Sasa was one of the villages taken in the fast sweep that liberated the Galil in the struggle for Jewish independence in October 1948. Far, far back in the venerable history of this village it was inhabited by Jews, and then for certain hundreds of years it was taken over by Arabs. Now it is intended that it be Jewish again for years, decades and centuries to come. Sasa is situated on a stony, picturesque hill, and from it one receives a clear view of the Atzmon, the highest point in Israel, and the Hermon, the highest mountain in the Middle East. As the crow flies Sasa lies 1 miles from the Lebanese border, 7 miles from Safed, 26 miles from Haifa, 60 miles from Beyrout, 975 miles from Odessa, and 5,600 miles from New York. In the winter there is sometimes enough snow to permit skiing and tobogganing on the neighbouring hills, and in mid-summer the days are sometimes as cool and mellow as refrigerated butter. On a cold day in January 1949 a group of 50 American Jews pulled into Sasa and began erecting a kibbutz of Hashomer Hatzair there. A month later they were joined by 30 more, and today 100 souls live at Sasa. The following pages tell something of the experiences of their first year, and thus record another pioneering incident in recent Jewish history.
* The following collective diary was written by the people who founded Kibbutz Sasa in Israel, during their first year there, from January, 1949 to January, 1950. It is worth reading in its entirety, as it offers a vivid portrait of situations and outlooks which were once openly acknowledged but have been too easily buried since then.
“WHY DID YOU COME HERE?”
On January 1st, 1943, in a crowded room at the hachshara farm in New Jersey, U.S.A., a group of about 90 youth at the age of 18 and 19, representing over 150 of their comrades in the U.S. and Canada, came together and declared that they had established a kibbutz-group. Almost exactly 6 years later the group – Kibbutz Aliya Hei (the Fifth American Kibbutz) of Hashomer Hatzair, with a few losses and additions – unloaded its beds, straw mattresses, and toothbrushes and planted itself in a deserted Arab village near the Lebanese border of Israel and called itself Kibbutz Sasa. The fact was registered in the Zionist press throughout the world, in small or large paragraphs, depending on the source, and was then probably forgotten, as most news is.
To explain adequately the why and wherefore of Kibbutz Sasa is a gigantic task. We have been asked by many people – our Arab neighbors, American tourists, European journalists, Israelis, other kibbutzniks, even to this day on occasion by our own parents – why we, a group of 100 Americans, left a rich and magnificent country in order to settle in this isolated corner of the world. The question is asked in many different tones and can be answered of course in many different ways. Before presenting the story of our first year we feel it is only fair to preface it with a brief attempt at an answer to this question.
Sasa has its roots in the youth movement Hashomer Hatzair in America. It was the youth movement which, for good or for bad, made us and gave us our general adult behavior patterns, transformed us into chalutzim, workers, put us on the boat and dumped us off here. Today we look back on that period with awe, tenderness, and a certain bitter-sweet tinge of strangeness, the way one always does’ on a past which contrasts harshly with the present. Take, for example, our life in the city of M. in the heart of the American continent.
We grew up like most middle-class Jewish youth and we were vaguely troubled by the problem of integrating the fact of our Jewishness into a wholly American environment. It was in the intensive club-like activities of Hashomer Hatzair that we found the answer, that we received the education that had a much more decisive influence than the one we received in high school. Here, in a rickety upstairs floor of a tumble-down building, with all sorts of crude furniture, elaborate decorations, and a glowering picture of Herzl on the wall, we came in the evenings and week-ends and studied and discussed and argued everything and anything: Zionism, Socialism, scouting techniques and values, folk songs, Palestinian dancing, morals, the meaning of Life, Truth, Love, Beauty… We emerged from this exciting and boiling pot of life, in Montreal, Los Angeles, Chicago, New York and many other cities, as Zionists, Socialists, and chalutzim.
We decided to carry our Zionism to its chalutz stage, to emigrate to Palestine, not because we found the U.S. and Canada bad places to live in, but because we found a deeper purpose and meaning in our lives when we envisioned ourselves living in a kibbutz in Jewish Palestine. We did not, of course, reject all the ease and modernity and staggering bigness which makes America the technological colossus of the world simply for the sake of rejecting them, but because we saw that as Jews we would be living much more valid lives as collective farmers in Israel. Of course, this is a very general statement, but it is about as close as we can get to putting it into a nutshell. There are many things about America that we will always remember and always love, but there are also many things that we learned to hate: anti-Semitism, Jim Crow, extreme poverty amidst plenty, the signs of a growing fascism, the vast swampland of trashy’ commercialized culture which strangles what is good and great in the American heritage. In coming to Israel we came to what is, compared with the States, a primitive and pioneering land (but in the Middle East it sparkles like a gem of progress and modernism) and we came without illusions, as pioneers. We were told that it would be tough, and we are now ready to confirm that we were not misinformed; but today, after two years in the Homeland and one year building our new home, it is without regrets that we think of the land of Thomas Wolfe, Ernest Hemingway, Lil Abner and Juicy Fruit chewing gum. Perhaps now and then a twinge of nostalgia, but regrets? no, not a one. Today our home and our future is, conclusively – Sasa.
