Kibbutz Ma’agan Mikha’el

Practicing Judaism as a “Local Deviance”

Micha Balf

Micha Balf, source:

Micha Balf, source:

Let’s start with last night. On Thursday night March 13th all of the children at Kibbutz Maagan Michael celebrated Purim. It was a joyous affair with about 250 kids from grades 1-12 putting on shows, playing games, dancing to karaoke and eating pizza and hot dogs. The night ended with the middle schoolers having a “disco” until 2:00 am with a 100 guests from other kibbutzim.

I have just described a Purim holiday celebration in Israel on a kibbutz, what could be more Jewish? I agree that this was another Jewish celebration the way that we have done it here for decades, however it is also instructive to think about what did not happen.

First, the date of our celebration pre-empted the holiday itself by two days. The actual date is Saturday night. True the schools celebrated the holiday during the day, but we as a community could have chosen to celebrate on the actual date. So why did we celebrate on Thursday?

We chose the date to accommodate adults and work schedules. On any given holiday all of our children are in a framework. The younger ones are in a moadon and the older ones from 8th grade on work on the kibbutz. After the celebration the moadons are closed because the staffs who ran the party need R&R. Therefore, on Fridays when most adults here don’t work it is more convenient to have children sleep in at home than on Sunday because that would mean many people could not go to work.

View of the Mediterranean from the Kibbutz source:

View of the Mediterranean from the Kibbutz source:

As anyone who grew up in America celebrating the birthday of Lincoln and Washington separately and then experienced them amalgamated into “Presidents’ Weekend” knows, the dates of holidays can be changed. However, that is not usually the Jewish response.

In fact, the adult population of the kibbutz will wait patiently until the Friday after Purim to revel. We will celebrate on March 21 so that we can sleep it off on Shabbat and again not endanger a work day.

You might also note that on the menu were hotdogs and pizza. No, we are not kosher. There are a few people here who keep kosher homes (we are one of them), but overall it is not part of our Jewish community.

In terms of content, there was not, nor will there be, a reading of the Book of Ester on Purim. That is not part of the holiday tradition here. There will be Purim spiels in which people satirize, but the story, well know to all, will not be read anywhere in public here.

This process in which Jewish tradition is prominent, communal, a vital part of the internal dynamic of our kibbutz and yet distinctly anti-traditional has a long history. In the 1920’s and 30’s (in some places until the 1950’s) on many kibbutzim members would include the singing of the” International” (the anthem of the international communist movement for those of you who have been born in the last few decades ) in the middle of the Passover Seder. Their rationale was that both the Seder and the International dealt with freedom from oppression. It is interesting that the kibbutz members could not neglect either of the narratives – the traditional Jewish narrative nor the modern communist one. Just in case you were wondering, the International has not been sung here in a number of decades.

Chadar Ochel, Dining Room, source:

Chadar Ochel, Dining Room, source:

And yet when I was asked to comment on “gray areas of Judaism”, I ask myself if that is the way that our Judaic practices are perceived here? I think that many of the people with whom I live would tell you that “Judaism” is what is conventionally called Orthodoxy. Members here would say that of course we are Jewish and Israeli. They would say that they do not make much of an effort to distinguish between the two. They would not say that what we do is an alternative form of Judaic practice because, like many Israelis, they have been brought up to believe that Judaism is Orthodoxy. Therefore, what we would do is our local deviance, but it is not an alternative form of Judaism. It is just who we are and how we do things.

The reality that I have described is changing. More Israelis here accept and embrace the concept of pluralism in the Jewish world, but it is still a minority view.


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