April 2, 2008Kibbutz Afikim rests calmly near the shore of the Sea of Galilee in northern Israel in a place green and mountainous. It's a remnant of a past movement led by secular Jews influenced by eastern european socialist thought to create egalitarian communities in Palestine. The Kibbutzim were the utmost leaders in the Jewish return to this land. Though most of Israel's Kibbutzim are no longer socialist and many of the original "Kibbutznicks" have passed, life on the Kibbutz is still a life of work and community, two values socialist secular Jews and Mennonites have in common. Needless to say, aided by humbling hospitality, we integrated quickly on Kibbutz Afikim.
Soon after arrival, we signed up for two week job assignments including milking cows (6 girls, 0 guys), picking bananas (clock-in: 5:15 am), gardening, maintenance, and if you had connections, stocking shelves at Afikim's grocery store (Of course, Phil and I). While our jobs would entertain us for the morning hours, they routinely gave way to afternoon Hebrew lessons and conversations with local rabbi's, old time "Kibbutznicks", and Israeli soldiers. All of these conversations, which continuously forced us to confront conflicting thoughts, added pieces to this puzzle known as the middle east of which we've been perplexed and suprised by these past few months.
In the midst of work and study, we also found time to have fun. Our first week was highlighted by the annual Jewish festival known as Purim. Purim is derived from the book of Ester, when the Jews escaped persecution at the hands of Haman. To celebrate, many of us dressed up in outlandish outfits and joined in with the members of Afikim for a party. Throughout the course of the past two weeks, we also came together for a group soccer game to celebrate Sus's birthday and some found time to develop card game addictions. Not to mention, putting on a hilarious group variety show.
We also came together for an Easter celebration. Our group worship leaders led us to the the Jordan river while stopping to sing, read scripture, and reflect on the life of Christ. While the sun rose above us, I had the blessing of being baptized by Linford in the Jordan. To be baptized with this traveling community alongside me was one of the most humbling and healing moments of my life, one I will never forget.
Towards the end of our two week stay on Kibbutz Afikim, we came together as small groups to present our reflections on this conflict through creative methods like children's stories, poetry, and drama. The evening was simply powerful. Several months of investigating this conflict through authentic relationships with both Arabs and Jews has left us transformed, sometimes healthily cynical, and as people of faith always hopeful as we journey on.
In the coming weeks, we will head to Nazareth to focus on the life and faith of Jesus before exploring the Christian movement in the Mediterrenean in Greece and Rome.
- John T.