. I am very grateful for the many experiences that I’ve had. All the more so, because life got better and better as I grew older. And it is wonderful to laugh. It can be a ‘spiritual’ experience. Thanks for your comment.

  14. A fun read Shimon. I experienced a bit of that growing up as my road was so drastically different from the others.

  15. I appreciate the fact that you decided to do something completely different, and set to with a will. And having a good companion to lighten the load and share ridiculous stories with was surely an advantage!

    • Thank you Gill. It was a time when young people around the world were talking about alternatives of life style, and building a society according to principles of justice and equality. And here, there was an example of communism that was not forced, nor corrupt, according to what I heard. I wanted to know how it worked from the inside. And it certainly was an important lesson for me. The people I met, were very fine people… most of them idealists.

      • I sometimes remark on the way that we used to be, in the 60s … we wanted to change the world and we were prepared to try, to march, to make our voice heard. I see very little of that now in young people, although I know for a minority it is still there.

        • Yes, there is this thing, called ‘the spirit of the times’. In those days, it was not long after WWII, and there was that hope that a new vision of social justice would rise… a lot of people were willing to sacrifice in order to improve the world. As you say, there is still that minority, but a lot of the youth today are enthralled by technology.

  16. I enjoyed your story Shimon. Despite coming from an intellectual background I have worked some very physically demanding jobs. The camaraderie and good humour that accompanied those experiences are what I remember most. An awful lot of laughter and at the end of the day, bone achingly tired, sunburned and sore, how good the prospect of bed felt, the joy of snuggling down, this was a special kind of sleep. I miss that sort of sleep. You brought back some good memories for me Shimon, thank you.

    • Glad I was able to bring back some good memories, Chillbrook. I too discovered many advantages to hard physical work. And one of those, was the quiet of sleep. It can be very quiet, and very healthy after working at a physical job all day. And the challenges of physical labor are so different from that of intellectual accomplishments. I found that a more primitive existence was very attractive to me.

  17. What a moment in time… it seems to contain a little bit of everything. Doesn’t it seem that the “crazy” times are the ones with the most potential for shaping us? Great story and memory shared. Thanks Shimon.

    • Thank you, Chris. There are a lot of variations of ‘crazy times’. I have seen people get lost in a chase after ‘good experiences’. We have all seen, how in the west, sex and food have been given an importance out of all proportion to what is truly significant in life. I would say that hard work, consistency, and the desire to learn are the paths to a worthwhile life. But of course, some of us are shaped by traumas…

  18. I also think it’s interesting that the “car” on the children’s playground has four steering wheels, and this coincides with the fact that the kibbutz is propelled forwarded by the people together.

    • Yes, Rusty… you have noticed a very important detail in one of the pictures. On one hand, it is natural for children to want to sit in the driver’s seat, and so this was the dream car, for children’s play. But it also serves as a symbol for the biggest problem of the democratic society or the communist one, if we’re trying to do that. In real life, only one person can sit behind the wheel. And it seems to me that because of that conflict, the society is disintegrating and becoming somewhat fragmented in the west. Thank you very much for your comment. It is so good to hear from you.

  19. Great storytelling, ShimonZ. I love learning more about your life.

  20. Are you still in contact with this man with who you shared stories and wine?

  21. Beautiful storytelling of a life being lived with great intentionality and depth of purpose. Thank you.

  22. I am laughing too reading about your laughing about the beds whilst in the banana fields – conjures up a wonderful image and yes….. aint life just so wonderful!

    • Yes, I’m sure you could understand such a situation… and no doubt that you have some great stories to tell from your own experiences. The trick, I suppose, is to remember how wonderful this life is… even when it gets hard.

  23. an evocative post; I felt the life in your words. A lovely read.

  24. Love it. Something I’ve discovered very recently – the harder you work, the simpler life’s pleasures get. Couldn’t help but laugh about beds – not only for the story content, but I forgot to wash the sheets for mine tonight and it’s ironically the thing keeping me awake.

    • Well said, SighYuki… about the simplicity of life. And when life is simple and we work hard, it’s no problem falling asleep… and enjoying sleep too. There is great happiness in simplicity. Thank you for your comment.

  25. that reminds me very much of the time i met vice president joe biden in an opera house. i tagged along with a teacher at the school at which his kids attended and felt very out of place. however, ol’ joe biden and i were “grounded” enough that we held glasses of champagne while talking about clogged toilets. sometimes, you just never know.

    • I’ve had the opportunity of getting to know politicians on a personal level, and I was surprised at how pleasant and congenial I found them. Even those whose politics I didn’t care for at all. I suppose politicians have to develop the talent of relating well to people on a one to one basis.

  26. Hello Shimon – I so enjoy your writings that are lovingly forwarded to me by my dear friend, Vicky Baze. As a photojournalist and woman in my mid-60’s, I appreciate your ‘remembering out loud’ so that we can share a tiny bit of adventures in your youth. I am currently finishing my first book – a photo book with stories behind the images titled “Private Moments in Sacred Space” – which is how I’ve always felt about the energy and space that exists between the camera lens and the subject. Such a ‘thief’ is that lens!
    I think your memories are encouraging to everyone. Keep ’em coming!
    God bless. Nancy Clendaniel, Enumclaw, WA

    • I’ve seen some of your work, Nancy. Also, through the recommendations of Vicky, and enjoyed them very much. I like the title you’ve chosen for your book. I think it says a lot about your attitude towards this work we do. I’m also very glad you enjoy these posts. It’s a great pleasure to take advantage of some of the miracles of technology that have appeared in our lifetime, and to share thoughts and experiences with others in this way. Thank you so much for your comment.

