I was sitting in my room on a Friday evening in my apartment in London. Curtains shut, my bag thrown on the floor as I came back from university with laundry waiting to be folded on my bed. Wrapped in a blanket, I reached for my computer and called my grandparents on Skype. I thought to myself ‘when they will see me, they’ll laugh’. I thought this as it hasn’t rained in weeks in Israel. I looked at my watch. For them, it was nine o’clock in the evening. I could picture them after their Shabbat dinner, watching the news on television, drinking tea and eating sunflower seeds.
My grandfather appeared first, and immediately called my grandmother to join the conversation. Behind them I could see their bedroom, their house that I miss so much. I recalled their small yellow house, their green front door, the pictures of their children and grandchildren on the kitchen walls and the old piano that has been out of tune for a good ten years now.
‘How was your dinner?’ I asked them as they both sat down in front of the computer. ‘Very good. We were just doing the crossword now.’ My grandfather waved the newspaper in front of the camera. ‘I have a question, maybe you’ll know: 37 down, ‘reputation’, 5 letters’. ‘Honor?’ I suggested. ‘No it doesn’t fit. A Kibbutz near the Kinneret, 6 letters?’ ‘Maybe Dgania? I don’t know, it’s your parents who built everything there, not mine.’ I said with a smile.
‘For my journalism program I need to interview you. Can I ask you a few questions, about your childhood in the Kibbutz?’ I asked. They never told me much about their childhood there. They grew up in Kibbutz Dan, in northern Israel. Their parents were members of Bolshevist Zionist movements and they were sent into Palestine illegally, which actually saved them: all their family members who remained in Europe were killed in the Holocaust. They built the Kibbutz, protected it and lived by their socialist values, inspired by Lenin and Marx.
‘What was your happiest childhood memory?’ I asked. My grandmother immediately answered. ‘My mother, who was working in the babies house, where they raised babies and toddlers, used to bring me food she made there – meat balls, Tsimaes, peas…’ ‘For me, it was when my father took me on his truck to Tel Aviv. There weren’t many cars back then, so driving a truck was a great honor – like pilots today… We used to drive to Tel Aviv to visit some relatives, or to Haifa.’ ‘Do you remember the time in which we were sent to Haifa in the Independence War?’, my grandmother asked my grandfather, and then explained: ‘It was 1948, your grandfather was 5, and I was younger. We had to run in the middle of the night from the children’s home through the grass near the dining room, complete darkness, between the falling shells to the bus that took us from the Kibbutz to Kfar Giladi, and from there to Haifa. It was very exciting. The way they lived was so different to us.’
‘So leaving the Kibbutz as kids was very exciting for you.’, I said. ‘Yes’, my grandfather replied, ‘the kibbutz was all we knew. We had our regular schedules: morning routine, school, then each of us went to their parents for tea, and then back to the children’s home. Seeing our cousins in Tel Aviv or Haifa was very exciting. Leaving the Kibbutz was a very special occasion.’
They told me about their education growing up: everyone in the Kibbutz loved Stalin – they were yet to discover what he did to Jews in the Soviet Union. They told me how they sang Russian songs. How they celebrated secular holidays, reading a special Haggadah adapted for the kibbutz way of life, instead of the traditional religious one. How they played their games in the kibbutz, and told old war stories. It was funny to see that even though they left the kibbutz years ago and lived in a very different way from our current everyday lives, they still remember it so vividly, and with a grand smile.