* 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. The Editor.
“CAN ANYTHING IN THE COUNTRY COMPARE WITH OUR SASA?”
April 16, 1949 A movie this evening, but without sound. We got the idea that Rita Hayworth was a very naughty girl and that somebody was trying to kill somebody. A number of people became quite enthusiastic and elaborate in ad libing the sound track. Unfortunately we don’t seem to have much control over the films we will be receiving in the future (our machine will arrive shortly), and we anticipate cinematographic torture.
18 April 1949 Much serious and complicated discussion, both official and otherwise, concerning the economic and financial development of the kibbutz, which includes contacts with the national institutions, the J.N.F., and Kibbutz Artzi (the federated kibbutzim of Hashomer Hatzair).
25 April 1949 This evening the first oi our two GMC trucks arrived. They are former American army equipment for which we were able to negotiate through the J.D.C.
2 May 1949 Our first May Day parade in Haifa was a fine experience. Trucks from many kibbutzim in the vicinity came whizzing into town, and we among them, from Sasa, with the red flag and the blue-and.-white stuck high on our helm, and both of them cracking in the wind. Most of us felt quite good as Americans, Israelis, and internationalists; we stuck poppies in our shirts and waved at Arabs and workers along the way. In Haifa we parked opposite the meeting place of the party, unpacked our sandwiches, ate, strolled around town, and assembled for the march. It started peppily enough but soon became draggy and filled with long waits, but after the ceremonies on the field we marched back at a good clip with much singing, so we wound up in high mood. There were 60 of us, all in white shirts, including Michael, our Arab builder. There was a festive atmosphere in the streets and some of us stuffed ourselves with chocolate and gazoz (soda pop) – an atmosphere entirely different from last year’s May Day in New York, for instance. Here everything was congenial, no hectic demonstrating, no police, very little excitement, and kids predominated. Elaborate floats for the industrial workers; old friends running and meeting each other; a little kid on a balcony looking frustratedly and almost tearfully with a tiny, insignificant flag whose spirit he so obviously could not make felt within the mass of color; older sabras zooming madly back and forth on their bicycles; old men vending candy; fashionable, lipsticky, hippy city gals taking in the show, the Haifa “bourgeoisie” – all the incidentals of the parade atmosphere. We marched proudly, Kibbutz Sasa, showing ourselves, “letting them know” that we were here, workers, farmers, Jews from America up there in the Galil.
3 May 1949 A number of our comrades accepted an invitation to see a play staged by the school children of Jish. Another enjoyable experience in cementing Jewish-Arab friendship.
8 May 1949 Another group of Syrian Jews from “over there” were received by us this afternoon.
One thousand chicks arrived early this evening along with 15,000 young tomato plants. A crew was quickly mobilised and went down to the emek (whenever we say the emek these days we mean the small but extremely fertile valley which lies to the west of the village) to plant until dusk. Meanwhile, a major transformation was under way on the meshek. The long awaited moving day for our kitchen was materializing, and from now on it’s good-bye to the old and dark Arab building which served as kitchen and dining room, and long live the new dining hall (which, by the way, is also by formal definition just a temporary building until in a few years we get around to constructing our dream palace). TJO-49 tractor is here from Haifa. .
We suffered a major and painful blow when most of the tomato plants died after last week’s planting. We think it was probably a result of the chamsin (the dry and oppressive Palestinian east wind), and we shall try again.
16 May 1949 Lag B’omer today, and Jews from all over the country were pouring into Meron, a few miles down the road, to celebrate the holiday at the grave of Shimon Bar Yochai. We sent the tender with some of our people to participate and report to the kibbutz on a typical aspect of Israeli life, from which we sometimes feel quite isolated.
17 May 1949 The country is really a melting pot. Three young fellows are visiting us here, having recently arrived from Shanghai. They speak, between them,
Chinese, English, Russian, Polish, and Arabic. Yesterday some Syrian Jews walked up to me when I was returning from work and began speaking in French. This evening we have as guests three Quakers from Pennsylvania, who are working with the Arabs under the auspices of the U.N. The whole world seems to be passing in review through our dining hall in Sasa.
18 May 1949 Worked in our vineyards today, elevating the vines on crossed stakes. Long, black, gnarled vines, twisting along the ground, with the green new growth being stuck up into the air, like giant fans or a gigantic company of cellists in a symphony orchestra. Beautiful day; every morning the long walk down the slope, a gothic descent from our castle-like home along stony, thorny paths, slabs and tables of rocks, with ants, chameleons, and busy insects covering the earth with a lacework of agitated life and movement. The view from the south hill towards the village is toy-like, magical. Fig trees like flat candy dishes on a white stem of glass, the olive trees like balls of rich, deep silver-green, the terraces like pebble fences, the fields of poppies and the blue stuff like a wash of water color, the aluminum roofs on the wood huts gleam with an intensity that makes them more fierce-looking than the sun, the brown plowed patches, the fields of grass, the parched boulders and out-croppings – can anything in the country compare with our Sasa?
