looking back

saw the founding fathers resting in their graves…
on my way out from your burial… I was in a daze
in memory of David

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There are smells, and sounds… certain places… sometimes clouds, or a certain blue in the sky that brings back old moments, memories… or emotions. One minute you’re on your way to buy a pack of cigarettes, and the next, you’re a young man on your way to work… and memories come rolling in, one after another… till those subjective visions have more substance than what you were planning to do with your day.

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I’ve never been one to revel in the joys of nostalgia. I prefer to enjoy each day as it comes, and to make the most of it. Not to give too much attention to the future or the past, but to savor the present. The library was my first home away from home. But if I visit the library today… even though that institution has lost most of its importance now that I’ve learned to take advantage of search engines and online academic facilities… still the library remains a store house of wisdom from the many different ages of man, and I enjoy it for what it has to offer me these days.

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But there’s a village in the Galilee, where years ago I tried to realize my ideals and fantasies… and where I tasted the sublime. It’s a place much like any other place. With good and bad, and all kinds of people who’ve made their homes there. Except that it wasn’t like any other for me. I chose to live there, among friends who had similar ideals to my own. It was there for me, at a critical stage of my life. I had already enjoyed the life of an adult for a number of years. I had started a family. I had made compromises and adjustments along the way. I pretty much knew what life had to offer if my luck stayed with me. And before I got sedentary or set in my ways, I wanted to try living according to my highest ideals, just to know if it could work. And to know whether the theories we kicked around in those days were practical.

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It was a time when a lot of people thought the world was on the threshold of a great social change. The youngsters who were attracting attention then, were chanting ‘make love not war’; and instead of checking just how many people could fit into a public telephone booth, there were those who chose to live in communes, to grow their own vegetables, to make their own movies, religions, and social order. Expanding one’s consciousness was considered a legitimate occupation. And tolerance and love for one’s fellow man was the spirit of the time.

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I didn’t choose a radical path. My choice was a commune which was based on traditional values. The family remained the basic building block of society. But we believed that everyone should enjoy the same income, regardless of talent or education. And that the unpopular jobs should be performed by all according to a system of rotation in which everyone did public service once every couple of weeks in order to keep things running as they should. Each person offered his work to the society according to his ability, and received according to his needs. That meant that the surgeon and the gardener received the same salary, but the invalid or madman was given all kinds of added resources in order to make his life more comfortable. Basic education was offered to all. But no one was forced to learn… or to live up to a standard that he didn’t choose. And those with special talents could develop them at the expense of the society as a whole. A friend of mine, who was an accomplished and successful writer, worked as a kindergarten teacher. And I, a scholar and a business man, grew bananas.

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The children lived in children’s houses, where they studied and played and lived life with the direction and nurture from teachers and counselors, and house mothers and fathers. They spent time with their parents every day. But they met with their parents at tea time, and learned to appreciate them around the table in social intercourse. Mother and father were not identified with punishment or demands. The time spent together was marked by friendship and common interests.

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Our leaders didn’t run for office, promoting themselves, and making promises of what they would do for the common man. They were chosen by others, and elected by common vote. And in most cases, they didn’t want the job, because it meant giving of their precious free time for the sake of the community. But usually they were persuaded to give of their talents for the common good. There was no police. Public opinion, and group pressure maintained order in our little world. Medical and dental treatment were free to all. The public spaces of our village were beautiful beyond description, cared for by gardeners who loved their work. I never saw litter. We all used to eat in a public dining room, and the food was good.

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There were flaws and weaknesses in the system, for all men and women are flawed. Many folks thought they were giving more than they were getting. There were pet peeves, and personal conflicts. There were in-groups, and outsiders. But it worked. I felt as if I’d found the garden of eden.

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This week, I went there to bury a friend. He was a good man and had lived a good life. He’d worked as a cotton grower, a tractor driver, and for many years as a skilled metal worker. He’d never asked for special consideration or a bonus. He was a modest man and didn’t stand out. But many in the community recognized his unique character and personality. His children had gone on to other places and other life styles, as many of the younger generation have done. The community has changed greatly. It is no longer a communal village.

