This Shabbos I stayed at a moshav called Beit Zayit, visiting a friend from the Bay Area who’s recently returned here (she made aliyah some time ago, but went back Stateside for grad school.) She’s been staying with some friends, and we had the place to ourselves for Shabbos. “Moshav” literally translates as “settlement”, but it’s not a yishuv–the thing that people are doing in Gaza and the West Bank that has heavy contemporary political implications. Rather, it’s a community of people who set up homes and contribute communally on municipal stuff–roads and the like. Unlike a kibbutz people own property, do not eat communally, have their own jobs out in the world (etc etc). Beit Zayit, founded in 1951, is a little bit west of Jerusalem and feels kind of like a cross between a rural town, a suburb and a kibbutz.
It’s just got a post office and a general store, lots of trees and paths, and small, lovely but not (mostly) flashy houses. Real estate there is evidently crazy high. The house I was staying in is usually occupied by a lesbian artist couple and their two small children. So it was beautifully but simply decorated–they (like most people in Israel) live a pretty modest lifestyle, and frankly I’m finding it a refreshing change from America and the buy! buy! buy! route to happiness and fulfillment. Like, the kids didn’t have a lot of fancy toys–a few plastic zoo animals, some wooden puzzles, that sort of thing, nothing with bells and whistles and ringtones. But if you’re a kid, why would you need 900 bits of trendy crap (even though a lot of kids have it?) Imagination, isn’t that the best part of being small? That sort of thing. There were a lot of art projects around.
It was agreed, really, that the whole thing just felt a lot like West Marin. Or wherever in Marin they don’t bother with the fancy gourmet gadgets.
Shabbos day four other friends (plus two very tiny people–5 months and 2 yrs, respectively) came to spend the day. It was positively lovely. 6ish hours of hanging out, talking, eating delish food, taking walks, naps, trading off on babycare, etc. I haven’t seen any of these folks in a couple of years, so it was great to have some calm, mellow time to just catch up and enjoy the day. So often I feel like, even on Shabbat, social time feels constricted and bounded. (Some of this is because I ususally have a pretty low tolerance for serious socializing–after a while I need to go back to my Cave of Solitude.) It’s all too infrequent in my life that there’s just this long stretch of time to visit, and let the day unfold. And I forget that when there’s this open space in the day, I feel less like I have to be “on” and “engaged” the whole time, you know? I felt like checking out of the conversation for a bit, so I got into the hammock (yes, hammock–in the living room, even! So fabulous) and faded. And then when I wanted to come back, I could. Really, a maximal use of Shabbat, I think. I have to remember that spending time with people–even people who aren’t close close friends–can be like that. Easy, correct.
I am now late to get out the door to hear Yossi Klein Halevi speak, so perhaps more on Shabbos or his talk later.
The moshav has really changed over the past 10-15 years, especially on the western side, which is mostly privately-owned villas. And there’s tension between the old-time moshav members and the newcomers. So even if it isn’t evident by the lovely setting, there’s currents moving underneath.
ON MOSHAVIM AND SETTLEMENTS. A moshav is a cooperative settlement, though not all-out cooperative like a kibbutz. Moshavim usually have some cooperative elements for marketing, for example. Yishuv is a generic word for a community of settlement anywhere (well, okay, in Israel). The Jewish community in Eretz Israel before 1948 was known generally as the Yishuv. The Hebrew word for the Jewish settlements in the occuppied territories is “hitnachlut”. The etymology of hitnachlut can have both positive and negative connotations. On the one hand, it comes from the root Nun.Het.Lamed., which is used in the Bible to describe the land promised to Abraham by God. On the other hand, in contemporary usage, hitnachlut or “mitnachel” (settler) is akin to “squatter”. If you find an abandoned flat in Tel Aviv and move in you become a mitnachel there.