20 May 1949 Lecture on modern Hebrew literature. Some of us had a good deal of trouble understanding the Hebrew.
21 May 1949 Shy a and Lea arrived from the States via Europe.
We’re now engaged in a series of discussions in preparation for the conference of Kibbutz Artzi (the federated kibbutzim of Hashomer Hatzair) on social trends. Many of the questions that now occupy the older kibbutzim and assume critical forms hardly concern us at all because of our newness to the country and the fact that we’re a kibbutz just a few months old. Our big generalised problem is acclimatisation to the country at large, learning the language, acquiring the culture.
Our immediate and most aggravating specific problem is Hebrew. Without Hebrew you’re lame, blind, and frustrated; and we have many comrades, especially newcomers, who can hardly say yes and no in the holy tongue. Another routine problem is that of inexperience in kibbutz administration. The completely free and democratic set-up leads to many subtle problems of efficiency and technical procedure, which often assume delicate human angles. The weekly General Meeting, for instance – and it deserves those capital letters – is the most sacred, the most complex, and the most easily violated of the institutions of kibbutz. It is the chief organ of democratic procedure in which every member of the kibbutz stands as an equal and has the right to express his views on any and every subject which enters into the life of the kibbutz. All committees, institutions, and individuals must bow before the decisions of the General Meeting. The General Meeting is the dynamic and intangible repository of the philosophy of kibbutziut. Quite obviously such an institution cannot be mastered within a few weeks. In my opinion some of our Meetings are miserable failures. There are endless repetitions of the same opinion, lengthy, vapid speeches, undisciplined and prejudiced expression of opinion, a senseless burrowing into detail. The General Meeting is a sort of extremely complex and monumental fugue in which a large number of the motifs of kibbutz life are brought together in what must be an esthetic and productive composition (the aim of the General Meeting is the healthy-decision), and if some of these motifs get out of hand they produce a clattering and painful discord in the close counterpoint. Like works of art, the Meeting cannot be entirely spontaneous. There have to be preliminary preparations, practice sketches, often somebody has to sound out an individual or a problem beforehand, in order to prevent an uncomfortable and aggravating impasse during the General Meeting, certain simple procedural rules must be strictly followed, otherwise the democratic nature of the discussion may be intolerably violated, etc. We are learning the ins and outs of the General Meeting slowly and with occasional damages, but there has been a certain improvement.
25 May 1949. Another fugue this evening. Awful, awful. We discussed everything from whether or not babies should be picked up when they cry to the price of onions in California.
27 May 1949 For a number of weeks a crew has been working on the pipeline of 3j kilometers which will bring us water from the wadi that lies to the southwest of the village. It won’t be a great deal, just enough to take care of our cooking and washing needs. Today the last section of the pipe was placed, and in the evening there was a mesiba and a good old slapstick skit commemorating certain construction incidents. The water problem still looms as one of our chief worries. We expect the experts, including Prof. Picard, to make investigations in the area shortly.
Hershkowitz, the roly-poly orchard expert, was here, looked over our vines and made suggestions for new plantings.
29 May 1949 The dining hall – the scene of Sasa’s night life these days – is quite full this evening, and has a little of the character of a U.S.O. clubroom in some Alaskan outpost, say. Piano concerto of Rachmaninoff crashing with a passionate note of tragedy, much talk, eating of bread and jam, chess playing. Beautiful sunset through the window.
1 June 1949 Perfect day to begin the month. The sun leaps up into the sky like a monstrous, incandescent orange and disintegrates the clouds like suds being swallowed up in a basin.
3 June 1949 The garage is finished – a construction of aluminum sheeting on I-beams salvaged from the village. The garage, already doing a roaring business, is located in one of our oldest olive groves, some of whose trees we’re told were planted in the days of Caesar. Can’t believe it. Imagine a garage attached to one of the old boy’s phalanxes…
4 June 1949 Chag Habikurim today, which we celebrated with an out-of-doors dramatisation of the story of Ruth, dances and refreshments. With our usual excellent sense of timing we managed to get a calf born to grace the occasion and we brought her down with all the other exhibits of nature’s bounty. Many Arab visitors and army boys who came galloping in with their artillery.
In the evening a General Meeting. This is “course month”, it seems. We O.K.’d suggestions to send people to Hebrew courses in Jerusalem, a political seminar of Kibbutz Artzi, and another brush-up course on Aretz sponsored by the Histadrut. Big debate concerning the children’s house, and whether it should be in one of the Arab buildings or a wooden hut. It’s going to be the Arab building.
5 June 1949 Rezzie and Spec just flew in from the States, with all sorts of interesting stories and things, including a voluptuous box of Bariccini chocolates. We were nostalgically reminded of that phenomenon known as The American Standard of Living.
11 June 1949 Our beloved campaignist and musician Avi B. arrived yesterday making a terrific but mixed (nearly wrote “mangled”) impression in a snazzy, light-colored suit. The bus was very late because of some trouble, but Avi was nevertheless immediately surrounded by a crowd and peppered with questions about trucks, tractors, meat cutting machines, stone smashers, stoves, saws, etc., and he responded forcefully with a steady stream of “info” on all the stuff, as well as parents, money matters, movement events. Naturally, he has hundreds of projects in mind for the greater development of Sasa.
Tonight there was a mesiba for this latest batch of comrades, all of whom told stories about their recent past. Everybody exhilarated by the sight of these new faces.