The world in which we played hop scotch, double-dutch, baseball, and grew to maturity was dominated by two world personalities. Franklin D. Roosevelt and Adolf Hitler. The one represented, even in our pre-adolescent world, Protection, Welfare, the attempt to drive wedges of security into the crumbled America of the thirties, and the other represented a horror and pit of evil in which every Jew was a potential blood offering. As we grew older this symbolism remained the same although our concepts deepened, but when the war came we knew that for us there was no security, no New Deal, and that for the time being it was fascism’s world. It was the destruction of European Jewry, of course, which became the most impressive fact of this period in our life, and with every other Jew we had to digest personally the significance of this fantastic phenomenon of the organized and cold-blooded slaughter of millions of people who, like us, happened to be Jews. We struggled with staggering world developments and enigmas, and it seemed to us – and still does – that no program, no matter how “radical” or “sacrificial”, could be too ambitious or demanding as a reaction to the world’s condition. With us, therefore, Zionism assumed a very serious and urgent character. Amidst the waves of suffering and death and the political thunder and lightning which blasted the world, chalutziut was for us a matter-of-fact and humble enterprise. We have never considered ourselves “heroes” or “sacrifices” on an altar-of-something-or-other, and we make it a point to say so here because we have been referred to in these terms by many of our well-wishers, and we are thought of in these terms by so many of our visitors.
We are not sacrificial heroes. We have not “given up our lives for” some single ideal or other. We came here, as one of the Zionist poets puts it, to build and be built, to redeem and be redeemed.
The war made us a very well-traveled kibbutz, and it taught us many lessons. (Roughly, we calculate that we have collectively traveled something like 6,500,000 miles in the past ten years; 800,000 of which consists of hitchhiking to camps and conferences throughout the U.S. and Canada.) The years of boom and tragedy of the first half of the forties that marked the transition to what we now call the atomic age also worked a transition in our lives, across vast stretches of the earth from Japan to India to Germany to Barstow, California. It was the period in which all our theorizing and personal affirmations were put to many tests. Our 18 and 19 and 20 year old boys were living army lives, ripped away from the comradeship, intense consciousness, and careful values of the youth movement and our young kibbutz. Our 18 and 19 year old girls were running a movement under a very difficult war-time psychology with a very meager social life, all of this in the glare of the bright lights of America’s tongue-in-cheek civilian black-out. But in spite of this, our kibbutz went through a period of consolidation and deeply creative expression. In many finely written letters, occasional meetings and special soldier projects we searched through our beliefs and re-affirmed them. Even though completely isolated, we lived rich collective lives. We read many of the same books. We discussed via letters what was going on in the world. We gave the U.S. Army the once-over and learned to sift what was adolescent and naive from what was adult in our creed. We pooled our earnings in a quite strict and very successful kibbutz fund which later bought us machinery, a house in Brooklyn, clothing, medical treatment and passage to Israel. We tried to live according to the same economic and cultural as well as ideological standards whether in Tokyo or Akron. We concentrated on developing ourselves culturally, whenever environment permitted, to build up a reserve for later years.
So the war years were our years of maturing, of becoming wordly-wise. We paced out the ground of our ideology. We saw, by being in Europe and walking on streets and sleeping in buildings of fascists, that a new social system was the only answer, and we saw how complicated it was going to be. We saw Dachau and Buchenwald, and Zionism began to mean things it never meant before. We walked along the Boulevard des Capucines and stepped into that ornate building in Paris and learned the meaning of the word opera such as we never learned it in Noah Webster high school in Cincinnati or Minneapolis. We went to work in huge defense industries and learned some of the practical ins-and-outs of labor and organization and factory life. And much much more. We learned to function in a world of labyrinthine contrasts and got the habit of trying to untangle apparent paradoxes.
But perhaps more important than anything else, we learned what a promethean and tender concept was our belief in collectivism as a personal program. Education for collective living was always an integral part of our development, and in a world in which individual man was pitched against individual man, and in which human relations were in the final analysis almost always, outside of the family, expressed as cash relations, we affirmed that our social concepts meant free human relations between free men for the good of man and not for the efficient functioning of the market. This was the core of our concept of kibbutz. It was a concept that was vindicated and very much enriched and slightly chastened during the war years. In America our people lived communally wherever possible, and in the army we lived the same life vicariously through strong personal ties and written contacts, in the barracks brotherhood, a sort of bastardized collectivism of its own. It was the collective pattern of Hashomer Hatzair that gave us strength, that put backbone into our structure. Among people who. were endlessly confused, erratic mixtures of “good” and “bad” human impulses, appalled or apathetic in the face of a war world where each stood alone, we, without having the golden key to the world’s woes, at least always knew where we were going. Once more we learned to distinguish between what was Utopian and childishly crude in our patterns of collectivism, and what was possible and powerful in collective responsibility and security. This period, and our subsequent agricultural training experiences at Hightstown, New Jersey, which is an epic in itself, was invaluable in preparing us for Sasa’s first year.
At the end of the war there was the brief intermission of the American Return. We returned to movement leadership, to jobs, to school and courses, to families, to agricultural training; and of course the boys returned to the girls, and the girls returned to the boys. It was a brief period of abnormal normality. We were all anxious to get started at the real business at hand, which was to really Return, to begin life in earnest in Israel. It was, in its way, a relaxing breather, in which, among other things, we gained an important number of new members who had not been in the youth movement but who thought the way we did and who added valuable new blood to our group.
As a result of prolonged discussion, sometimes boringly technical and sometimes flamboyantly “evaluational”, we decided that we would be ready to send our advance party to Israel in the fall of 1947. After much crating, a little vacationing, and a great deal of stabbing by hypodermics – and this was the pattern, sane and sober, for all post-war American aliya – we waved them off at the boat, and Kibbutz Aliya Hei was on its way, if not with one foot at least with one toe in Israel. The stream of aliya continued, and even today, March 1950, there are still a few of the rearguard not yet arrived. We established ourselves as a gar’in in Ein Hashofet and later sent a part of our group to help rebuild the destroyed settlement of Shaar Hagolan.
