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It Wasn’t Like This in Manchester

Illustration: Liora Blum

In the ten years since I left Manchester to come and live on a kibbutz in Israel, I have been constantly aware of the differences in culture. Of course, moving to the kibbutz meant moving from a city to the countryside. Instead of owning two cars we became the owners of two bicycles. We now have a car and I have learnt to drive on the wrong side of the road. Since there are no cars in the residential area of the kibbutz, it is noticeably quiet.

Getting used to living in Israel can be a challenge but we looked on navigating our way round the systems as an adventure. For example, to get a driving licence you do not go to the Ministry of Transport – you go to an optician! If you pass the eyesight test the optician gives you a form to take to your GP who has to approve the application. Then you go to the Ministry of Transport. All makes sense really and I wonder why it is not like that in England.

Bureaucracy has become an art form in Israel with banks setting the standard. A telephone number is extremely important as many service providers file your details by your phone number so when you have a problem with your TV the provider will ask for your telephone number. Outside of big cities, addresses are not important, and most streets are not named. When I ask where a shop is in Tiberias, I get an answer like "opposite the post office" or turn left at the pylon.

It is not all bad news, accessing the local GP services is very easy and efficient and if I have a blood test, I get the results the same day posted to my email.Talking of health, the emphasis here is on prevention, so a range of routine check-ups is normal.

One of my favorite experiences happened one December when I had an appointment with the dentist in Tiberias. I was quietly waiting for my turn when the dental assistant rushed out and said "Peta, come quickly!". I did not know what to expect but went into the dentist's surgery room and found all the staff waiting to light the chanukiah. After the prayer and songs they handed out doughnuts. I cannot imagine that there is anywhere else in the world where a dentist would give out doughnuts!

Kibbutz life is special. We feel very much part of the community. We had frequently visited my sisters who have lived here since 1970 so we are used to the way festivals are celebrated on the kibbutz. In Manchester, counting the Omer was something that was said after the Seder service. Here it means going out to the fields to watch a ceremonial cutting and gathering of wheat, using scythes, and gathering by hand.A portion of the fields is measured out and after the cutting and gathering what is left on the ground is gleaned by children. The head of agriculture then weighs what has been gleaned, multiplies this by the number of dunams in the fields and calculates how much the kibbutz will donate to charity to compensate for the produce that would have been available for gleaning before combine harvesters became so efficient.

Shavuot in Manchester meant going to a shul which was decorated with flowers for the occasion.Here it is a celebration of everything the kibbutz has produced during the year - bananas, avocados, milk, all the crops, livestock, and new babies. On Sukkot the gardeners leave piles of palm tree branches near all the houses for covering sukkahs.

We thought we had experienced everything but there was a surprise for us on our first September here - the first day of the school year.

This is a brilliant example of the difference between living in a large city in England and living in a kibbutz. All the schools start on the 1st of September. The first thing I noticed was that all the children were wearing white T shirts like they do for festivals. I also noticed that my niece, who is a teacher in a different town, was wearing a white blouse that day. Up until the age of six the kibbutz children go to kindergartens on the kibbutz and I often see them going for trips to the fields or walking round the gardens. That day there was a large gathering by the bus stop waiting for the school bus. Parents and grandparents came to watch the new starters get on board, then most of the parents followed them to school.

There was a ceremony for the new pupils. Each child had to go through a symbolic gate.There is a tradition for a pupil from the senior class to take one of the new pupils through the gate and into the school.It is also traditional for each new pupil to put a shekel into the charity box, because as with all festivals charity is particularly important.

After a little formality, the new pupils went to their classrooms - with their parents. The teacher was very nice and played the guitar and sang some songs; she then told the children that some of the parents were having a hard time because they were worried about saying goodbye, so to make it easier for the parents she would ask the parents to leave quickly. So, the parents left and the class started their school education.

On the kibbutz there was a festive atmosphere. The dining room was decorated with photos of the "first day of school" from years ago. There was much reminiscing.All the adults remembered who "took them in". My nephew told me that taking his daughter was a wonderful experience, particularly moving for him because it was his old school.He even remembered the bus driver and my niece remembered she had "taken him in" on his first day.

My sister -who made aliyah 50 years ago- explained why it is such a big thing. Our kibbutz is 100 years old. She remembers the feeling of a new country being proud of setting up an educational system and then seeing the next generation enter the system ready to build the future.

We feel very privileged to be welcomed into our community, we have such a rich life.

Our friends in England ask us if we miss anything. Obviously the people, family and friends. People who know Manchester will understand that we miss the Halle Orchestra, Old Trafford and Bury market.

On the other hand, it is now possible to buy almost everything we want in Israel - Cheddar cheese, Saracen's vinegar, fresh kippers; the grocery store in the kibbutz even sells HP sauce and McVities biscuits. We usually have a constant stream of visitors bringing us a supply of good tea bags, but since the start of the Coronavirus, we ran out.Fortunately, Amazon came to the rescue and we were happy to receive a large delivery of Yorkshire tea, so once again our life is complete.

Peta Singer is the chairperson of ESRA Jordan Valley | Tiberias branch.  

 

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Tuesday, 24 November 2020

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