When I got back from Israel in 2004 I spent a few months in California and managed to put many memories down on paper for future reference. I am so glad I did as reading through them brings me a lot of happiness amongst the waves of nostalgia. Here is the description of a typical day working on the kibbutz for me (slightly edited from the original that I jotted down over a decade ago). I kept the tense as it was when I wrote it because it immediately took me right back there. All of the Hebrew is transcribed as I understood it and all of the people mentioned are real. This is the second and definitely not the last piece on my stay in Israel (the first one, On Kibbutz Evron, can be found here).
There we are in front of the Dining Room, at 6am on the dot, on time as usual even after the few frustrating minutes of trying to round everyone up so we can go altogether (Nick’s “I still have to brush my teeth aye Kitkat, I’ll meet you up there” still resonates in my ears to this day).
“Good morning, boker tov.” Vica, Vova, Doron, Sasha, Ofer, Ganit, Marina, Rami, Zoran, Motti… No Ronen yet because Ronen is always late.
First things first, a dash (I’m talking 6am after four hours of sleep dash) to the hot water machine for a polystyrene cup of strong, sugary tea. And into the kitchen I go with Isabel. For anyone who thinks a kitchen should be the warmest place anywhere, it isn’t in Evron. In the winter the water in “our” sink takes 10 minutes to heat up and cold air comes through all the top windows, but in the summer it becomes a lovely respite from the burning sun. Vova dumps the crates of vegetables to be cleaned next to the sink (although before Vova was promoted to manager I had to carry those crates by myself and my back hated me for it!).
One of us goes to get the plastic containers while the other starts on the vegetables; red peppers in halves or thirds, cleaned and placed on the tray; spring onions cut, cleaned, piled on the tray; white onions peeled, cleaned, halved and put on the tray (done with the obligatory latex gloves because I learnt my lesson the first few days- onion smell does NOT go away even after prolonged and multiple washes); tomatoes washed, checked, into containers; cucumbers the same procedure; parsley cut, cleaned and put out next to the lemons in the food area of the Dining Room.
Zivouv (“around”), my favourite job, going around the outside of the Dining Room, sweeping up cigarette butts and other miscellaneous garbage, changing the bins and cleaning the “station”. This has to be done before breakfast, so outside I trot while Isabel cleans and fills the napkin holders. It’s my favourite job because I get to sneak in a cigarette while working as well as take advantage of the gorgeous morning feeling that only a kibbutz by the sea can conjure up. Revi has come in (I love her; she is one of the people with whom I became good friends while working on the kibbutz).
7:25 (I always try to nab us an extra five minutes on our thirty minute break) and off we go to breakfast. Two slices of bread, one halva spread, a bowl of porridge and a “latte” from the machine (sometimes pancakes, sometimes French toast, on Thursdays an omelet). I love Israeli food, but I could only bring myself to eat vegetables in the morning during my last few months on the kibbutz. Although to this day I still don’t know how people can eat raw onions at 7am…
My breakfast goes down in less than 15 minutes, giving me the chance to do the most important: smoke 2 cigarettes with my coffee outside on the little wall.
8am: my turn to clean tables while Isabel finishes the vegetables for the next day. The Dining Room is full, all the volunteers except for Isabel, me and the two dishwashers (one being Michal, whose regular job was dishwashing) eating at “our” table, the factory workers at their usual tables, school kids, kibbutzniks, everyone chattering away, while I clean up table after table, giving the coffee and the dishwashing areas an occasional wipe, chatting to people here and there, taking a cigarette break by the dishwasher from time to time. At around 9:15 am the place starts to empty and I start to sweep excess crumbs up from around the tables, waiting for those last people to leave (and they are always the same people!). Then comes the best part of the morning: I grab a bucket of soap and splash it over “my” part of the floor, hose it down, scrub it with a brush, bring all of the water into the drain and “dry” it with a big cloth. And unless I want to hear Vova yelling at me in Russian, I had better not forget to clean the drain! There is something so cathartic about throwing buckets of water on the ground and scrubbing things clean.
Isabel is cleaning and filling the oils and then off we go on our break. It’s sunny today but not too warm. I run to the computer, check my mail then go to my room, make my bed and listen to Galgalats for a while.