What conditions prevailed in Palestine between 1947-1950, what hardships were endured, what heroes were made, what human beings were lost, what populations were rehabilitated, what monies were contributed and what monies were expended, what deeds were dared and what sins were perpetrated, what machineries were erected and what institutions were deracinated, what webs of a new world in microcosm were feverishly spun – all this is being recorded and will be recorded in other places. Suffice it to say that we were a part of it, tiny perhaps, but still a living part of it. We are proud of this. We are proud that we can consider ourselves a unit in the whole enterprise, another group from America which takes its place next to its older comrades from Kibbutz Gimel, (the third American kibbutz of Hashomer Hatzair) at Chatzor and Kibbutz Daled (the fourth kibbutz) at Ein Dor, who also arrived in this period of Jewish history.
How then to summarize this genesis of a kibbutz and to skeletonize our answer to the question, “Why did you come here?”
We came because we are Jews, and because we accepted the perpetual and phantom-challenge which confronts every Jew to solve the enigma of his Jewishness, which we call the Jewish problem. This solution, no longer new or secret, is territorial concentration in Israel and the renaissance of Hebrew culture. We accepted this as a program for ourselves, our children, and their children, so we sailed away from America.
We came because we believe that civilization must be rebuilt on new foundations of economic equality, of the non-exploitation of man by man, on a pattern of peaceful international co-operation.
We came because we are kibbutzniks. We believe that society can and will be erected on the principle of “from each according to his abilities to each according to his needs”. We want to be among those who will usher in that society in Israel.
We came to help build the country in the way we consider best, by establishing a communal settlement on the land, contributing our efforts to create a happy life in Israel.
“IT’S ALL YOURS!”
The important day was January 13th. The following letter, written by a member of the segment of the kibbutz stationed at Shaar Hagolan and addressed to the comrades of the kibbutz still in America, describes the events of that day.
13 January 1949; 10.00 p.m. Shaar Hagolan
It’s a warm night here at Shaar Hagolan, and the moonlight is silvery and glistens on the palms, but it’s probably freezing at Sasa. I can imagine the Kinneret, not far from here, calm, like a gigantic diamond resting securely in a setting of peace. Illusive, ironically illusive that the country should continually breathe this atmosphere of peace from the pores of its small and encircled body, heavily girded for war, perpetually alert to the enemy’s threat. I am very tired and I would much rather take a slow walk under the nearly full moon and then go to sleep, but I have promised myself and others that I would write this letter tonight and immediately send if off to you; we know how impatiently you must be awaiting news of our hityashvut (settlement), and we aren’t going to disappoint you.
The whole process of our hityashvut took place so suddenly most of us simply haven’t had enough time to digest the significance of the rapid fire of events, and I’m afraid my description is going to be very brief. The more I think of it the more I realize how extraordinarily sudden it really was. Bang! We were told to expect hityashvut within a short time. Bang! We were told to consider Sasa, an Arab village none of us had ever heard of before, in the high and windy hills of Galilee. Bang! We were told to prepare to leave Ein Hashofet in five days. Bang! We packed our stuff into three trucks, jumped on, rode to the north, unloaded, began putting up a dining hall while blowing on our hands to keep warm, prepared a meal without enough plates (in the short period of time we weren’t even able to get enough kitchen-ware to supply our needs) and in the course of twenty-four hours had started on the life-long process of building a new community in the Palestinian wilderness.
Bang! Bang! Bang! From Los Angeles, Chicago, New York and other points, to Sasa, and we’re set for life. Indescribably exciting and almost unbelievable.
Last night was our farewell party at Ein Hashofet. The dining hall was packed: long white tables loaded down with cakes, candies and later, coffee; visitors from all over, a sea of familiar faces; speeches by representatives of the various groups in Ein Hashofet, Shmuel Ben Zvi speaking for the first American kibbutz, and Willy responding on behalf of the fifth; readings, including a satirical but friendly study of the idiosyncracies of Kibbutz Hoi; on all the walls beautiful photos of our gar’in life in Aretz; two original dances prepared by our modern dance group; folk-dancing and singing with a rip-roaring spirit until 2:00 a.m.; culminating in a wild bora that had the walls quivering. After that we finished loading trucks, by starlight, and left in a convoy for Sasa at 5:00 in the morning.
The ride was extremely cold, and when we reached the Galil the roads became tortuous and the wind cutting and icy. We rode through a landscape of majestic mountains, red earth in some sections practically turgid with fertility, and monstrous rocks, bulbaceous and knotty. Sasa itself squats on a hill, white, silent, about 900 meters above sea level, with its mosque and surrounding dwellings stuck right into the contours of the elevation as if pushed tightly and economically into place by the finger of a giant. A Shell gasoline pump stands at the foot of the road leading to the village, a grotesquely modern totem pole in the midst of the red-grey mountains. To the north, quite a distance away in Lebanon, and as white and awesome as something out of Tibet or Alaska, looms the snow-covered Mount Hermon, a magnificent view.