12 June 1949 Twenty people sick yesterday. All time high.
20 June 1949 Yoel and Neima arrived today, looking fine, and like all the rest soberly impressed with their new home. – D. and L. are leaving us and returning to the States.
22 June 1949 Two of us got up at 4:30 this morning to dust the vines. An early rising in the kibbutz is always tough but also refreshing: deserted grounds and a brilliant sunrise, the clean empty kitchen into which one stumbles rubbing one’s eyes, the primuses humming away and the sleepy-eyed cook and first helper moving heavily about; something different, usually a bit better to eat; and that rare atmosphere of intimacy and unanimity with the meshek, of calmness and order, before the hectic day explodes. We used portable back and stomach dusters. The stuff puffs its way out in a foggy little cloud and settles on the leaves like powdered sugar being lightly sprinkled on do-nuts. Amazing to think that this yellowish powder – consisting of sulphur, lime, and sodium fluo-something-or-other – is going to keep these beautiful, green, carved platters of leaves from being attacked by various insidious insects and diseases.
1 July 1949 Excitement around the barn. Our new cow – “Hope” by name – gave birth to a bully. – Received a wire-recording of the voices of our parents and friends from New York and ran it off on our machine, a wonderful method of contact and communication with the folks back in the States.
4 July 1949 Another seminar of the kibbutz dealing with contemporary problems of kibbutz society. Not as successful as the first. In the evening a farewell mesiba for Yehoshua.
8 July 1949 A group of youth from one of the high schools in Haifa have pitched three tents in the center of our grounds and will work here for a period of weeks. Good to have them here and listen to their slangy, native Hebrew. The trouble is that they want to learn English. They’re good workers, and old people like us need the agitating presence of Israeli adolescents.
9 July 1949 Oneg Shabbat with the kids in which there was singing and dancing until 2:00 in the morning. We went through the song repertoire of two countries (Aretz and the U.S.) and the dance repertoire of about ten.
13 July 1949 Much building now in process: new shower room, expansion of the carpentry shop, construction of a shed for the general yard tools, and other odds and ends.
14 July 1949 Yesterday we celebrated with Bar-am, the new Palmach kibbutz of Hashomer Hatzair three kilometers to the northeast of us. Bonfire, singing, and dancing. As far as we’re concerned the hityashvut of these kids is probably the best thing that’s happened to us since we came to Sasa. They’re a fine-looking vigorous bunch, and when we think that they’re only 19 and 20 years old we respond to them with an almost motherly sympathy and respect. The worst part of it is that our primitive Hebrew makes it almost impossible for us to communicate with them except in the crudest of terms.
15 July 1949 Machines and crates are arriving every day. In the recent past we received a spot welder, three lathes, sheet metal oven, and wood lathe.
17 July 1949 About 20 of us packed into a truck yesterday and rode off to the Shomria, the national festival of the Hashomer Hatzair youth movement, at the foot of Mt. Carmel in Haifa. It was in the burning heat of the noon day that we arrived and saw a huge field, gaily decorated with red flags and the flag of Israel – and on this field were neatly arranged between three and four thousand shomrim, lolling in tents, squatting over primuses, sweating in marching formation, playing grim games of volleyball, eating “eskimos”, asking visitors to please buy a pin, etc. It was a very impressive jamboree and reminded us of our dear dead days not yet quite beyond recall.
19 July 1949 Today was the day of the big event. A baby girl, Sasa’s first, was born to Chaif and Yitz. According to our new and nervous father both mother and daughter are doing well, and we can expect them home in a few days.
20 July 1949 The euphemizing of the sidur avoda (work assignment committee) is not to be matched. One can be listed under the most professional and enticing of projects and invariably end up pushing dirt around. Under the auspices of “Building” I was invited today to participate in a party engaged in hauling stones and material from the Machine Shop – using a tractor. They could conceivably have listed me under tool and die making, but this was apparently too much of a guilding of the golden goose even for them – in order to lay the foundations for a loading platform to be finished off eventually by the professionals.
21 July 1949 Our new, enlarged, and airy library was opened to the public.
24 July 1949 This evening a big celebration in honor of Sasa’s first daughter, Yael. Indeed none of us. aside from the parents and one or two privileged individuals, has yet seen the infant (microbes and germs is the reason; all of us, alas, carry microbes and germs), nor was the infant able to participate in the large scale demonstration in her honor. Avi even composed a song for the occasion to words by Rivka. Archie delivered a lecture, with props, on the Care and Feeding of Infants, in which he explained the phenomenon of “leaking” in the young child – nothing surprising, he assured us, in view of the fact that the human being consists mainly of water.
28 July 1949 A number of experts looked over our grounds today in preparation for drawing up the permanent plan for Sasa.
29 July 1949 Celebration on the departure of the sabras, those alert and lively brownies who added a lot to the month of July, and from whom we learnt a great deal of Hebrew.
I August 1949 We’ve started harvesting the pears, a small, temperamental variety (it ripens quickly and then immediately spoils unless picked without delay) for sale to Tnuva (the cooperative marketing agency). Just a few trees of this variety were planted by the Arabs.