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As I walked through the town, I couldn’t help but notice the changes. There were new roads, and parking lots. There weren’t many private vehicles when I lived there. We used to borrow a car from the car pool back in my day. The houses and gardens were more individualistic than I remembered. And the public dining room no longer caters to all comers. Nowadays, people prepare their meals at home, and children live with their parents. But as I walked along the streets and lanes of the village, I felt as if transported to a world that might still await us… a world of values that aren’t especially popular these days.

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70 responses to “looking back

  1. Thank you for sharing this wonderful description of commune life that always seemed like a fantasy world from our perspective.

    • It seems to me that when we’re in love, or very enthusiastic about something, we tend to focus on the pluses, and ignore the negatives. What I wanted at the time, was to check out the realities involved in this fantasy. And I have to say, that it turned out to be a very beautiful and healthy society.

  2. Reblogged this on Even introverts can live happily and commented:
    A beautiful evocation of one man’s past

  3. So touching… I can feel same so many times in my city. As always people say, “this is life”… And everything changes…

    I am so sorry to hear your loss dear Shimon. Rest in peace, your beautiful friend. You are one of persons in this blogging world, that I would like to meet in real world. Your wisely and well observed expreiences in your amazing writing skill, how precious. And how interesting (but maybe not interesting, should be normal) your memories, stories how meet in different cultures too. Actually this is almost human world. Human voice, touches, feelings, thoughts… I found myself as in my home… Sorry because my language is not very well to express myself but I am sure, you can understand me what I mean… Not so far, even in distance of the kilometers… I loved your photographs too… Thank you dear Shimon, have a nice day and great weekend, love, nia

    • Thank you very much for your beautiful and very gracious comment. I believe that we’re very fortunate to live in a time when distances in kilometers are becoming less and less important, and we’re getting to know our neighbors and other societies that exist alongside of us. The world has opened up to us, and there is so much to learn. I’m very happy to that you enjoy these bits of our life here… and happy too to tag along with you as you record your impressions from your land… both country and city… and most of all, cats. Thanks so much, Nia.

  4. Time has passed, now remain the memories…
    I think that the ideal of “community” has not only touched your heart and these of many other of your time, dear Shimon, even here, we had (post 1968) many young people who have tried a different kind of life, away from civilization corrupted. Some travelled far away (I met a “community” on Samosir Isle – Lake Toba – Sumatera)… several other went on top of valleys and mountains…
    It reminds me a lot of the institutional idea of the philosopher and anthroposophy founder Rudolf Steiner… such a great man!
    We all hope for the best social values, yet there are those who forge hatred and crime, those who foment riots and wars.
    Keep in your still young heart all the positivity and try to achieve merits that one day will allow you to continue your search again, to free yourself rom samsara, what your friend David will do…
    He’s now looking for a new body, to continue what is yet to achieve (this is teached in the philosophy my family and I follow).
    Serenity 🙂 claudine

    • It seems to me that just as different cultures produce different understandings of what is sacred, in much the same way, we’ve developed different ideas of how a society can insure the welfare of its citizens. There’ve been many attempts to improve the mechanics of society. But it seems to me that evolution is usually more successful than radical changes brought on by revolutionary thinking. Sometimes, in our rush to improve conditions, we’ve overlooked important needs of individuals, or the human character with all its flaws.But the steady work for improvement has had a very positive affect through the ages. Thanks so much, Claudine.

  5. That’s quite a story. Thanks for telling it. I am sorry for your loss.

  6. What a remarkable snapshot of a brief moment in time. I am sorry to hear of your loss. May you be blessed.

    • For me, it was just a couple of years, but the kibbutz movement here in Israel produced some viable societies within our country for about 60 years, offering an alternative to the life style that most of the west took for granted. Thanks for your blessing, Judy.

  7. Even though the community has changed, I expect it confirmed in your heart that your values work, and that you and others were able then to bring them out into the wider world.
    Speaking as an artist, a madwoman, and a sometimes gardener who dreads the day she may need a surgeon, I wish the world I live in had those values.

    • Yes, I learned that it could work, Melissa. But it’s truly a complicated business. Because I realized that unlike most societies that we know, in a society such as this… built on ideological values, it is unrealistic to expect the next generation to continue in the path of their parents. Many of the younger generation wanted to get everything they could in exchange for their abilities and talents. And as the world grew smaller, the influence of the west became more dominant, and even those in the general society were resentful about the amount of taxes paid in a socialistic system. Fortunately, our country still has universal medical care, but through the democratic process, the majority in our country has rejected socialism. Thanks for your comment.

