The kibbutz was, in some ways, a wonderful place for kids. It was safe – there was no crime or street violence, no traffic. We were poor, with few material possessions, but we wore our poverty with pride, because we were taught that material possessions were evil. We looked down on city children as weak, spoiled, misguided.
Entertainment was mostly of the found, not manufactured, sort. Our playgrounds were junkyards. We played with defunct tractors, old boxes, used clothing and discarded tools. We roamed the yard, mostly barefoot. We built tree houses. We took turns on the lone communal bicycle. In winter we collected mushrooms in the forest and brought them to the communal dining room to be cooked.
During mandatory afternoon naps, the care-givers would have us lie in our beds with our heads to the wall. We developed a code of communication, like prisoners: One knock on the wall, "Are you awake?" Two: "Yes." Three: "Watch out, the care-giver is coming!"
On hot summer nights we'd strip and run naked around the yard. Or we'd crawl over to the other children's house next door where the group a year younger than us were housed. We'd sneak in and paint their faces with toothpaste, mix up their shoes in their shoe drawers, put ice in their pyjamas and run off.
I have many such innocent memories. But there was another side to my kibbutz childhood. The pressure to conform was relentless. Individuality and competition were looked down upon. Children who were unusual, eccentric or sought to distinguish themselves, were shunned. We were socialised to be strong and sunny, simple and similar. Emotional expression was demeaned as weak and self-involved. We learned to numb ourselves. I haven't cried since I was 10. I'd like to but I can't.
A friend of mine, I found out years later, used to wake up every night and sneak out the window to go to his parents' room. Every night he would knock on his parents' door and beg to be let in. Every night they would take him back to the children's house. After repeated episodes, the kibbutz's solution was to move his parents to a room further away.
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