6 August 1949 Yaakov Chazan was here today and lectured on the Soviet Union in world politics.
11 August 1949 Last night a record concert on “exceptional music”, from the Bahamas, Cuba, Japan, India, etc. Interesting, but with an irritating surrealistic tone in parts. On the walls an exhibit of Picasso’s ceramics in an impeccable and lavish style of reproduction.
14 August 1949 In preparation for the grape, fig, and olive harvests, tractor paths are now being hacked out on the terraces and in the orchards.
17 August 1949 Our Arab agricultural advisor from Jish, Chana Dakar, was here today, looking over our grapes and advising us when and how to harvest.
20 August 1949 The tourists and visitors were so thick we could have started a Sasa branch of ambulatory Brooklyn Jewry. A very difficult problem to handle our guests in an understanding and gentlemanly fashion. They pop in, stay for a few moments or an hour, and then push off, and in the brief interlude we want to give them some sort of a sympathetic thumb-nail understanding of Sasa. We often feel the futility of the process. Most of these people cannot understand, simply by looking at our set-up, the significance of what’s going on around them, why this or that is so primitively managed, what the inner structure and serious activities of the kibbutz are, the tremendous work and energy it took to acquire and install that innocent looking machine over there (of which the tourist has perhaps seen hundreds better in the States, and so have we), etc. You cannot explain pioneering in Israel, you have to live through it.
Yesterday I spent a precious two hours showing the place to a young banker and his wife, from Baltimore. They were, it must be said, very sophisticated and very uninformed. I very carefully explained things in familiar terms and tried without impatience to answer all their frequently very impolite questions, but it was obvious that they did not understand the very basis on which things were done around here, that they were visioning everything in terms of certain streets and department stores and factories in Baltimore. “Friends,” I wanted to shout at them, “you are touring a country which has been outside the stream of progressing civilisation for two thousand years, forget Baltimore!” When they were standing near their 1949 Chrysler, ready to drive off, the young lady remembered a stock question that is asked in exams on Roman history and sweetly inquired as to what “form of government” prevails here. This was the last straw. “Democratic anarchy,” I said and went back to digging our new latrine.
30 August 1949 We began the grape harvest yesterday. Some of the fruit is inferior, but there are many bunches that hang like clusters of monstrous jewels, succulent grapes the size of small plums, beautifully formed, with a powdery bloom that rubs off leaving an enameled surface, shiny and sometimes pitch black.
31 August 1949 Electricity is now being installed in the living quarters of individual comrades. The electricians marched in, messed up the place for three days with nails, saws, hammers, fittings, wood, enough material to electrify Galilee, and now there is a strip of wood along the walls to which is stapled wiring and outlets; a bulb, naked, milky, turgid with inner promise, hangs from the ceiling. The switch is flicked and whammo! Light! The entire character of the old hangout is changed. – Aharon and Mully have arrived.
“IT’S BEEN A GOOD YEAR”
September 1, 1949 The purple figs are ripening, like children’s tops sheathed in soft suede.
William Gilmore, well-known U.S. liberal and former radio announcer and one of the bigwigs in the Progressive party, was here last night and gave us a very interesting review of the political situation in the States. It looks like it’s beginning to get grim. He promised us that he’d convince Robeson to visit Sasa, should that big chunk of humanity ever decide to drop into Israel.
2 September 1949 Our much-heralded International . Dance Festival came off yesterday, with complicated lighting, many guests, and original and folk dances representing all corners of the civilised and uncivilised world from Mexico to Afghanistan. By far one of our most successful cultural activities of the year with lemonade, cookies, and dancing until the wee hours.
7 September 1949 Catastrophe in the cow barn. One of our best milkers, just two months before she was expected to calve, swallowed a piece of foreign matter and died before we could do anything about it.
9 September 1949 Rain. The light harbinger rains have come. Clouds piled up like a dark flotilla and cruised within the ocean of the Atzmon, and then very unexpectedly a few drops began to fall on the grape leaves and drop from the fruit like tears. In the course of the day there were sudden drenching outbursts and the wind blasted away. There was mud and the smell of wetness, a pre-mature calling card of winter. Tomorrow we expect to put 30 people in the field to finish off the grape harvest. Meanwhile the figs grow larger and juicier.
11 September 1949 The big thing these days is “elections”. The administrative and committee positions in the kibbutz are reshuffled and rediscussed at this time of the year, and the process is complicated and yields heated controversy. Our big problem is to find a general manager and secretary for the kibbutz. Nobody wants the honors.
14 September 1949 Sasa’s first son was born today, which means another big shindig.
15 September 1949 The famous American violinist Isaac Stern was here yesterday (he has some acquaintances in the kibbutz). He’s performing in the country with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra. When he heard that we were anxious, very anxious, to hear him in Haifa, but that because of, ‘er, certain financial circumstances beyond our control, etc., he very gallantly promised us to accommodate as many members of the kibbutz as would appear that evening. What a windfall! We arranged for a truck to go in and something like 30 of us listened to an excellent concert, from the stage wings. Isaac Stern is our favorite violinist.