  8. In visiting such a place, one could not help but remember the lifestyle experienced there. What a special time that must have been for you and your family! Thank you for sharing the story, Shimon. And may your friend David rest in peace.

    • And thank you, Cathy. It was a wonderful experience. Though even in my own family, there were mixed opinions. I am grateful that I had the opportunity, and my love for the place continues… even though the village itself has changed over the years.

  9. I had just read this quote, by Beryl Bainbridge, when I opened your blog post, Shimon: “The older one becomes the quicker the present fades into sepia and the past looms up in glorious technicolour.” I had kind of rejected its truth, for me, in that I may more often visit memories (because I have more of them as I age 🙂 ), and–especially during these holiday times–I may become more nostalgic, but, like you, I prefer to live as “presently” as possible most of the time.

    Still, how lovely, enriching, and inspiring it can be to visit and share our stories, as you have also shown here. I especially love that you had the courage and family support (to some degree, anyway) to actually pursue a dream rather than merely sketch it as a fantasy and then shelve it as impossible/impractical.

    In Milwaukee, the city where I spent most of life, there was a 50-year period of Socialist mayors, coinciding with civic growth, park system development, improved public schools and services…by the time I entered university, all of this had passed, and it was sad to see the loveliness and civic pride slipping away, although remnants and pockets of the socialist influence lingered. (http://www.jsonline.com/news/opinion/89804422.html)

    I’m so grateful you posted this, both as a tender insight into your own past, but also as a valuable reminder that we can be better in community–locally, nationally and globally–than we currently are. Yes, still human, but humans who give and take with greater generosity, humility, and ample reserves of forgiveness…I needed hope today, Shimon, and you gave it to me. Thank you. Bless you. And bless the deeply, wonderful human example set by David, of how we can serve our communities.

    • Thank you for the quote by Beryl Bainbridge. I don’t really agree with her, though I can understand her point of view. I think that sometimes it takes us a while to truly appreciate what we’ve experienced. Sometimes when I write something, I put it in a drawer (or a folder on my computer), and forget about it for a while, till later when I can come back and revise things with the perspective that time gives us. But for me, the present is what is truly valuable… truly alive with all it’s colors, smells and harmonies. The experience was wonderful, and it has stayed with me. It gave me a better of understanding of what is possible when we’re willing to commit ourselves. Fortunately, my family had/has a lot of trust and patience with me, though not everyone was as enthusiastic as I was. And in the decades that followed, my country which is a true democracy, moved away from socialism, while keeping some of the socialistic institutions from our past. In a democratic society, we can’t impose our concepts on others, even if we feel they are more just and reasonable. Our country as been influenced to a large degree by the ambitions and the commercial attitudes of the west, and though it’s not what I chose, I have to accept the will of the majority. Thank you very much for your comment, Kitty.

  10. I’ve read before how valuable and formative you found this lifestyle. I wonder what caused its demise? I had a similar experience when we lived in Nigeria as mission partners: all on compounds, in similar houses, on identical incomes, sharing needs and values and prayer and encouragement. And annoyances. Maybe that’s what gives such communities the death blow in the end – it is hard work, always relating to others, and in the west at any rate, we prefer our dogged nuclear family lifestyles.

    An experience in communal living has much to teach us and enriches us as people, but I couldn’t do it permanently !

    • You wonder what caused the demise of this society, Gill. Well, it didn’t exactly fall apart. It changed over the years. The village is still there. But it no longer functions as a commune. Over the years, there was an ever growing influence from the west. People became more individualistic. People wanted their own car, more possessions, trips to Europe, and so on. I do believe we had a good life for everyone living in a communal society, but as you say… there were irritations and frustrations. Looking around me at my society today, I would say we’re very comfortable. But it seems to me that we were happier 50 years ago. Thanks for your comment.

      • It could be. I think it is also to do with personalities. As I am an introvert I actively dislike living in a group 24/7 – I get very stressed and need time on my own to renew my mental energy.