By the time most of the vehicles had arrived late in the morning there must have been nearly 200 people present, and we immediately began laying the foundation for the dining hall. Prefab sections, tools, pots, sacks, trunks, beds, picks, shovels, and touriyas and boards were moving and swinging in all directions. Reporters and cameramen seemed to be as thick as flies ‘after all. this is the first genuine all-American kibbutz, we’re “pure” Yankee, you know I. Sandwiches were handed around. At noon the work was interrupted and the official ceremonies were conducted. Hartzfeld spoke on behalf of high officialdom. Vonah Yanai spoke for Ein Hashofet. Davy spoke for us, and there were others. Flags and colored banners beat violently in the wind. There were cakes, oranges and wine. The army men who had been stationed there up to our arrival walked around with rifles slung casually from the shoulder (the military situation is quiet, but who knows) over great coats and sheep skins. In general, the clothing and collection of individuals was as spectacular as at an opening night at the Met, only in the opposite, non-bourgeois direction of course. When the celebration was over, the guests began to leave, and the kibbutzniks got down to business, began to get settled for the night, took over military positions, cleaned out some of the deserted buildings on the edge of the village, and assigned work duties. “It’s all yours”, they said as they pulled out, “it’s all yours…”
By this time everyone has told us and we have told ourselves: it will not be an easy hityashvut. There is some good soil, but not too much of it, and we have no assurance of ample supplies of that life-giving substance, water. We will probably concentrate on fruits and vegetables. There may be a great deal of reforestation, and we shall soon have to begin thinking of an industrial project. We shall have to work hard, and we will not be able to perform miracles. In brief, it will be chalutziut.
I’m so tired I can hardly keep my eyes open (it seems that we’ve been awake for the last three days straight) and I must end this soon. I’ve just returned from the shower room where I met M. who tells me that tomorrow some of us receive military training in preparation for guard duty. Syria and Trans-Jordan are in our backyard. War – an absorbed intravenous pattern in our lives. The wind is now blowing more powerfully, and it whispers loudly, like a thousand lips shushing high up in the sky, as it sifts through the Poinciana, eucalyptus, and pepper trees in this beautiful but brutally pillaged settlement. The moon shines down on a piece of wall, a burned-out children’s house, a pile of rubble, a tile floor without walls and ceiling. In the weaving moonlight one can almost see the ghosts of the spirited life that flourished here.
I am thinking of the deserted village of Sasa, which we entered so proudly and energetically this morning, and the lives of the Arabs, who lived here. I wandered through some of the hovels, looked at the overturned jugs, grain, books, baby shoes, and smelled the smell of destruction, musty and rotten, with which many of us became familiar in France and Germany. Are we also destroying, pillaging, being cruel in this ancient land, we, Kibbutz Hei, from thousands of miles away, with our ideals and our refusals to stoop to the world’s rottenness? Perhaps. We have moved into Sasa; it is ours; we are responsible for our acts, even though we are bound under the direction and discipline of the national agencies and those of our movement. But do we have an alternative, can we step aside, refuse to be morally sullied by Sasa and demand some other section of our Homeland on which to build our homes? I do not think so. We are not responsible for this cruel and forced contradiction; we would prefer to disown it if we could; we bear no hatred towards the Arab workers and peasants. But we have been forced into a position where we must fight for our lives and the lives of our people, and today life is largely determined by frontiers, and frontiers must be defended no matter what the price. We do not have the right to shunt this physical and moral and political responsibility off on others. The kibbutz that we build at Sasa will be dedicated not only to the renaissance of our own people but to mankind and the future of mankind. As far as I and most, if not all of us are concerned, this includes our Arab neighbours.
Warmest regards to all of you. Join us quickly.
Chazak Vematz, S.L.
“…BUT OTHERWISE IT’S QUITE COMFORTABLE”
The following compilation was assembled from the official diary of the kibbutz and various personal impressions jotted down by individual comrades.
14 January 1949 Woke up at 5:30 today, crawled over lour beds, and stumbled down the road to the kitchen to put in a day’s work. The weather is absolutely miserable, and there’s a pool of water in the .. middle of our room, and surrounding this pool are the beds of 12 people. At present I’m hunched over a fireplace which produces more smoke than heat, and there are 5 people packed on either side of me so that I haven’t the elbow room to wield a pencil in my icy fingers. My knees are warm but the rest of me is cold. But wotthe-hell, it’s been a wonderful day! We’re started, on our own land, and the exhilaration can’t be stamped out by all the hail and sleet in Greenland. R., sitting next to me, is trying to read a pamphlet on sub-tropical fruits.
That’s Sasa optimism. We’ve set up 3 guard posts, at our entrance, at the northeast, and at the northwest of the village… Too exhausted and cold to continue writing.
15 January 1949 The bad weather continues to rage, but in between downpours we try to look over the village and wander through the buildings. Living conditions are, to put it gently, complicated. Repair of buildings continues. The kitchen and dining room are being worked over. The carpentry shop is beginning to function. The army boys are circulating around making plans to blow up the village. Guard duty is unpleasant but uneventful. The high-priced army help keeps scooting in and out of the place, and we look at their vehicles with envy. We are without a single truck and our splendid isolation begins to feel very oppressive. Water is being hauled with an army tanker from the neighboring Arab village of Jish (Gush Chalav), some of whose residents have been in to visit us and wish us well. Our “administrators” are so busy and constantly on the move that I can’t find them in a relaxed moment to get any information out of them. Yehoshua Dayan, our madrich from Ein Hashofet, has already proved himself invaluable. He seems to know everything, and he communicates his information very calmly. General Meeting of the kibbutz this evening, in which we discussed the skeleton administrative structure and rearranged a few things. Wonder what’s going on in the world; haven’t seen a newspaper for days.