17 September 1949 Problems in education. We can’t find an appropriate children’s nurse.
23 September 1949 We celebrated Rosh Hashana with simplicity and warmth. It was really a familial, almost a tribal feeling, that prevailed in our dining hall this evening. The “it’s good to be a Jew” feeling, with gcod wine, and everybody’s face open and shining.
26 September 1949 Lyrical days, lyrical days… twirling and drifting down like feathers, without a blemish. Now more than ever we feel that the roaring Sasa winter is doubly compensated for by these perfect interludes, the rhythm of the day is smooth and distinctive, from the early morning pink cold, and the icy figs in the bottommost point of the wadi to the brilliant noon sun, the long crisp breezes, and the warm, plump fruit; and then the more somber heat of the afternoon hours and the rush towards purple darkness.
Tumid General Meeting last night and the night before that. We’re caught in an impasse with respect to the fig and olive harvests. It is impossible for us to pick the fruit without hiring Arab help, but this compromises our stand against employing hired labor in the kibbutz. But we can’t let the fruit rot on the trees in a country where every mouthful of food is precious. We shall have to hire the Arabs and work out some appropriate wage formula.
The carpentry shop has become a mass production factory, working on three shifts turning out ladders on a government order.
1 October 1949 Visitors from Barcelona, Arkansas, and Oslo.
2 October 1949 I think back now of the earlier months of the year, when we looked with such wonderment and anticipation at the clean fig trees with their hard, green knobs popping out like buttons at the ends of the branches, when we kept trying to conjure forth the taste and shape of the ripe fruit. Now those little green knobs attack our eyes as heaps of yellow, split, spoiling fruit, and behind each yellow conidial blotch leers the image of an ideologically compromised Arab. The stuff was ripening, splitting, falling, and terrifying us by the ton (the fig harvest is a countrywide problem), but now we’ve got the situation under control.
5 October 1949 Yaffa B. arrived yesterday. – We have now started intensive preparations before the coming of the rains. This means repair of living quarters, shelter for all machines, and special protective measures.
19 October 1949 We’ve started on the olive harvest. Busy, crowded days. Serious shortage of labor.
30 October 1949 This seems to be the season of gremlin wounds, those tiny, unserious lesions and abrasions that pop out on the body in the course of the day’s work, a blood blister here, a scraped area here, a scratch, an opening, a puncture there. A collection of these little beauty spots can upset one’s disposition quite seriously. You can’t move this finger, must remember not to bend the elbow in such an angle, the foot can’t be exposed in this position, don’t sit on that particular spot on the left buttock, can’t allow the left lower palm to touch anything, etc. They appear mysteriously, these clotted, smeared, discolored, swollen, scaly, or rashlike decorations, they metamorphose continually, persist against all kind of balms and smears and bandages. It may be the climate, the season, the dust, or a kind of juvenile delinquency in the department of providential retribution.
2 November 1949 Still engaged in intensive preparations in anticipation of the rains, but they don t come. Excellent luck. Now expanding the cow barn and laying new floors to receive another twenty animals.
13 November 1949 Finished with the fig harvest a number of days ago, and now going full blast with the olives. One of our most serious problems these days is finding feed for the cows; there’s a country-wide hay and straw shortage.
Yesterday in a General Meeting we decided to give Avram, our artist, a day and a half out of every week “for his work. In addition to this he receives another day from Kibbutz Artzi. An important decision which can serve as a significant precedent in our kibbutz life.
16 November 1949 The figs have dropped almost all their leaves leaving a sooty grey network of reaching, pointing branches, the buds like sharpened little fingertips. The vines are almost barren, bent over the stakes, or spread out and exposed as if in defeat, seeming as old and angularly weather-beaten as the middle-aged Arab women.
20 November 1949 We now have four handsome blueprints of permanent development plans for Sasa hanging on the walls of our dining hall, and they provide the current topics for discussion. The difficulties involved in making a plan for hilly, terrace-crossed topography were so considerable and the possibilities so various that we asked the Jewish Agency, Kibbutz Artzi, and a private architect to provide us with three alternate plans. We received three from the Agency alone. In a few days our big shots will travel to Jerusalem to discuss and to reach a decision with respect to the plans.
21 November 1949 M. and Y. have left for a two week course in 3-inch mortar drill at the army post in Safed.
28 November 1949 After much discussion by the settlements in this region it was decided to form a new local council or landship to include the communities in the vicinity of the Atzmon and to call it the Gush Atzmon. We have officially joined this regional set-up.
Sowing finished in Evron, and practically all preparations for the rains are completed. And still no rain!
2 December 1949 Surprising international incident occured today. It seems that a U.N. committee is functioning on the border to straighten out some frontier questions between Israel and Lebanon. Attached to this committee were a number of Lebanese soldiers who apparently got lost and wandered onto our territory, whereupon they were immediately captured by Eli and brought home. After some polite conversation in French we got things straightened out and sent the rather threadbare fellows back to Lebanon.
6 December 1949 We’ve decided to accept, as the basic permanent blueprint for Sasa’s development, the plan of the private architect.
The rains – idle, unambitious rains – have come, extraordinarily late in the season. The air is cold, the earth is damp, there is a musty smell around the village, and the dining hall floor is covered with wood chips. Here we go again.
