Sunday, September 08, 2013

March-June 1974, my gap year part 6

This period was the longest part of our programme, and in a sense, the most boring: we worked every day with few external activities. As the primary idea behind the programme was to prepare for living on a kibbutz, it seemed only natural that we would live - as much as possible - as ordinary members of the kibbutz, and this meant working every day.

As far as I am concerned - certainly with the advantage of forty years' hindsight - one of the most important events of this period happened right at the beginning. It might have happened during the break which might have been between the Jerusalem and Haifa seminars, otherwise it happened when we returned to the kibbutz. One day after lunch, I was in the communal laundry picking up clothes, when I saw the adopted mother of one of my room mates (her husband was the hatchery manager). I have no idea what prompted me to say to her "We can't go on meeting like this", but I am eternally thankful. This lady was (and still is) only fifteen years older than me; at the time, it seemed like a huge gap, but the point is that she was somewhat younger than other "kibbutz mothers", or my own mother. As a result, we had many things in common, which we were to discover over the next five months or the next forty years.

I know that she is reading these lines so in a sense I have to be careful about what I write. Somehow, I recognised that she was a kindred spirit; not only that, she recognised the same in me. So slowly we became friends, talking about music and books. There were a few years in which our friendship (always platonic!!!) became intense and of course there were years when we were barely in contact. But at the moment I am writing about then: we didn't know what was to be, and of course we had to maintain a certain propriety; as a result, I used to go there for tea maybe once or twice a week (and probably not on the same days that my room mate went).

With the constant work days, I became proficient at work and hopefully made a contribution to the hatchery. I know that I helped train a few Israeli youngsters (they were actually older than me) who spent some of their army service on the kibbutz. What I got out of this period was the knowledge that I could work very well, given the chance and the right circumstances. Probably around this time I discovered that I couldn't work outside: I remember a few days spent on another kibbutz and feeling physically sick whenever I stepped into the sunshine but feeling fine when I was in the shade.

There used to be Israeli dancing sessions once a week; we had attended a few before the war started and in between, the wife of the kibbutz member responsible for the group would teach some of the dances to those interested (such as myself). Presumably, the sessions were suspended during the immediate war period but they must have started soon afterwards. At the beginning, the dining room used to be full of people (some would come from a neighbouring moshav), but in the post-war period, fewer people came. I remember one sparsely attended evening; in the middle arrived a (male) member who used to dance very well - in uniform. He took off his boots and joined in the dancing. Later on in the year, the attendance returned to its original level; those from my group who attended were now much more confident and even joined 'the inner circles'.

Towards the end of the year, we began planning the end of year show. As opposed to the show which we held at the end of November, I was much more involved this time. With Erica, I worked up a short 'set' of three songs: one of mine ("our affair"), one by Fleetwood Mac ("man of the world") and one by Kaveret ("the grocery store"). Erica did most of the singing, but I sang a fair amount as well. I did most of the 'twiddly bits" on guitar, but we swapped roles during the songs, so at one point I would be playing rhythm guitar, then playing a solo, whereas at times she would be fingerpicking under my solo then playing lead over my rhythm. I would like to think that we played well. At some stage in the near future, I will listen to the recordings that we made: some off-stage, playing around, and some in our final performance.

The opening number of the evening was "Welcome" from "Cabaret". We recorded the music and singing in advance; my co-musician from "America" played piano, Simon "sang" and I played bass guitar. Somehow I managed to work the tune "Wandering star" (we had recently seen the film with Lee Marvin crooning the song) into the arrangement.

With one of my room mates and another friend, I wrote the traditional Habonim calypso: this was usually satirical lyrics set to an existing tune and sung at the end of a camp, where the lyrics dealt with various incidents which had occurred over the duration of the camp. To be honest, I don't remember what the lyrics were about this year, but I do have a recording, should I wish to be reminded. What I do remember is that we were writing the lyrics (in Hebrew!) in the kibbutz dining room (we wouldn't be disturbed there and the lyrics would be a surprise); at some stage, we became aware that there were a lot of people around, carrying walkie-talkies and guns. It was the evening of the Ma'alot massacre, which was taking place less than 20km from where we were. This dates the evening to May 15, 1974. We were advised to go to our rooms as quickly as possible.

We had several discussions on the subject of the show's finale: I was all for singing the Kaveret song "Nichmad" (nice), whose lyrics seemed to be more than suitable (they were also in Hebrew and well known), but for some reason, the Fairport Convention "hit", "Si tu dois partir", was chosen. Theoretically I should have been for this (after all, I was a heavy Fairport fan), but I tried to argue that the lyrics are in bad French which no one would understand, and anyway they were hardly suitable for the occasion. Overruled,  we asked someone to write down the words (we couldn't understand the bad French and Sandy Denny's diction wasn't always too clear) and I decided to play concertina for this song. Fortunately the song only had a few chords which I could manage successfully on the concertina (echoing Richard Thompson's accordion in the original). Everyone sang (or mimed) and two others played guitar along with me. We took it turns to come to the front of the stage and bow; if one listens to the recording, one can hear a place when the guitars drop out and only the concertina can be heard. This is when the musicians were bowing.

We stayed for a few more days after the show, working on and off, and saying goodbye to all the friends we had met. At the time, I was treasurer of the group; I spent some time with the kibbutz accountants, trying to make a reckoning of how much we should be paid. I imagine that we would have been perfectly content to have spent the year there for nothing, with our work paying for our activities, but the kibbutz was actually prepared to give us money over and above. Every day I posted a figure - which seemed to increase every day - of how much each person would receive at the end of the year. People were leaving early and we weren't spending much, so we had more money to divide between fewer people.

No comments: