Saturday, February 19, 2011

On the Evils and Joys of Capitalism

"What is he kissing?" I asked my daughter of her husband, as he was blowing kisses through the windshield of his car while driving me home from Friday night services last week.

"Just the Mercedes that passed us by" she told me, as if it were an everyday occurrence.

Feeling an overwhelming wave of generosity come over me because of 4 family birthdays in February, which is also in the joyous Hebrew month of Adar, I told him I'd buy him a Mercedes when I win the lottery.

He shot back immediately - "And when I win a lottery, I'll buy you a mosque."

How kind and considerate of him....:-)

This past weekend Hubby and I rented a car, which we hadn't done in over a year, just relying on public transportation, but we wanted to buy decorative Arabesque tiles  for our home which was over an hour's trip to Petach Tikva -

Thursday night we picked up the car and drove to a friend's daughter's wedding at the Caliph in the old city of Jaffa.  Jaffa's main street Yefet is quite run down and in need of immediate refurbishing/renovation.  It looks abandoned and deserted.  But just in back of that street is an entire neighborhood of cafe's, restaurants and bars, in beautifully restored old buildings.  I had no idea such a paradise existed from the main street that I walked on one Saturday afternoon in the summer.

Friday we went to pick up our tiles and got lost finding the place.  Our rental car doesn't have GPS.  Knowing it was near a cemetery, we went there and asked the men in the kiosk just outside for directions.  One man came over, gave us directions and then asked us for a dollar.

"What the fuck for?  For giving us directions?"  This was incredulous.  Are people in Petach Tikvah crazy?  We drove off. All  I know is I never want to be buried in that cemetery.

We drove up to the Galilee to visit our friends on a kibbutz whom we hadn't seen in three years, because neither of us own a car.  Hubby and I just had to take advantage of our Cinderella moment.  It was a gloriously beautiful day, with unusually warm weather for February and we both felt so spiritually connected with God, with the Holy Land as we drove past the sea on one side and the rolling green hills on the other.  It was also unusual for us to be both in such good moods at the same time. 

There was a woman on the road who beeped us and yelled that our back tire was running out of air.  Hubby was skeptical because he felt no difference in driving.  We noticed the Tire Checker was looking at every car's tires and telling a few other people that their tires needed air.  We figured it was the heavy load of 150 kgs of tiles in the back that weighed down the tires, because when we checked them, they were fine.

Our friends have lived on this kibbutz for 15 years and since we last saw them, the kibbutz was going through the sad but necessary process of privatization.  Kibbutzim were going bankrupt all over the country one by one and the government would have to bail them out.  The country was not the mostly agricultural country it once was and the socialist ideal was quickly fading, with most young people leaving the kibbutz for greener and more profitable pastures in the city - for high tech and other capitalist endeavors.  This kibbutz had no choice but to privatize. When it did, more members were added - mostly young families who are very active in the Conservative movement. It sold off its agricultural lands for outside people to come in to build magnificent villas on its property.  Driving up to the kibbutz we saw what looked like a small village, with beautiful homes on what was once farmland.  It was a gated community and we waited until the guard opened up the electronic gate to let us in.  We drove up to the older kibbutz homes where our friends lived and noticed that the old, dinky, tiny kibbutz homes were now being renovated - some have added second floors, some were totally refurbished on the outside, painted terracotta with blue window shutters.

We hugged and kissed our old friends whom we hadn't seen in so long.  We mentioned that the entire place looked different and how did it feel with this new life breathed into the tired place, which had only around 5 families as members when we were last there.  It looked so lively with all the kids' toys lying around in the various yards.  I mentioned the blue house.

"Oh the Flintstones..." she rolled her eyes.  Apparently, she wasn't enjoying the kibbutz's transformation as I thought she would.

She missed the communal meals in the dining room. 

"I worked 15 hours a day, 6 days a week, and I didn't care.  I had everything I needed.  Now my husband and I work less hours and I even have a day off, but it's not the same.  I used to finish work and not have to cook or do laundry (since it was all done communally).  I had education for my kids taken care of as well as health and dental care.  If we wanted to go somewhere, we took the kibbutz cars. Now everything is money.  If I work on my day off, you have to pay me.  If I want to use the kibbutz car, it's two shekels a kilometer plus a fee for daily rental.  We used to fight among ourselves all the time but now we're like sisters.  We all miss the way it was."

I walked passed the dark dining room, where our family spent many holidays in communal dinners with the kibbutzniks and their families.  The family from India would lead the Rosh Hashana seder with the various blessings made over an assortment of vegetables and then there was the dairy dessert contest they had on the Shavuot holiday, in which I was made one of the judges.  Though the members used to fight over petty things, they were no more than family fights.  And the family was now gone.

Services in the kibbutz synagogue were lively and various activities and parties and get togethers for the week were announced. There was life in this place.  If we had younger kids, I may have wanted to make my home here.

My friend's Shabbat table was filling up with people.  Who were all these people.  It was beginning to feel like kibbutz again.  Her brother and family have moved onto kibbutz and her husband's mother was now living there too.  Their sons and girlfriends came as well with their very friendly pit bulls who came over to give me wet licks while I asked them "aren't you guys supposed to be dangerous dogs?"  Everything on kibbutz seemed to be safe.  We told our hosts, they may have lost some things, the simpler way of life and now they have to struggle to make money like everyone else, but their Shabbat table is full every week with the large and lively family they now have and so they did gain in other ways. 

We drove back home to Jerusalem past signs posted on the highway, protesting the new extension of the Express Highway 6 which will be   built over farm fields, but which got us back to our home in two hours instead of the 3 1/2 hours it would have, had this highway not been in existence. 

Progress is not always such a bad thing....

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