14 December 1949 Enjoying a succession of temperate days, Indian summer. – The foundations for the Swedish pre-fab are now being dug, difficult work, hacking out the stone on the eastern side of the hill. – Big discussions on who is to be our local military commander.
15 December 1949 We celebrated Chanukka until way after midnight. In our kibbutz we have a Chanukka tradition, which goes way back to youth movement days, of exchanging home-made gifts, and it is this which gives the special character to our celebration of the holiday. For a number of days beforehand the whole kibbutz functions under a “gifts for Chanukka” atmosphere, and all the shops and machines and ingenious advice-givers in the kibbutz are drafted into the project almost 24 hours a day. This year the gifts were particularly successful, some of them outstandingly inventive, first-class examples of craftsmanship – lamps, stools, tables, knitted items, bowls, fur-lined slippers, copper pins, etc. The ceremony itself was simple, almost an under-emphasis on the significance of the Macabean period when considered in the light of our day.
19 December 1949 Four of our late staying movement workers arrived from the States today via Europe: Yis S., Shulamit B., Esther M. and Chaim G. They arrived on a day exhibiting the worst weather of our new winter season; our mud and lonely little outhouse must provide a rude shock after Switzerland, Paris and the Riviera.
25 December 1949 Yesterday afternoon about 40 rode off to Nazareth for midnight mass and Jesus Christ atmosphere appropriate to the season. I stayed at home and worked in the kitchen, where 1 succeeded in giving the floor a good scrubbing. It was an easy day and we finished early, and after another crowd of 15 or so went off to Jish for the evening we decided to have a little informal celebration of our own, so Yona prepared some toast spread with relish and tomato slices, and cookies spread with a thin fudge, and there was music and folk dancing and the small-crowd cozy feeling of kibbutz, that rare and welcome sort of light-hcartedness that weaves through the meshek whenever half of the company departs. On such occasions everyone sighs, “Oh how nice it would be with a kvutza of 20 or 30…”, quietly forgetting that if such a tragic condition were to prevail they would go batty inside of a month. V» ith a hundred I imagine it will take 10 years, which is why I am in favor of 500 (after 50 years it really doesn’t matter…)
28 December 1949 There’s a big overflow in clothing to be washed, so we’re running a night shift on our single washing machine. Damned uncomfortable work during this freezing weather in that combination shower and laundry room of ours, that wet, muddy, treacherous sanitary facility which, at 2:00 in the morning has the appearance of a medium priced room in an underground medieval Spanish dungeon during the flood season. Big compensation: the time passes quickly.
30 December 1949 Lecture on atomic energy tonight.
2 January 1950 A few of us got together on New Years eve and had a little “kumsitz” to “ring in the welkin” as C. put it. After all, one can’t just negate the whole of the Golah with one full sweep. – Yesterday mesiba for a baby girl to Shifra and Nachum… today we learned that Lea B. has given birth to a boy… in the recent past there were boys to Betty and Avi and Bella and Aharon.
3 January 1950 We are now cultivating squares in preparation for the tree planting. Not only did we collect money for the J.N.F. on street corners in order to plant the trees, publish the propaganda which told the world that the trees were being planted, and educate kids to believe it was a good thing to plant the trees, but here we are. actually sticking them into the ground in the land of Israel. A buck and a half a throw. It’s a small world.
5 January 1950 We’ve finished cultivating the plots, and next week we begin planting 10,000 trees, mostly pine. – Our harmonium, a little organ that looks as if it came out of a Victorian drawing room, has been repaired by Benny, and our frustrated pianists now have something to pound away on until the piano arrives. Plans now being made to open a music room.
8 January 1950 This evening there was a General Meeting with two economic experts from Kibbutz Artzi, who arrived early in the day and gave our meshek the businessman’s unsentimental oncc-over. According to them we have many fundamental economic problems which we will have to solve in order to put the kibbutz on a secure basis. This has set everyone thinking.
12 January 1950 In spite of rain and thick mud we planted stock beets; also did an experimental planting of trees.
13 January 1950 Tremendous preparations now under way for the celebration of Year One at Sasa. The entire grounds and all our public buildings are being thoroughly cleaned; the choir is preparing a special program; a skit has been written; and Avram is working day and night to finish a mural that covers one wall of our dining hall.
15 January 1950 Well, we came through – one solid year.
Yesterday the celebration came off – the biggest we’ve had at Sasa – with guests from Bar-am, Ein Ha-shofet, Chatzor, Ein Dor, Jish and many other places. If we can judge the affair by how long it lasted we can label it a 3:00 o’clock in the morning success. For our own people the outstanding symbol of the occasion was our first hot water wash-up in the new shower room, a really luxurious establishment which cost us a sum of money we don’t mention in polite company. We had prepared a comprehensive exhibit, complete with three dimensional items and graphs, on our first year’s achievement. The program by the choir was almost a professional job, and the skit served the purpose of summarizing the events of the year. There were speeches on behalf of all our neighbors and friends, and Bar-am presented us with a beautiful edition of Bialik’s writings. We went to bed satisfied, harboring a sense of solid achievement, with one year tucked under our belts.
“WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?”
