Jan 08 2010
For three days (two nights) while we were in Israel, we went up to Kibbutz Nir David, which is sort of in the corner between the northern border of the West Bank and Israel’s eastern border with Jordan, below the Sea of Galilee. It is kibbutz country up there, with one kibbutz after the next lining the roads.
We stayed on the grounds of the kibbutz in their little village of Swiss chalets, which actually looked Swiss, down to the interior decoration! The surrounding date palm trees? Not so much Swiss. The chalets were pretty, spacious, comfortable, and clean, and apparently they are all full every Shabbat. More info and booking here. Tourism is a big party of the kibbutz’s livelihood these days, and they do a good job of it. The kibbutz itself is beautiful, with a river running through it, residents biking around, mountains in the distance, and houses fronted by amazingly creative flower and herb gardens. It serves up a delicious and enormous Israeli breakfast to its guests every day. There is plenty to do, too. One can rent bikes or fishing poles, go swimming in the indoor sports center, or send kids on pony-rides on the in-house stable’s ponies. There is an archeological museum, Gan Hashlosha (a park surrounding natural warm springs that source the river) with a nice dairy restaurant, a kangaroo zoo thing, an outdoor exhibit of kibbutz bells from the area, and the tower and stockade settlement site open for visits, all operated by the kibbutz on adjacent land. We didn’t have time to get to everything, and besides, we were too old for the pony rides and it was a bit chilly to hop into the warm springs (though we saw one person swimming), but we banged on a lot of bells, climbed the tower, wandered the grounds, and watched a beautiful sunset over the mountains.
Two kibbutzim down the road at Hefzibah is the Beit Alpha ancient synagogue mosaic floor, which was restored to incredible condition. It is beautiful and fascinating in its incorporation of non-Jewish symbols, such as the zodiac. In the other direction, a short drive away, is the Beit She’an archeological site, featuring a Roman ampitheatre, a bathhouse, toilets, mosaic road, etc. The enormous excavation uncovered not only Roman ruins, but Hellenist, Byzantine, and Ottoman Muslim ruins as well. On our visit, we ran into a Harvard friend who came along with us and translated our guide’s Hebrew and read Ancient Greek engravings for us. There are also a number of surprisingly good restaurants in the area. Besides the one at Gan Hasholsha, just next to the Beit Alpha synagogue in Kibbutz Hefzibah is Dag Dagim, a nice dairy/fish restaurant, and we went to an amazing, informal Middle Eastern restaurant with salads and falafel balls galore located in a nearby gas station, of all places.
Our family friend’s sister, who has been a member and resident of the kibbutz from the day she was born and who took us around the kibbutz, says, “Now we do everything here as in everywhere else in the world.” I don’t think that’s quite true, and I hope it doesn’t become true. The kibbutz has only in the last year switched from a communist system to a salary system, and many of the old, idealistic ways of the community have disappeared. New members buy into the social future of the kibbutz rather than the economic one. On the other hand, it has adapted admirably well and diversified its products and services from industry to agriculture to fish farming to tourism. The children’s houses have become nursery schools and after-school programs, but the school yards are still packed with discarded appliances and furniture for the kids to play with. Even though not all of the kibbutz’s employees live on grounds, everyone still knows everyone else. It is still a very different way of life from that of the cities, and hopefully, even if children are raised in their parents’ houses and individual occupations are not determined by the community based on community needs, some of that original idealism will remain.