16 January 1949 Hail and wind. Almost impossible to do outside work. Strange to see Yehoshua chatting away pleasantly with an Arab or two in our dining hall, in Arabic of course. Most of us still feel very strange in the company of our neighbors.
17 January 1949 Rip-roaring General Meeting this evening on whether or not to blow up the mosque in the village. Innumerable considerations involved in the significance of destroying this chief building and symbol of the village, but the army and the government are insistent and needless to say they have the last word.
19 January 1949 The mosque was blown up today. Cloudy, drab day with bitter wind but no rain. A small group of us stood off to one side, way out of danger, with a beautiful view of the western wadi behind us, and this looming, softly curved and mysterious monument of a culture which none of us even begins to understand rising before us, its fate doomed within a matter of seconds. There was a shattering explosion which shot a bolt of shock through each of us, wrenching our bodies with tension, and then the dome seemed to rise slowly into the grey sky, like a giant egg shell, with the steel reinforcing rods mangled and twisting out from the sides; it fell in pieces into the mass of earth and rubble and flying stone which was once the prince of Sasa’s skyline.
21 January 1949 The blowing of the mosque has had its effect on us. No one views the incident with other than mixed feelings, but most of us agree now that it had to be done – from many standpoints. It would have been a useless gesture to preserve this symbol of a population which showed itself to be, when one views the thing factually and unsentimentally, our hardened enemies whom we have no intention of permitting to return. The whole appearance of the village has undergone a transformation. It’s now a mass of ruins, and yet most of us agree it’s better this way. The hovels, the filth, the medieval atmosphere – it’s gone now for the most part. Bring on the bulldozers and let’s plant trees!
22 January 1949 We spent Shabbat trying to keep warm. Some tramping around our property, and in the evening a few of us crowded into one of the less leaky rooms and sang and read a few appropriate biblical passages.
23 January 1949 We are now living in dispersed areas in the few good buildings that were left standing in the village. Living quarters assigned of course in conformity with needs of security. A spooky and un-pleasant process to stumble home in the dark and rainy night, with a glaring battery light and all sorts of looming and unfamiliar ruins seeming to crowd forward on every side. Some of us still get lost from time to time on the unfamiliar paths, complicated terraces and treacherous rubble. I often feel like something from one of those grotesque Wellsian novels when I step out of my damp room filled with smoke (can’t get the fireplace to burn properly) and walk over the huge white stones, past the half-destroyed wall, and watch a wild cat come running out of the small building with the caved-in roof.
Our metal-working shop has now made its primitive start. We’re negotiating feverishly for some sort of a vehicle to break this intolerable and dangerous isolation. If there should be some sudden illness, or some accident… We received mail today! How, I haven’t the faintest idea, but it arrived – and everybody feels civilized for a few moments.
24 January 1949 Finally, a break in the weather! A chance to look around, strip off a few layers, dry out the rooms, and take a comfortable gander at our land. The place is beautiful and we’ve hardly had a chance to notice until now. A few of the orchard workers went on an inspection tour with Yehoshua. The olive and fig trees appear to be in fine shape. We discovered some pears and wild plums and a huge walnut tree on a hidden terrace. The views from the various hilltops are breath – taking, and the bigness and the grandeur of the vista has a peculiar be-calming and euphoric effect which many of us quite concretely feel. The prophet and seer atmosphere…
26 January 1949 The good weather continues.
Spirits are way, way up. Our vegetable gardeners are beginning to lay out their plots for future plantings. Preparations are under way for establishing the cow barn in a large colonnaded building to the north of the village, the “royal stables”. Although we still don’t own a vehicle there is much talk about our future garage. M. and S. hitched up from Shaar Hagolan and gave us the low-down on developments there. Everything fine, but they’re anxious to pull out as soon as possible, and they think it will be in another two weeks or so. Also we heard from our four mothers at Ein Hashofet. They feel very much out of things.
29 January 1949 Cold and cloudy once again; we’re preparing for another bout. Practically not a drop of water on the meshek, not even enough to take care of the cooking. Something must be wrong with the army truck.
30 January 1949 The tanker arrived late this afternoon and there is now much brushing of teeth and washing of hands. We expect rain any minute. Meanwhile we’re working full speed to repair some of the buildings. Guard duty very uneventful, much to our relief, and we don’t even hear shots. The army pulled out completely a number of days ago, and they only come around now to discuss our defenses.
1 February 1949 Not rain, but snow, snow! Lots of it. We don’t know whether to be happy or sad. The pessimists think of the present and their teeth chatter; the optimists think of the future of prosperity and central heating, and assure us that in those days we will be thankful for this reminder of Wisconsin weather and skiing and sledding.
2 February 1949 The snow is 12 inches deep in places and still falling. The whole appearance of the place is transformed. The ruins of the village look like reclining polar bears and the terraces and familiar paths are hidden. The pipes are frozen and a few people have twisted their ankles in bad falls. We’re still trying to repair buildings, but it’s almost impossible to work in the snow. The carpentry shop is working full blast.
3 February 1949 The snow is beginning to melt and living conditions are really tough. Just to get in and out of bed, to keep clean, to drain the water out of the room, to shuffle from one meal to the next, to say nothing of putting in an 8 or 9 hour work day – in other words, just to go through the simple process of keeping alive during the 24 hour day saps all of one’s energy. Cultural activities are almost impossible, but we try, we try. Now preparing a skit for the celebration when the Shaar Hagolan people arrive… Those of us who used to whine that the days of pioneering are over in Israel have stopped whining.
