A Kibbutz volunteer’s diary

The following is an extract from the diary of kibbutz volunteer John Carson, a Brit who spent some 2 years on 3 different kibbutz’s. He wrote a book all about it, called Beer and Bagels for Breakfast, a diary of his times on the kibbutz. Take it away John…

Kibbutz Volunteer: Friday 8 May

My first Shabbat. This was the only meal, apart from special occasions like festivals, when table cloths were used. We would also be having wine. I wasn’t really a wine lover, but any free alcohol was just fine with me. It would be my first chance that coming night to visit the legendary boiling pot of excessive drinking and wild partying – the Naloz pub.

7pm: Dressed to the nines (clean jeans and t-shirts), us volunteers trooped over for the Shabbat meal. Mette introduced me to my new KPs. They were called Assaf and Anat and were extremely friendly and easy to get on with. In fact, I hadn’t met a member yet who had been anything but welcoming. As usual with most Israelis, my KPs’ English was bloody excellent. They had a young son who I suppose was my ‘adopted’ brother. When everybody was seated I realised it was the first time that I had seen every kibbutz member in the dining room at the same time. It was packed and there was a great atmosphere. Before we began to eat a woman sang a song in Hebrew and said a short prayer. Then she said: ‘Shabbat Shalom’ which literally means: ‘Hello Shabbat’. The food was served and then came a horrible sight to behold. Women were being elbowed for a piece of fried chicken; old people prodding each other with forks for the last slurp of soup; volunteers squeezing the wine bottles for the last drop (we knew our priorities in life). It was a meal time massacre.

10pm. Back to the volunteers’ blocks for a party before the pub opened at midnight. Ben and Peter had ‘borrowed’ some spare wine from the meal and were busy making a punch with it, along with some vodka, rum and brandy. Plus some orange juice to keep it healthy and some bottles of beer to wash it down with. As my vision began to blur so Mette began to look more attractive. I took a quick imaginary cold shower. It was not such a good idea for volunteers to get involved with each other. If things didn’t work out it could get a bit uncomfortable. We lit some candles and played drinking games while The Doors sung about breaking on through to the other side.

Midnight arrived. Pub time! One of the most generous/foolish policies of Kibbutz Naloz was that everything was free for members and volunteers in the pub on Friday nights. They apparently made so much money from the paying public on Saturdays that they could well afford it. Who were we to complain? Besides, at that point we could hardly walk or talk. Still we made it. The pub was divided into a bar area and a dance floor with seating around the edge. The place was large enough to hold everybody, but still had an intimate feel to it. On the wall next to the dance floor were large mirrors. One of the passions of the Israeli people, and I say this in the nicest way, is to always check their appearance as they do their Mick Jagger moves. Nobody in that seething mass of disco mania really gave a shit: they were just enjoying themselves. I joined Ben and Peter at the bar and we had some Tequila Slammers. At one point we substituted the lemonade for vodka and were so pissed that we couldn’t work out why our ‘Slammers’ didn’t fizz up when banged on the bar. The South Africans really knew how to drink. A few moments later they really knew how to fall off their bar stools. I had originally hoped to get to know some of the Israeli girls that night. All I hoped for by the end was that my body’s automatic pilot system would be able to locate my bed.

Kibbutz Volunteer: Monday 1 June

I drove a tractor for the first time in my life. Dan told me to drive around the kibbutz and collect any rubbish or dead branches that might be blocking the pathways. I saw my friends while chugging around, and when I stopped at the children’s nursery to cut down an old bush, the woman in charge invited me in for some coke and cake. Hard to believe that almost a month had gone by since I had enjoyed the same snack within my first few minutes of arriving at Naloz. I sped by the dairy and stuck my fingers up at Arthur. He was waiting in ambush and soaked me with a hose as I drove by. The climate was really hot now and I was soon dry. I drove out to the fields to dump the rubbish in the pit. The tricky part was reversing the trailer as close to the edge of the pit as possible without sliding in backwards. There was a gradual slope that went down into the pit but this was covered in old food from the kitchens and looked too slippery to come back up again. The members dumped all kinds of things in there: oil drums, plastic bags, gardening waste – and even a dead cow. Its legs were sticking straight out of the water at the bottom of the pit and reminded me of a swallow dive that had gone wrong. There was a cute little bird balancing on one of its hoofs and singing a sweet melody. It brought a lump to my throat. I swallowed my breakfast back down (the smell was disgusting out there) and drove back to the kibbutz. Some Arabs were working in the fields, employed by the kibbutz as cheap labour. Better to be safe than sorry I thought, and had tucked a kitchen knife just behind the tractor seat. There were a lot of random attacks happening to Jews across the country. With a touch of paranoia, I thought that if an Arab threw a wobbly, he wouldn’t necessarily know that I wasn’t a Jew.

1pm: I finished work early and joined the volunteers at the busy swimming pool. Music from a radio station pumped out from a couple of loudspeakers by the tea and coffee area. Peter, Ben and Arthur were ‘bombing’ each other and got a warning from the lifeguard to stop. Einar was chatting to Linda and finally seemed to be coming out of his shell. Mette, Dorte, Jenny and Margarite were soaking up some serious rays. Peter pushed me in the pool so I sat on the bottom for a bit to make him think I was drowning. It was about four metres deep at the end and very quiet down there. Being a typical Piscean I felt quite at home. My mind drifted to what my family would be doing back in England. I thought of them struggling to get out of bed on a rainy Monday morning (if it was a normal English summer) and going to work. Their journeys would take an average of an hour to get to work and back home. Mine only took two minutes if I ran. When I’d left for Israel I thought that a one-year stay might be too long. I now had a sneaking feeling that it would be over too soon.