10:40am- time to walk back up there, cigarette in mouth, fast stride right back up to the Dining Room. Cigarettes, lighter and keys are left on the shelf by the dishwasher and one of us goes to get a trolley from behind the kitchen while the other peers at the food on our “vegetarian” cart. The usual diet chicken and diet meatballs, most of which disappear directly into the Tupperware containers brought in by Esther for the Vaticon and by the kindergarden teachers; and then some sort of quiche, and (thank goodness no falafel or pizza today- it’s crazy when we have to serve either one of those!) and mushrooms covered in cream sauce. Isabel brings clean plates to put on the trolley, a bucket of clean water and some clothes. I peer over to see what Marina is serving on the meat counter- chicken legs, goulash stuff and other dishes. Then I go round the other trolleys, diet vegetables, rice, pasta, the same selection of salads as there is every single day, and some kind of jelly-like thing for dessert. Right. Rice and carrots again for me today.
We stand and serve the early people together. Vova is sitting behind us reading the paper, Doron is hovering, checking the salads, and Revi is occasionally smiling across the food area to me from her place at the computer. At 11:30am Isabel takes off for her lunch break (tomato salad) and I serve the high school kids, replace what needs replacing and clean the food trolleys when needed.
“Vova, I love this song, turn it up!”
“Beseder. But promise me…”
“What? Oh no, I get it. No!”
“Just one kiss!”
At noon Isabel replaces me, I grab a tray and my food, my coffee coin and I go to Revi. Mustn’t forget my receipt- must watch that food account! However will I be able to put my friends’ food on my account if I get to 300 shekels at the end of the month? It’s funny how the meat-eaters always end up going over their limit before the 25th, while the vegetarians never do… I eat at the volunteer table, but in 15 minutes I’m done, get my coffee and drink it outside while smoking.
12:30pm. Isabel goes off to clean tables while I finish serving on the vegetarian trolley.
Surprisingly enough mushroom quiche doesn’t seem to entice many people. Not much of a steady flow today, so I chat to Vova and Doron. At 1pm Vova helps me take the hot trays out of the trolley (“they’re too hot and heavy for me Vova!”) and I push it back against the wall. Out comes the hose and I spray the trolley down, scrub it, rinse it and wipe it down, then clean up the excess water. I sneak off for a cigarette break by the dishwasher before attacking the big plastic things in the kitchen. Ofer smiles at me, and without me even having to ask he goes to get a big trolley and empties the plastic containers of the leftover trays of food. Yet again I pull out a hose and hose the things down, after pulling them around the drain. They are scrubbed, rinsed and put back into place again, ready for tomorrow’s food in the morning.
Time for another cigarette break and a latte from the machine. I can’t help it if I finish fast! I nip into the Kolbolit to get my daily supply of chocolate (those “4Plays” are delicious, both the regular and the white chocolate ones). I replace Revi on the meat counter for 5 minutes while she goes to the loo (i.e. cigarette break) and serve some of the later high school kids.
“Ze of, ze bacar”
“Anni lo rotsa.’
Isabel joins me for a cigarette by the dishwasher and then I start refilling and cleaning the coffee area for tomorrow. We are out of Nescafe and hot chocolate so I go and collect some more from the big storage room. All the Dining Room workers, except for Revi and Tuti, are just finishing their lunch breaks, so I chat to Tuti for a few minutes, finish cleaning the soda/water dispenser, fill the hot water tank and sweep round the coffee, and as nearly everyone has left the Dining Room I grab the bin bags, the dustpan and the brush and head outside to do zivouv. It takes me about 15 minutes to change the five bins and collect the cigarette butts, leaves and other garbage all round the Dining Room. When I get back inside it’s 2:20pm and Isabel is just finishing the tables, Doron and Vova have started cleaning the floor. We clear up our stuff, tell Vova we’re finished and he sends us off home. We’re lucky, but only because we work hard, because we never finish after 2:30pm (all of the other volunteers finish around 3pm).
After collecting out stuff, shouting goodbye to everyone and getting our sweaters we set off down to the Volunteer House, going into the Volunteer Office to say hi to Ina before plonking ourselves on the couch, taking our shoes off, putting on music, smoking a cigarette and waiting for the guys to get back.
One example of a regular days work in the Dining Room. I worked there regularly because I asked and was asked to. Most volunteers were rotated around the different jobs, but I liked the fact that I had a regular job; I was given my own responsibilities and daily chores. The atmosphere in the Dining Room was mostly one of fun; we always managed to have a laugh… Gossiping with Revi, running away from Sasha, laughing with Vova, chatting with the guys in the kitchen, pulling faces at Rami, chatting with Ronen. The work was not intellectually challenging, but I really enjoyed it, and my Hebrew went from non-existent to a lot better because I really tried. One day I will learn properly! It’s difficult to describe communal living to someone who has never experienced it before, as there are so many things that are part of the whole experience. It is not for everyone, but it was very good for me. To this day it was one of my favourite jobs and I would do it all over again in a flash if I could.
I smoked a lot of Noblesse Lights during my time in Israel if you hadn’t noticed after reading this.