5 February 1949 Another day without bread. Some day, when we have time to relax and these days are no more than fond, rugged memories, perhaps someone will sit down and write the story of what we will call the Saga of Bread. Our bread comes from Safed, something like 27 kilometres away, which means, since we have no transportation, that a team of our boys has to set out every other day or so, by hitch-hiking or by walking, to pick it up. Sometimes they get a ride, sometimes they don’t. To tramp up and down these hills with a heavy sack of bread on one’s shoulders, in rain or hail or snow, is no joke, and since I’ve never done it myself, being a mere woman, I’m not competent to describe the intensity of the experience. A few days back E. arrived home so weatherbeaten and exhausted from the trip that he couldn’t drag the bread up the hill the last 500 meters, and he was in bed for two days after the trek.
7 February 1949 There were some shots yesterday from the direction of Kafr Biram but nothing came of it. – The reading room is by now quite a handsome place, relatively speaking, and night life at Sasa is beginning to improve.
8 February 1949 Two young Arabs from Jish dropped in today and wanted to discuss the political program of Mapam with us. Just like that. They look like intelligent chaps, but it’s been very difficult for us to be genuinely interested in politics these past few days.
9 February 1949 We’ve started putting up the barbed wire fence and digging additional trenches and firing positions.
14 February 1949 Thirty of us arrived from ShaarHa-golan yesterday. It was a cold, rainy, misty trip around the Kinneret, through Safed; the poppies were beautiful, but it was a lousy trip. One has to be in a certain heroic mood to appreciate the transient, vagrant beauties of this country from the back of a truck, in the rain, with inadequate clothing on one’s back. Five of us housed in a high-ceilinged, stone wall, unplastered room; it leaks, it’s damp and oppressive; no windows; a dim lantern provides meager light; and it’s so crowded we’ll have to demand that one person move out;’ there are also a few mice in my corner, but otherwise it’s quite comfortable.
15 February 1949 The meshek is beginning to shape up. This afternoon we received our first cows (4 milkers, 5 heifers, 1 calf, 1 bull). Quite a sight to see a dozen boys straining themselves to lead the blindfolded bull from truck to barn. As darkness fell we heard the roaring of an engine. People come running out-of-doors to follow the glare of the headlights up our driveway. Something with 4 wheels and an engine, actually a truck, is now a part of our world! No more tramping to Safed for bread (we hope!). It’s the Brockway, no less, the one we were introduced to at Ein Hashofet. Of course there was a mesiba for these new acquisitions. Singing, dancing, donuts – and cocoa prepared from the results of our first milking. Yehoshua delivered an appropriate little speech: “No meshek is really a meshek without animals. They express the permanency of the work on which we are starting…”
17 February 1949 The team of 30 or so Arabs who were here packing up the abandoned tobacco in the various buildings of the village, under government supervision, have finally left. A very interesting business having them here, especially for those of us who worked with them as half-guard, half-chaperon. Many of them were Christians, good workers, alert, and shrewd, and others were definitely Levantine types concerning whom we have a lot to learn. One can see at a glance the infernal complicatedness of the Arab question, and here it is, right on our doorstep.
18 February 1949 Work ended early this afternoon and we all went out to celebrate our first Tu B’shvat with the traditional planting of trees. A gay and at the same time serious ceremony with everybody being very careful to plant his first pine sapling very securely. In the evening another mesiba, this time for our soldiers home from the wars: Dov, Shmuel, Batya, and Eitan.
19 February 1949 Sun. The sun has finally come; no rain, a little wind, and huge, high clouds. The waves and layers of hills stretch away in tones of pink, orange and grey. Much washing, reading, taking of walks, bundled-up against the wind, but everyone basking and blinking in the sun. Quiet communication with earth and weather.
Rishon’s nursing supplies finally came through from Tiberias, and we’ve also received furniture for the clinic which will soon be opened on the meshek. The new sprayer and duster were unpacked and assembled.
22 February 1949 Problems! Fine weather for plowing but no tractor. Our vegetable growers are becoming so desperate that they’re seriously considering hitching the mules to an Arab plow and getting to work. American efficiency.
25 February 1949 Mesiba tonight in anticipation of the first run of the Shachar bus line. In this country it’s all tossed into one pot: mesibot for babies, cows, buses, buildings, bath tubs, and political bosses.
Rain-sleet-hail-snow today with breaks of sun, low-hanging, carelessly spun clouds suspended against the hills like the artificial cotton clouds in the Fifth Ave. window displays. We’re situated on our little hill-top like some misty thumb stuck out of a cold inferno of rainy but nevertheless pleasant weather, a little pot surrounded by wreaths of steam, a brig silently marooned in a fog.
28 February 1949 We’ve just concluded a two-day seminar on culture, equality and property, and democracy in the kibbutz. My general evaluation of the thing is: business-like discussions on a good level, with optimistic, unoriginal conclusions that put us on the right track. Among some of the conclusions: 1. At least 25% of all service jobs will be performed by men. 2. There will be no translations into English of discussions. 3. Not mechanical equality but equality as a means to certain other ends. 4. A “liberal” approach to the granting of workdays for cultural activities. 5. Preference for women into trade jobs to which they are suited.
2 March 1949 General Meeting this evening in which it was decided to bring our mothers and four children directly to Sasa from Ein Hashofet, rather than to Kibbutz Eilon. This means speedy preparations to get ready for them, including a special children’s house.