Kibbutz Volunteer: Sunday 27 June

That night was going to be THE social event of the calendar – Arthur and myself were guest DJs in the Naloz pub! After lunch we sacrificed our usual Saturday laze by the pool with the other volunteers and went to the pub to organise ourselves. There was certainly a good collection of music to choose from. We took along some of the volunteers’ own personal tapes as well. I’m quite good with electronics and electrical equipment and found the mixing deck very easy to operate. Arthur wasn’t too sure about it though and couldn’t quite get the hang of smoothly introducing one track into another. There was a microphone attached to the set-up that could be used for making announcements over the music. This was going to be fun… Eventually Arthur got his act together and we locked the pub up and gave the key back to the bloke who ran it.

9pm: DJ Jazzy John and the Bad Brazilian strolled into the pub like they owned the joint. We checked that the ‘wheels of steel’ and the CD players were cued up with the first few tracks. We didn’t bother having a set list of records to be played but knew the sort of thing to keep the Israelis happy. The Bad Brazilian’s voice boomed from the loudspeakers: ‘TESTING…ONE…TWO…HELLOOOO…!’ The microphone was loud and clear. The bar staff were looking over and laughing. I could see they were thinking ‘give the volunteers a taste of power and they think they’re God!’ Nearly right: we were Good.

10pm: DJ Jazzy John went to collect a couple of free beers from the bar – one of the perks of being DJ on a Saturday night. Meanwhile, the Bad Brazilian started to get the musical ball rolling. He adjusted the odd dial, flicked a couple of switches and…all the lights went out. He’d accidentally hit the main power switch to the pub. Our naff image took a further nosedive. A few minutes later DJ Jazzy John was at the helm and ‘Shiny Happy People’ by R.E.M. flowed from the loudspeakers. The pub was just starting to fill up with some members by now but the dance floor was still empty. DJ Jazzy John and the Bad Brazilian were starting to get quite pissed at this stage. The free drinks were going down a treat: it was thirsty work being hip.

11pm: The place began to buzz (just like my head). Lots of the members and quite a few visitors were surging about on the dance floor below us. My nerves had totally vanished. I could just make out the volunteers sitting over in the darkened corner at the far side of the pub. I gave them the thumbs up. Next to me the Bad Brazilian was wildly shouting something over ‘Peace Frog’ by The Doors – a real floor filler in Naloz. The raw, animal heat of the place and the large amounts of alcohol had combined to work their magic. I switched on the microphone: ‘WHO’S IN THE HOUSE…? ANY JEWS IN THE HOUSE…? WHO – WHO – WHO’S IN THE HOUSE…? ANY JEW – JEW – JEWS IN THE HOUSE…? HERE’S A SHOUT GOING OUT TO THE KIBBUTZ NALOZ VOLUNTEERS FROM DJ JAZZY JOHN AND THE BAD BRAZILIAN…!!’ We were rocking now. ‘Don’t You Forget About Me’ by Simple Minds faded out and The Cure’s ‘Killing An Arab’ came on. Ben, Peter and Einar were bouncing around below us. Microphone on: ‘BEN YOU FAT BASTARD! PETE YOU UGLY GIT! ANY REQUESTS?’ Both shouted back in unison: ‘Have you got ‘Hang the DJ’ by The Smiths?’

Kibbutz Volunteer: Friday 16 October

Being a Piscean, I tend to have a very generous and giving nature, and I find it hard to say no. This, subsequently, was the cause of a gruesome murder on the kibbutz that could so easily have been avoided. The memory will always haunt me… During my morning tea break I parked the tractor behind the dining room and joined the workers there for some grub. I got talking to Trog who worked in the kitchens, and she asked if it was possible to have a quick spin on the tractor before continuing work. As she couldn’t even drive a car, I was a bit wary of agreeing to her request. Then I thought that, like me, she’d come to Israel to try new things – and who was I to stand in her (fourteen stone) way? Gleefully revving up the engine she started to reverse the tractor in a shuddering way. Her foot slipped off the clutch and the tractor shot backwards. The trailer behind slammed into a wall and we stalled. Once my teeth had stopped chattering I told her to take things a tad more gently. We set off again and headed for the kibbutz office. Events were going smoothly and Trog was doing quite well. I relaxed. Suddenly, directly in our path, I spotted the unluckiest lizard in the world taking a morning stroll in the sunshine. Trog was busy concentrating on avoiding parked cars and small children and hadn’t spotted the hapless reptile. The lizard saw us bearing down and tried to make a run for it. He scuttled across the road one way, and then back again. I was shouting evasive manoeuvres: ‘Go left..no right..left…quick right…’. For one hopeful moment the odds looked favourable and then fate dealt a cruel blow. The lizard stumbled over a pebble and I caught a fleeting glimpse of wide frightened eyes (swivelling in different directions) as he went under the large front wheel. Nothing could survive that. I jumped down to have a look. Miraculously he was still alive, but had nothing to celebrate because his insides were now on the outside. One eye swivelled towards me and pleaded for mercy. I put cardboard over his head and squashed it in a humane way, before throwing the corpse into the bushes. Even though I hadn’t run him over, I felt guilty imagining the lizard widow and orphans wating back home in the nest, crying over his last words: ‘I’m just popping out for a few flies, darling. Won’t be long.’

11pm: Trog and I drowned our sorrows in the pub and made a toast to the late lizard. We requested The Kinks song ‘You Really Got Me’ in his memory.



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