We keep building, we keep going ahead, that’s obvious. It’s not always clear what lies ahead and what .will become of the buildings (the army keeps telling us that we’re on the border and we’re not sure of what’s going on among those on the other side – that we must keep our rifles a little cleaner, and that June and July may be pleasant agricultural months but they are also favorite months in which armies fight), nevertheless man builds, and purposeful men live intensely and generously in the present, and the future is built and society strides forward. Archeologists tell us that there arc a number of Sasas buried under our green and rocky hill, so old with civilization and so new geologically. Perhaps an old man would admonish us with this fact and mutter with ancient cynicism at the fragility of man’s endeavor, but we are proud and not gloomy when we think of the Sasas that lie beneath us; we have accepted the tasks and role of our generation with enthusiasm and eagerness. In our past year we have seen, all around us, the growth of new life, more profound consciousness, greater freedom; and these are the ingredients of humanity’s joy and evolution. And if, in some future generation, a still different Sasa emerges, what have we to fear? It will be the greater fulfilment of what we have begun, and we are building today so that new Sasas will continually and peacefully be born.
Most of us agree that it’s been a good year. It didn’t go precisely according to plan, we didn’t realize everything we wanted, but never mind, there’s another year ahead. We look forward to expansion in almost every field. Here are some of the important provisions in the coming year’s plan:
The climate, soil, and hilly topography of Sasa mean that deciduous fruits will become our main agricultural branch. By spring 1951 we shall have planted 40 dunam of apple trees, between five and ten thousand plantings of wine grapes (the majority of them the famous Semil-lon variety) and between 20 and 30 dunam of dessert grapes. We shall also make all manner of experimental plantings of cherries, peaches, European plums, and pears. In future years, when we’ve solved the water problem, we’ll try the small berry fruits. We have good expectations of producing fruit here that cannot be successfully grown in any other part of the country. We will continue to tend the hundreds of dunams of olive and fig orchards, plus the 30 or so dunams of workable Arab grape vines.
Whereas this past year we succeeded in planting only 30 dunam of vegetable crops, in the coming year we will put in 200 dunam, mainly onions and tomatoes, but also including potatoes, cucumbers, carrots, beets, and a large number of experimental attempts, including many types of vegetables. We will also make experimental plantings of new tobacco seeds, since we already know that this region in past years produced outstanding crops of the local tobacco varieties. We also plan on educating the country to eat varieties of sweet corn not yet grown here.
We will put in 300 dunam of silage and pasture. The 1,500 dunam of field crop land under our jurisdiction near the coast will be seeded shortly with oats, wheat and vetch. We will also plant perennial seedlings from the U.S. of alfalfa and kudzu in an attempt to produce permanent pasture lands on many of the terraces which arc not suitable for tractor cultivation in kibbutz economy. If this important experiment succeeds, it may make possible the commercial raising of beef cattle in the area.
We have completed a small but highly satisfactory green house, and we plan to expand our modestly constituted tree, landscaping and vegetable nurseries.
As compared with last year’s planting of 10,000 trees (mainly pine) we expect to put in 20,000 in the coming year, and we will also continue the work of reforestation by pruning the scrub oak on the neighboring hills. At one time in Jewish history these regions were covered with majestic forests, but in the course of the centuries they have gone to ruin. The rehabilitation of scrub forests is an important part of the tree program.
Naturally, all of our agricultural plans are dependent on water. At present our source provides a summer minimum of six cubic meters per day, and a winter maximum of 180. which averages out to precious little. Our comparatively high elevation means that the water (the annual rainfall is about 40 inches) drains down to lower areas and we may have to go deep to find a good source. We shall begin drillings within a few months.
Our problem of erosion is also a serious and complex one. Much to our regret we possess one of the most perfectly classical examples of’ a huge sink hole, right in the middle of our fertile valley. A program to counteract erosion is being worked out.
The 30 head of cattle will be housed in a brand new barn before the end of the year, and we expect the herd to grow considerably. We will also build a two story chicken house to take care of 4,000 laying birds.
Our big £25,000 building budget calls for, in addition to the barn and chicken house, a permanent housing unit for members of the kibbutz, two pre-fab Swedish units now obtainable in the country, a children’s house, c laundry set-up and a garage.
The building program at Sasa is made particularly complicated because of two troublesome factors: our hilly, terrace-sliced topography, and the rough weather. It practically boils down to a case of every building for itself, each one tailor-made, designed to fit into the topography and protected against unusual winds and snow and freezing weather. Because of our lack of space we will be compelled to build upward, perhaps utilising special terrace arrangements, notably in the farm buildings. It goes without saying that the living quarters will have to include built-in plumbing facilities right from the start, something still out of the ordinary in kibbutzim. We are also thinking of central heating plants, although this will he a difficult and expensive business.
We also have an important program worked out for our trucks and workshops. We expect to receive transportation contracts that will be an important source of income. We are prepared to do contracting work for the installation of electrical network in neighboring settlements. (As far as our own electrical system is concerned we soon expect to replace our 15 kilowat generator with a 60 kilowat unit.) Our carpentry shop, because of its excellent machinery – including a joiner-planer, shaper-borer and table saw unit, band saw, radial saw, press, plus many handy smaller tools and gadgets picked up in the States – will enable us to do outside work of considerable proportions. Our machine shop is now capable of performing all home servicing and we expect to obtain a new engine lathe in the near future.