  11. Such wonderful memories you have shared with us. Of another time when as you say “tolerance and love for one’s fellow man were the spirit of the time”. Your photos help take us there. Peace and love to you, Shimon, and may David’s soul feel this too.

    • Thanks very much for your kind comment, Angeline. This post reflects on the ideals we tried to realize some years back. But today too, with less of an accent on ideology, we are watching the world change. And with the help of technology, you and I are meeting in cyberspace, sharing our thoughts and our images… and the world is truly becoming a smaller and more intimate place. There’s always progress, and always hope for the future.

  12. This is beautifully written, and I very much enjoyed reading this insight into your past. It sounds like a wonderful and life enriching experience. I am very sorry to hear of the loss of your friend.

  13. They say that the 1 guarantee is that there will always be change. Take care my friend

    • Yes, change is inevitable… though it does seem to me that the changes are speeding up. Even so, we try to keep up, and enjoy the wonderful things we’re seeing… new things almost every day. Thanks, Claire.

  14. You never cease to amaze me Shimon. What an interesting life you live. I love reading your thoughts and learning your perspective on subjects. Your interest in so many things inspires me!

    Have a wonderful weekend my friend! 🙂

    • Thank you very much for your very sweet comment, Boyd. We’ve really gotten a taste of winter this week… and time is rushing on. Best wishes to you, and may you have a very pleasant week too.

  15. Firstly, my condolences for your loss. 😦
    The story about the commune is so interesting and beautiful. It really does sound like utopia, even though it did have its issues, as you mentioned.

    • Thanks Jess. One of the things I connect to Utopia is the accent on the positive. Living in such a community, I had the opportunity to see the difficulties too. And there was a lot of hard work as well. But I did love it while I was there, and looking back, I think it was a very well run society, and feel that such an arrangement could still work… if people wanted it.

  16. Ah Shimon, may your friend’s memory forever be a blessing. The story you wove around your visit back to another time and place was truly transportive on every level. It was a sensory and emotional experience for this reader. Thank you.

  17. Kathryn Braithwaite

    Beautiful

  18. Your village in Galilee , how very beautiful to have lived these ways you describe … Your memories are surely blessings shared and I am grateful for your posts , always written with a spirit of hope …thank you Shimon …

    • So glad you enjoyed the post, Meg. I have been very lucky in my life. Especially, because I was able to live what others just dreamed about. Of course, as life is lived, there are always ups and downs. There is no ‘happily ever after’. And so one of the things we have to learn, is how to appreciate what we’re experiencing… even the hard parts. Thanks.

  19. That must have been a very interesting way of life, almost like Utopia. I always fancied the idea of living in a commune, as I grew up with my 9 brothers and sisters, my parents and eventually a nephew and a niece all in a 3-bedroom flat and we managed quite well. We also shared all the chores equally among us and a rota to this effect, so we respected the job when someone else was doing it and were grateful for it.

    I think this kind of living teaches us to be more thoughtful and mindful of others and one realises that the people around us and what they do are just as important as you.

    • I do agree with you, Fatima, that it is a very good experience and very educational, to grow up with a number of brothers and sisters. That was one of the great advantages of the children’s house on the kibbutz. Nowadays, many children are growing up alone with doting parents… and so it takes longer for them to learn to empathize with others. Thank you very much for your comment, Fatima.

  20. I am sorry about you losing your friend. Big hug.

  21. A very loving portrayal of life.

  22. You describe it well, as you always do. I enjoyed a time like that too, years ago in a communal setting where we all worked very hard and were united, to a degree, by a purpose outside our selves. I’m lucky to have had the experience. Your friend brought you back this week but one never does get back there, it’s always different. Still, the value remains, and even grows.

    • You’re right about the hard work. There is something of the pioneer spirit in an adventure like that. And of course, bluebrightly, I agree with you, that there’s no going back, really. But last week, in the context of that place that had meant so much to me, it was a bit like visiting the past.Glad to hear that you had a similar experience. The values are important and they do stay with us.

  23. What a wonderful opportunity you had to live in such a commune. Thank you for sharing this story. I am sorry for the loss of your friends.

    • Yes, I’m very grateful that I had that opportunity, yearstricken. Though I went back to my previous life style, some of the things I learned at that time have stayed with me. Thanks very much for your comment.