  27. PS. I have often meant to ask if you’ve seen the book “In Spite of Everything, Yes!” that was edited by Ralph and Caroline Steiner, published on the occasion of the exhibition “In Spite of Everything, Yes” that ran Aug. 30-Oct. 26, 1986 at The Hood Museum of Art, at Dartmouth College, Hanover, New Hampshire. USA. Published by the Univ. of New Mexico Press in Albuquerque, NM.
    It’s always reflected my own beliefs of the role of a photojournalist – to project affirmatively – in spite of everything.

    • I didn’t hear of the exhibition or the book until you mentioned it just now, Nancy. But I did look for it on the web, and have read some interesting information, and also a few very worthwhile quotes. Thank you very much. I will look for the book.

      • Shimon – Wonderful! Ralph Steiner’s opening statement is something I refer to and read over often…turning the pages and sharing with so many people over the years. You might especially smile at Mr. Steiner’s final paragraph “It is, then, just because we live in a troubling world that I wanted to collect these images of affirmation. A few of these pictures are famous, but in general I have tried to find fresh and unfamiliar work by the younger generation of photographers. They generously share their vision with us, and I would like to invite you to join them in the ancient Hebrew Toast, “L’Chaim!” – To Life. —-Ralph Steiner (June 1986)

        Note: Ralph Steiner died after a long illness on July 13, 1986. Sadly, the exhibition that opened on Aug. 30, 1986 because a memorial tribute…a tribute that provides the most fitting possible expression of Ralph Steiner’s joyful perspective on the world.
        Jacquelynn Baas, Dir. Hood Museum of Art

        • I am sorry, Nancy, but I think I owe you an apology. Looking back, I found that you had mentioned this book to me, and the introduction… and I found it important enough to quote it on the old blog at the time, mentioning that you had provided me with the information. When looking back there I started remembering the context in which he worked… and I think I might have been thrown off by your mention of the book as being edited by both him and his wife. But no excuses… for some reason it didn’t come back to me right away. I do thank you for the reminder, and I will try to get hold of the book. He worked with some people I admired very much. And I now remember a fantastic picture of a rocking chair that I used to show in my lectures on black and white photography when I was teaching myself.

  28. Very vivid words that allowed me to mentally picture your thoughts. Yet, in the end, I continue to wonder about something in your post that I had thought of before – and something that this post isn’t about. You mentioned about the number of atheists and agnostics in your community. For whatever reason other than ignorance on my part, that surprised me. Could you do a post about that in the future?

    • Thank you Frank. I’m not sure what you would like to know about the atheists and agnostics… This post is about a time when I was living on kibbutz, which is a communal village, of which there were many for most of the 20th century here in Israel. I had previously gotten to know a religious kibbutz, which I loved very much, but when trying to understand the workings of true communism, I joined a non-religious kibbutz, where most of the members had grown up with a Marxist education.

      • I just hadn’t thought of agnostics and atheists in Israel before. In reality, it shouldn’t be a surprise, but the thought intrigued me. After all, many seem to isolate those two terms to North America and Europe.

        • We are an ancient people, Frank, and our ideas, philosophy, and values have been borrowed and adopted in part, by most of the peoples of the western world. Christianity has been a bread away religion, whose origins are found in Judaism. Socialism and Communism came to this world by way of famous sons of our people, and modern psychology too. We too have been influenced by others, the Egyptians, the Greeks, the Romans, and other major societies in history. There is a great fondness here in Israel for America, and many Israelis imitate the American style. We are called, ‘the people of the book’, and you could find almost every attitude towards life here, from American ‘free enterprise’ to Zen Buddhism.

  29. What a rich life you have led Shimon. through your words I can imagine the laughter that day, nothing beats great laughter. I’ve seen bananas growing, it is the flower that attracts me, so beautiful.
    I’ve have friends who have worked on Kibutz, and they all say it was a special experience, in fact they all stay in touch and have a bond. Maybe they had some laughs like yours

    • You’re right, Claire… laughter can truly raise the spirits and heal the soul. And I am very grateful that I had the opportunity to live a very rich life. So glad you were able to join me in this adventure and others. Thanks for your comment.

  30. WordsFallFromMyEyes

    Oh Shimon, Your writing is just so clear and simple. It’s wonderful.

    More oxygen to your heaving chests, radios on your belts for talk shows – and the banana growing books on your shelf. This I loved, loved seeing you in this world, past. I think you have lived richly. I admire you.

    I thought it odd though that your non calloused hands and learned status was considered warily, as I always thought it was such folk were revered. Very interesting, that bit.

    A beautiful capture, Shimon.

    • Very glad you enjoyed the post, Noeleen. Thank you for coming by, and that you for your comment. And yes, there are places where scholars are honored, but since this place was dedicated to the work ethic, and the harder the work, the more it was respected… coming as I did from an intellectual background, I was seen as something of an oddball.

  31. Shimon this was a lovely piece. I felt like I was there with you!

  32. It is always nice to read your stories and to learn more about topics of which I know little. I think I would l be like you in that I too would have read books on the topic of my work so as to gain a greater understanding.

    • Thank you very much Shoes. Yes, those of us who have studied formally, or love reading, know that the whole world is open to us, by way of books. Glad you liked the post, and sorry it took me a while to answer your comment.

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