3 March 1949 Worked in the kitchen today. Things go pretty smoothly considering the primitive set-up. The dining hall and kitchen are housed in the two rooms of one of the better Arab buildings in the downtown section of the village. The furniture consists of rough boards and cinder blocks arranged not exactly the way suggested in “Better Homes and Gardens”, but still enabling a person to crowd into place and, providing he doesn’t lean his elbow on a board when someone at the other end of the table has de-leaned his elbow on the same board (thus producing a catapult effect which sends the dishes flying) to proceed to down his meal in lusty comfort. Yona S. is our extremely competent commanding general in the kitchen. There are two washtubs for dishes, straw on the floor which is supposed to absorb whatever is on the floor and is absorbable (I never discovered what was under the straw), a perilous system of lighting by kerosene lamp and candle, and three not overly temperamental primuses, which are always hissing to be pumped up’. The usual feverish pace that characterizes every spot in the country where cooking is performed prevails, but the crisis incidence is very low. The food is quite good, better than most of us expected.
5 March 1949 I’m now on a one week tour of guard duty on spot number one in the northern sector of the village overlooking our strategic crossroads where roads branch off to Lebanon, the Mediterranean, the south, and Safed. The border is quiet and we don’t expect incidents, but that tension and uneasiness which attaches to all guard duty is ever present. Life keeps repeating itself so deceptively… Guard duty – Oklahoma, New Jersey, California, France, Germany, Austria, and now on the border of Israel; where else before we die? One paces around the spot (a faintly evil-smelling Arab building with a low fire on the inside where one’s partner sleeps) with the groggy, slow-motion trudge of the guard at ease, listening under strain through the disturbed wind. The twinkling lights of Safed disappear and reappear through the shifting mists of a cold and inauspicious night.
6 March 1949 The place was swarming with Arabs and miscellaneous guests today. A Cadillac cruised up and anchored near our humble clothes lines where the drying underwear was beating in the wind all a-twitter with modesty. Out stepped a Scandinavian bigshot, curious to see what the Americans were doing in this neck of the woods.
8 March 1949 Our library is now open for business in its temporary quarters in a vaulted room in the two-story building of Sasa’s former mukhtar (village chief). It’s already one of the most popular spots in the kibbutz.
11 March 1949 Natan Friedel, a friend of ours from his period as emissary to the movement in the States, came up last night and gave an excellent lecture on the political situation. Today we took a tramp over the ruins of the village, really a depressing sight when one views it from the heart of the rubble.
12 March 1949 Siberian rain. Mists circling our Parnassus and snooping through the village. The Atzmon stands in its best majestic style. Water drips down the rough stone walls of our room, and the wind howls outside; to imagine that somewhere there is a sun seems folly. A large number of people sick, including a few cases of yellow jaundice, and others suffering from ugly boils.
Miscellaneous remarks: When.people ask me to describe our living conditions I usually say that they are tough but completely endurable. There is no solution to the problems of light and cold. The “sanitary facilities” (to adopt that magnificent epithet which evokes dreams of pink tiles, huge bath tubs, and steaming shower heads) is a tin two-holer that quivers in the wind, keeps out almost all the rain, and exudes an odor not of violets, but otherwise it’s O.K. even though a trifle hard to reach in times of difficulty, being hundreds of meters removed from the living quarters in the remote parts of the village.
These living quarters vary from quite spacious rooms with clean new floors and walls and sometimes even a window in good repair to dark, oppressive, earthen floor hovels; this does not imply, however, that there is major inequality in housing; on the contrary, when all factors – fireplace, leaky roof, location, etc. – are weighed up, the situation isn’t bad. A typical room contains 4 beds, a pile of books arranged on makeshift boards or crates, clothing hung and draped on various nails, planks, ledges, some incongruous foreign American luxury such as a fragile vase or an elegant valise, wet socks, a kerosene lantern or two, and some crockery or a few cups and a “fin John”. In our room there are three stacks two and a half feet high of technical books and pamphlets. And I forgot that every room usually has a rifle or a sten gun or two, etc.
The shower room is a primitive structure built over a cistern of some sort, so that there is a direct, convenient drainage – one spits on the half-inch spaced floor boards and down it goes. The water – when there is water – is sometimes hot; on the whole not bad, although some people never shave more than three times every two weeks.
13 March 1949 The bus made its first run to Haifa today! Historic local passengers were Aryeh, Nachum R., Chaim D., Shifra B., and Avi L. It was the driver’s first day on the line (Yitz C. is still in Haifa arranging for his busman’s test) so naturally he spent most of the time watching the passing scenery rather than the road.
Today is the 11th of Adar, Yom Trumpeldor. There was a dramatization in the dining hall and then we marched to the top of the Towil, the hill that lies to the west of us and from which one can see the lights both of Safed and Haifa. Full moon with a crisp wind a-blow-ing, so we could hardly wait to light our bonfire at the prescribed time, when fires were to blaze up in all the settlements of the countryside. Then a few selections from our pocket-sized choir (valiantly rendered) and a few words on the significance of the occasion by Willy.
When we got home we discovered that our tender – which is the name for any small pick-up truck in this country – had arrived from Ein Hashofet, where it had been in repair for two months. Painted a brilliant green, and hunched up on its hind wheels and ready to roll. So our motor fleet has been doubled.
14 March 1949 Our new doctor arrived and was promptly established in his room in one of our new wooden housing units. This adds another intangible but considerable ingredient of security to life in the hills.
16 March 1949 Last night when the bus was returning from Nahariya it was stopped a few kilometres down the road. The driver claims that a large group of armed Arabs demanded that he take them to Lebanon. He refused, warning them that in the event of abduction a party would be sent out immediately and there would be the devil to pay. From now on for the next few days an armed guard will accompany him on his trip from Naharia.
