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I Cherish My Year as a ‘Bananchik’

Mel’s 28.5 cm long banana knife

I enjoyed David Chester's article "Going Bananas" (ESRAmagazine Dec. 2019 #202), which brought back many wonderful memories working on Kibbutz Sha'ar HaGolan's banana fields. However, my experience working as a "Bananchik" (banana worker) on the kibbutz banana plantation was totally different. I lived for a year, from 1968-1969, on Kibbutz Sha'ar HaGolan, in the Jordan Valley, as part of the Sherut La'Am volunteer program.

For me working in the banana fields was a wonderful experience. The physical exertion was indeed challenging, but fun. This was good hard work that also built up endurance, physical strength and real comradeship and togetherness among the banana workers. The banana industry was and possibly still is a major economic industry on Kibbutz Sha'ar HaGolan.

I started off as a banana bunch carrier (shlepper as David called the job), after my lead had sliced off the 30kg bunch, but without the leather pad that David mentioned. Yes, running the gauntlet of the banana leaves slapping you about the head and shoulders while sloshing through the mud, tangle of old banana leaves and other debris was certainly a challenge. But it was good, hard and important kibbutz work - nothing romantic about it. Eventually after much testing by the "old hands" I rose in the ranks to become a lone cutter, cutting my own bunch and carrying it to the wagon. Eventually I had a string of carriers - temporary volunteers, kibbutz members or otherwise - working under my guidance. I also worked the back-breaking trailer as a loader carefully stacking banana bunches. But I more enjoyed cutting and carrying, sometimes carrying even two bunches, one in each hand. But physical sport was part of my young life, as playing lineman in American football and as a wrestler since I was eight years old. So, my time as a "Bananchik" on Kibbutz Sha'ar HaGolan was one of fun, good outdoor work, even in the rain, with very fond memories.

When I left the kibbutz the banana workers threw me a big going-away party and ceremoniously presented me with my own banana knife (28.5 cm long), pictured here. I still have this very cherished reminder of the wonderful year when I lived and worked the Sha'ar HaGolan banana fields. These are memories that will forever be a part of me.

As an aside, after I got married, I insisted on keeping my brown banana stained traditional blue work pants and shirts. But my wife saw these stained garments as something ugly and inappropriate to have in any young household. And much to my anguish, these highly regarded badges of a cherished period in my life suddenly disappeared, but not the memories. I still have contact with friends from Kibbutz Sha'ar HaGolan.

Melvin E. Farris

Kfar Saba 

 

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Wednesday, 04 August 2021

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