  24. Thank you for a living memoir of a world of which I have often wondered:
    ההיית, או חלמתי חלום?

  25. I am sorry for your loss. It gave you the opportunity not just to think about memories, but to also walk down memory lane. You saw progress and changes. Perhaps to you they do not seem like progress in the sense of benefits. Perhaps your eyes saw progress as changes moving with the times, notwithstanding, your mind and senses connected with the recent life of your friend who had lived through the changing scenes of the commune you knew.

    Tempus fugit Shimon. Fortunately, we do not all have to be Olympic athletes to keep pace, though sometimes it can feel like it!

    x

    • It does seem to me that it’s harder to accept some changes as we grow older. When we’re young, we may suppose that the pendulum will swing a few times while we’re still alive to to witness it. But I do try to be aware of what’s going on in the world around me, and to accept it even when it isn’t exactly as I would have chosen. Usually, progress is thought of as positive. But many changes in history have been at the price of sacrifice, and the loss of other things we might have treasured. I do care for human beings, and am closest to my fellow humans. And so, even if I know that there is a never ending list of living creatures that are forever lost to this planet, I accept it as the shadow that accompanies our great adventure on earth… still there might come a time when we will join the other species on the list of the extinct.

  26. Condolences to you Shimon, for the loss of David. Your memories and the way you write evoke a time that I had forgotten.The past holds grains of truth that shine a way forward, for we are all connected. X

    • Thanks very much, Jane. Parts of the past are incorporated into the way we see and relate to the world around us… and so much of the past remains alive, though the shape of things have changed. Yes, we are all connected. x

  27. A very moving post Shimon, my deepest sympathies on the loss of your friend. What a wonderful world it would be.. if. Sadly there are so many ifs but your community sounds absolutely wonderful. I am like you, I try not to indulge nostalgia, I don’t find it helps me, especially in my situation but sometimes, I take a peek and revel in those good times I had, as a student particularly, learning and travelling. As always, a very enjoyable read and lovely to see your pictures. The sunshine and the sharp crisp light you enjoy are particularly noticeable.

    • Thanks very much Chillbrook. As I’ve mentioned in recent posts, I have a preference for strong light, and contrasts… and I do more photography when that’s available. As for the aspirations of youth, and the commune, I believe that many of us would like to see a more effective and fair administration of the needs of the community. But history has shown us that it is near impossible to impose an ideology on others, be it religious or economic. In order to live with our fellow man in relative comfort, we have to be willing to make concessions and consider the desires and needs of everyone. Thank you too, for your condolences… one of the disadvantages of getting old, is that there are fewer old friends around…

  28. It’s interesting to ponder the difference between the importance of memory for our lives, and frank nostalgia. I’ve just returned from a week with friends, and our celebration of the Thanksgiving holiday. Of course there was much talk of those no longer with us, and many memories were shared — both good and bad. And perhaps that’s the difference. Memory honors the world that was, in all its complexity, while nostalgia seeks to reclaim a perfection that never existed.

    In any event, I would say that you’ve rightly honored your friend here, and given us a glimpse of a world we generally experience imperfectly, if at all. I did live on a compound in Liberia where such things as vehicle sharing were normal. It certainly sensitized us to the needs of others. If someone was making the trip to Monrovia, everyone knew it, and made their requests known: e.g., “Can you bring me back a can of baking powder?” “Would you carry this mail for me?”

    Another example: when I sailed from Hawaii to Alaska, duties rotated. Everyone in the crew cooked, for example. On a day when you were assigned to cook and clean, you weren’t required to stand watch. It worked beautifully, although that’s about as small and self-enclosed as you could get, community-wise.

    The only thing about your description of life in the commune that brought me up short was the fact that children didn’t live with their parents. That seems so strange, and sad — but that’s only a testament to my wonderful childhood, I suppose. On the other hand, there’s no question that, as an only child, I could have profited from learning some life lessons that were delayed until I went to school!