In general, because of our superior machinery and trained men we have become the repair and servicing center of the area, a sort of Chicago of the central Galilee.
We also have plans for improving our service branches. Our shoe repair shop, located in a cozy corner at the rear of the village, now includes sewing machines, a cutter and a skiver, and a burnishing rod, and although we now do all our repair work and turn out home-made sandals, in the coming year we also expect to begin making our own shoes. We are outfitting a sewing room (with fluorescent lights); when the new generator arrives our kitchen will be able to use some new labor saving devices.
And by no means must we fail to mention that we expect to be receiving within the half-year a D-8 tractor with bulldozer.
* * *
We also have plans and expectations, although they cannot be so precise as those above, for our growth in the more spiritual aspects of life. First of all, we want to get to know Israel and our immediate surroundings better. Although we were the first to come to this beautiful and rugged region (we’re very proud of our few weeks seniority) we now have a number of neighbors: Bar-Am, Shachar, Dir el Casei, Safsaf, and many others. To be conscious of what is happening in Israel means to be conscious of the newcomers, to intermingle, to study the problems and living styles of others, while all the time striving to become Israeli Jews in modern Israel. The fact that we are newcomers ourselves doesn’t alter the picture.
Then there’s the question of our meager knowledge of Hebrew and our pure Yankeeism. They sometimes say about the new State of Israel that it’s a wonderful place only there are too damn many Jews there. Some of us are beginning to think something similar about Sasa, that it’s a wonderful kibbutz only there are too damn many Americans here, and maybe some solid Hebrew speaking stock would really add something uniquely desirable. In any event, we feel that in a number of respects, culturally, economically, demographically, we must expand.
During the first year we necessarily concentrated on the economic and physical aspects of building the kibbutz, and no one denies that this was the correct procedure. Although our cultural and social life has been by no means barren, we know that it can stand large-scale improvement, and this we mean to do in the coming year. In that famous quotation from John Donne it is maintained that no man can be an island unto himself, and this is unquestionably one metaphorically truthful way of looking at mankind. But there is another, perhaps equally truthful way of looking at it.
Each man is an island unto himself, who must strive to live beyond himself, a very tiny island. Our kibbutz is a sort of a lagoon, in which a hundred floating little islands are crowded rather closely together, each with a little band of the common lagoon water around it. When it’s stormy every island gets it, and when the sun shines, every island basks. Every island is rather clearly exposed to every other island. Two isles can come together and produce a new little islet, a magic phenomenon which we are all proud to witness. Now there are many problems involved in life in the lagoon. There must be complicated traffic regulations, for instance, to prevent the little pieces of land, which often float very rapidly and with energetic purposefulness, from colliding and damaging each other’s coastlines. Then everyone must do his part in maintaining the common Water pure and unpolluted, which is not always so simple when one considers that there are tremendous forces at work within it. Also everyone must pay attention to the general appearance of the lagoon and participate in all the Lagoon Improvement Societies and Committees, while at the same time realizing that much of the beauty and peacefulness of our pond depends on tasteful landscaping on the individual isle. Most islands are very proud of their independence and individuality and yet they value more than anything else deep spiritual ties to their neighbors; thus, every one of them carefully seeks to keep its portable bridges in good repair. And then, beyond all this, there is the all-important fact that we are not the only lagoon in this island universe of ours, that there are other pools and lakes and oceans (no lagoon can he a body of water unto itself) and that we must live in harmony and creativity with them, fit ourselves into the pattern of Israel and the progressive half of the world.
So in the coming year we mean to do greater study and take more action on the fascinating problems of lagoon living.
When we review our past year in terms of the common history of our generation and of Israel, we feel very thankful. True, other 25 year old Jews have been living much “easier” in other parts of the world this past year, and it hasn’t been pleasant for us during many of the long, angry days and weeks which sometimes seemed to consist only of work, inefficient, aggravating work under bad conditions and hopeless misunderstandings. Some people have left us, unable to stand the pace and the physical and spiritual demands and hardships, and we bear them no deep-set ill-will. It has been tough and not everyone is a chalutz.
But when we look at the larger realities we have cause to be thankful. We did not undergo a single attack, and the military situation has been consistently quiet. We did not suffer a single major economic miscarriage or “act of God”. There have been no irreparable personal tragedies, no deaths, no severe accidents, no crippling illnesses; our children are as healthy and rugged as hillbillies. The progressive line of our development has always been visible and we have gone through no periods of black disillusionment which are sometimes characteristic of collective enterprises (the American experiments, some of the early kibbutzim, political movements). Not every kibbutz can point to such a lucky record of an unblemished first year.
So, in the coming years, we shall keep building and we shall keep going straight ahead. More than anything else we want new comrades in the enterprise, new comrades on other high and windy hills in the New-Old land of Israel, and from among all the newcomers who make up this 20th century Return, we at Sasa shall greet more warmly than all the rest those who come from our native land, those to whom we dedicate this record of our first year, the chalutzim of America.