“Chefets chashud”. The cries of the police at the Lev Ha’Mifratz bus terminal in Haifa alerting the prospective travelers that another bag was left unattended, making it a “suspicious package”. It was to be from there that the 3:15pm bus would take me to another world of adventure, fun and ultimately three of the best months of my life.
The pain of a 35-kilogram backpack that was my home every time I left the comforts of Australia only outweighed the confusion of the throngs of people that raced around the car park in search of their Egged chariots.
Pushing and shoving my way around the crowd, I saw it. There it was in the glare of the afternoon sun. Bus number 560 to kibbutz Baram.
I do not remember much of the two and a half hour drive but as we wound our way towards the kibbutz I thought that this was certainly, a place far removed from the hustle and bustle of the city. I had reached the end of the earth.
Dave Nirens was there waiting for me. He too was from Melbourne Australia. A product of the kibbutz idealism of the youth movement Habonim Dror that he attended until the age of eighteen. Although he is an Israeli Australian, he looks more like an Indian chief with his long graying hair, dark skin and brown eyes.
I will never forget the first volunteer I met. Anders, sitting on the steps outside the room block greeted me with a smile. The sky, already dark, hid his otherwise stereotypically Danish features of blond curly hair and dark blue eyes. He showed me my room and then took me to the common room.
The haze of Noblesse cigarettes filled the room almost as much as the many people from different corners of the world. The walls covered with names of past volunteers written around their flag of origin almost as a way to immortalize the time they spent on kibbutz. Everyone in the room introduced themselves to me as if it were essential I memorize their names instantly.
Dinnertime saw the large dining room half empty with volunteers on one side and native kibbutzniks on the other. This segregation, I discovered over my time there, was due mainly to the arrogant kibbutz attitude that it is the role of the volunteers to break the ice and mingle with the locals rather than the other way around.
The kibbutz ideal began as a way for the State if Israel to establish its borders and begin the agricultural means to sustain life in what was during that time of the first and second aliyah, mostly swamplands.
Kibbutz volunteering itself began in the 60’s Australia, Scandinavia and North America sending groups to find about living as socialists and its relevance to the global socialist trends of the time.
Over the years, as socialism became less relevant with the onset of capitalism and with the borders of Israel more established and secure by a more mature defense force, it has struggled in recent years to find relevance. Israeli society and those individuals, who were born into the closed off community, rather than their parents and grandparents ideological choice of living, have meant that many have turned toward city life.
I was to start work at 6:30am, a time where most of the world will be fast asleep. Entering the factory, I was the first of the volunteers to arrive. I sat down in the coffee room where a couple of the younger members of the kibbutz work force were sipping their coffee in an attempt to wake up for a hard days work. I too indulged in a caffeine boost.
The apples started to roll through the big machine and I sat down at one of the many packing stations. My job was mundane at the best of times but I found solace in the mindless job of putting apples in a box.
Every now and then, my thoughts would be interrupted by a deep voice over the loud speaker. “Keep going, keep going”. I questioned this method of motivation but the supervisor insisted that it reminded the lazy volunteer that he needed to work faster and stop daydreaming. For me it simply broke my concentration.
As a reward for our hard work, we were invited to the kibbutz pub every Tuesday and Friday where the volunteer can enjoy as much beer as their exhausted livers could handle.
Baram has one of the largest volunteer programs, but the reasons volunteers come now have less to do with ideology and more with having a good time. This has seen a big push in the kibbutz to abolish its volunteer program. Many of the kibbutz volunteer programs have closed down each one for its own specific reasons, which culminated in many potential volunteers over the last summer, turned away, because there was simply not enough room. Despite the kibbutz volunteer programs' many flaws, there are many benefits for the volunteer.
The experience of a kibbutz volunteer is one where friendships form and memories are shared with people from many different backgrounds, countries and cultures via volunteer outings and just by living together. It forms bonds between individuals who would normally walk past each other in the street without blinking an eye.
It is the international movement of friendship through common experience. An experience accepting each other’s differences to unite people for just one time. And while many friends are lost in the myriad of time and travels, fond memories always remain and the negatives of being a kibbutz volunteer are forgotten.