    • Thank you very much, shoreacres, for clarifying for me the difference between nostalgia and memory. I suppose that because I have some very painful memories as well, I have tried not to dwell in memories. But what you say touched me. And there are some memories that are worthwhile to visit now and then. I’m glad to hear that you too had a taste of the communal life, and the use of rotation to take care of some of the more distasteful obligations. The experience was enlightening for me, and I’m sure for others as well. Thanks so much for your comment.

  29. I really enjoyed reading about your communal experience. I was introduced to such concepts when, as a teenager in NYC, I somehow came upon a book called “Genesis,” which laid out a vision for all facets of living in community. I don’t know what happened to that book, but it made a lasting impression. More than a decade later, I ended up on the other side of the US and stumbled on a community called Genesis Sanctuary, where I lived for several years, in a cottage called Serendipity. I call it an “unintentional” community because things were a bit haphazard. But it was where I learned to build a house, grow food, and live without corporate power and running water. Long story short, I am convinced people need to rethink the structure of Western society and make some changes quickly. The way we are getting our basic needs met is not sustainable. I hope people will be able to retain the liberty to set up example camps where traditional skills are mingled with new appropriate technologies and local trade networks are the economic backbone. The legal right to do these things in the US is slipping away quickly for those who don’t have much money. The part I have always found most difficult — much harder than the physical labor, which is healthy and strengthening — is managing the interpersonal relationships. To anybody who is interested in these things, I highly recommend the Fellowship for Intentional Community at http://www.ic.org/. There you can browse the database of communities that exist around the world right now and join one if you like. They also have a lot of articles and books about the ins and outs of community living, such as communication, decision making, and such.

    • It took me a while to get back to your comment. I’ve gotten slower over the years, and it seems that life is moving faster. But I did want to tell you that I really appreciated hearing about your own experiences in living in a commune, and about some of the things you learned there. I am too old, these days, to look for another community. But I am forever grateful for the opportunity I had to live in what I would call a successful commune. I agree with you, that one of the difficulties is the inter-personal relationships. Fortunately, on the kibbutz, there were great efforts made to provide the mechanisms necessary to insure democratic administration and to guard personal welfare and dignity for all. But the intimacy of living in a commune provides constant tests. It was a real pleasure to read your views.

      • Thank-you. I didn’t see your comment until just now! Do you think having a common religion and heritage helped cement your group together? I appreciate intentional communities that are inclusive, but when things get difficult, it’s good to have a solid set of agreements everyone can fall back on.

        • Yes, I visited a few communes in the US, while visiting there, and I do think it was a great advantage for us here in Israel, that we had a common background. Still, the closer people live together, the more aware we are of the differences between individuals.

  30. Reblogged this on simpleunhookedliving and commented:
    I found this memoir of an older gentlemen living in Jerusalem quite interesting. He describes a time when he was young and idealistic, and joined a socialistic commune.

  31. While this ideology sounds like a great way to live, I can’t believe there would be many today who would be willing or able to give up their personal belongings and comforts for the good of many. Most of us today are “loners” who hide away by ourselves just peeking out to check on the world from time to time, not immersing ourselves in its day to day needs. While that may sound selfish, it is what I see and experience here in the US.

    • One of the changes in attitudes since the middle of the last century, is that there is a much greater accent on the importance of the individual, and a corresponding decline in the importance of the community. Surprisingly, new communities have sprung up. Many of them virtual… People from far away places find others of like mind, and here we have friendships and understanding by way of cyberspace. None of us know what the future will bring, but I believe there is an inherent need for community in the makeup of mankind. Thanks for your comment, Bev.

  32. Dear Shimon,
    I am so sorry for the loss of your friend. I had a friend who lived on Kibbutz Barkai for a long time, but when she had a child she wanted to be the one tucking her baby into bed at night. I would too, but several of my friends are thinking, as they grow older, about a closer community with a more deliberate choice of neighbors to help each other along as we age. I love that idea.

    • Thank you for your condolences, Naomi. Yes, this business of child rearing was a big issue on many kibbutzim, and eventually most of them changed their policy. It was after I returned to Jerusalem. So I didn’t see the process. But I think it was part of what lead to radical change in the whole kibbutz mentality. Today, most of the kibbutzim are no longer communal. They are just villages in which private people live their private lives.

      • The evolution of the system is interesting, Shimon. I wonder if there isn’t a middle ground somewhere that would strike a good balance between family and community.

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