17 March 1949 A quiet day in which a few of us with Yehoshua took an inspection trip through our orchards. One of those unique tone poems of Sasa weather, a day to conjure with: flurries of rain and then sunshine, and sunshine through the rain exhibiting all those ancient and hackneyed but magnificent images of nature’s spring beauty, huge drops of rain on broad green leaves, delicately colored hyacinths, anemones, cyclamens appearing like flute obligatos from within the full orchestral rumble of rocks and weeds and trees, a straight and slimly formed apricot tree in glistening pinkish-orange blossom surrounded by gnarled olive trees, the terraces falling away like carpeted steps of deep green, diamond sprinkled green, and swirls and patches of chartreuse, the deep, good, chocolate-brown earth in the valleys, so soft, so magnificently textured that one dreamily thinks of biting into a chunk…
18 March 1949 Purim! A slam-bang affair. Onr new pre-fab dining hall, now in its finishing stages, was a mass of color and costume. There were Scotch highland-ers, chessmen, an angel, a sizzling apache team from Marseilles, Chinamen, talmudic students, etc. Even a couple of “prospectors” on their way through also stopped in, but their well-packed burro kicked up a fuss. Skits, songs, stunts, hilariousness. In the middle of the festivities the truck arrived – that truck has a nice feeling for the Hollywoodized psychological moment-bringing our new generator, a magnificent instrument that becomes one of the chief milestones in the life of any kibbutz. Electricity is a magic word. I understand that during the first five year plan in Russia they developed what amounted to almost a religious cult of machine worship. How very understandable to us now. As Americans we were weaned on machines, and now that we know what it means to live without them, anything with wheels and gears and wiring that spells efficiency evokes our most sympathetic responses.
22 March 1949 Avraham S. came flying home from Tel Aviv with a TD-6 tractor on his truck. Chaverim climbed all over it, and Avraham beamed all round like Mr. Carnegie after having donated another library.
23 March 1949 Interesting morning! Two orthodox old gentlemen from Safed turned up and took us on a guided tour of Sasa. They explained that Sasa was the site of a large Jewish community a thousand or so years ago. Many of the caves and architectural ruins in the village date back to that period. – Yitz C. has passed his driver’s test for Shachar bus line and will shortly begin making the Sasa-Haifa run.
1 April 1949 Oneg Shabbat in which the priest from Jish delivered a lecture, in Hebrew, on the historical background of the area. An impressive-looking man, short, stout, barbed, and clad in a long black cassock, and wearing a large pith helmet. Livingston out of darkest Africa.
2 April 1949 A flood of guests and tourists.
3 April 1949 Most of the plowing for the vegetable gardens has been completed. The 60 dunams or so of Arab grapevines have been pruned. One of the buildings has been converted into a chicken run. Foundations have been set for our fourth wooden housing unit. A new machine and tool shed is under construction. Electrical installations are now being completed. Sturdily and attractively designed new tables have been finished by our carpentry shop for the new dining hall, which will soon be ready for use.
4 April 1949 After much difficulty, including a break-down in the Brockway, our tractor and disc have been transported to Evron to start work on 1,800 dunams of falcha (field crops) land near Nahariya. We’ve also obtained a John Deere wheel type tractor which was immediately dispatched to Evron.
8 April 1949 Late this evening our first 50 pullets arrived from Ein Hashofet. We are now anxiously awaiting the arrival of a thousand chicks.
9 April 1949 Received our second team of mules this morning. Not as beautiful as the first pair but seem to be more amiable and docile.
13 April 1949 Pesach. A real celebration and feast day such as we never experienced it in other parts of the world. Preparations were intensive and thorough. Earlier in the day, quite unexpectedly, our parents and children arrived and although we were caught by surprise in the middle of Passover tasks, many people were drafted to heat water, carry bedding, arrange heating, fix up rooms and perform all those delicate and mysterious – to most of us – jobs which have to be performed in order to guarantee that babies shall be absolutely secure and satisfied in all their needs.
Until almost the last minute our electricians were busy with wiring, to enable us to begin the seder under Sasa’s first flood of electric light. When the lights went on and the crowded room and brilliantly decorated walls were bathed in the glow that means modern civilization, it was almost as if a rare religious ritual had been consummated. Our cozy and freshly painted new dining hall was packed with comrades and guests. The seder itself was a combination of traditional passages and our own expression, a sort of summary of our life as a kibbutz up to this point, based on a thick haggada in Hebrew and English, printed by ourselves and representing much effort. There were songs by our choir, readings, and group recitatives. Never had we more satisfactorily succeeded in overcoming Sasa’s tempestuous and erratic weather, because in spite of the sleet and wind which was beating away on our windows, winter’s peroration, there was a warmth and bigness of spirit on the inside that could have tamed any storm.
There was wine and a deliciously prepared meal, and we waiters bounced in and out of the kitchen and between the closely arranged tables like those hefty tray balancers in a Breughel painting. It was a feast of spring, of summary, and rebirth. We added up our economic and physical accomplishments, each in his own way, but everyone feeling the impatient pulse of the meshek, the new acquisitions, the promise of the future; and we enveloped this physical triumph with our feelings of new spiritual change and growth. We are transforming Sasa into a community in Israel, and we too are slowly changing into human beings and Jews who have moved closer to the earth, tenders of the earth, producers of life, fathers and mothers of life. The winter is over, and the spring and summer promise to be good.
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