The Secret of Low Expectations–“Necessary Stories” Column, The Jerusalem Report

Haim Watzman

I remember a high wind and driving rain. Night is darker here, I thought, as the bus’s engine expired in a series of knocks that sounded like the final beats of a broken heart. We pulled our duffel bags and backpacks from the luggage compartment and dragged them in the direction of the faintly lit doorway of the remotest of immigrant absorption centers, in Kiryat Shmona, in the Galilean panhandle, in the uttermost north. It would be, for the next three months, our home and our school, the beginning of a year’s stay in Israel.

“Only once in his life can a person arrive in the Land of Israel for the first time,” wrote Yehuda Ya’ari, with regret and, probably, considerable remorse. Ya’ari, a literary light of the idealistic, ideological, post-Great War Third Aliya, abandoned his socialist kibbutz paradise early on and parted from his utopian comrades. He was still alive, and living in Jerusalem, when I arrived in the Land of Israel that October night three decades ago – not that I knew of him then.

There were 28 of us in the shabby lobby of the absorption center, waiting to be assigned our rooms. Damp spots stained the corners of the ceiling where the rain was seeping through, and the plaster was cracked. A telephone – one of a handful in the entire town – stood on the reception desk at one end of the room, firmly locked.

I’d made some initial acquaintances on the four-hour ride up from the airport….

Read the whole essay on the Jerusalem Report website–come back here to comment!

2 thoughts on “The Secret of Low Expectations–“Necessary Stories” Column, The Jerusalem Report”

  1. Haim:

    My immediate impression was that my mind had just wandered into a screenset for the movie Munich. Not the plot but the setting. You say at the end there was no dissapointment; is that after 30 years or only in 1978? I find the symbolism of Sukkot interesting in regards to your arrival and subsequent experiences. Sweet and bittersweet? I don’t know but that was a poignant essay . . . the aftertaste so to speak will stay with me for a while.

    Best regards, Lloyd

  2. Your title sums it up – perhaps the best aliyah advice I have ever heard! I was a member of the Habonim-Dror garin “Gal Hadash” to Kibbutz Ravid in 1988, and for so many of the other members, having grown up in Labor Zionist Youth movements, aliyah was a bucket of dreams that had never overflowed, until it was totally upended by the hard reality of kibbutz life. Most members of the garin left Israel by the end of 1990. I had only met the Zionist dream after college, so I had less to lose, perhaps, and stayed in Israel (until a two year sabbatical in 2007, now half over).

    Or perhaps, having met the founder of another commune (Peter Caddy of the Findhorn community in Scotland), I had gotten some more sage advice, not unlike yours – “those first years,” he liked to say, “were all about rubbing down all the sharp corners.”

    Kibbutz, at least, if not survival itself, is about compromise, not necessarily on ideology, but on the most mundane matters.

    Your excellent essay is an excellent piece of advice. Chag Sameach.

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