Netiva Caftori's experiences with Kibbutz Beit Hashita kids
Becca, Daniella, Care

Netiva's experiences with Kibbutz Beit-Hashita kids

December 2001 -- Israel

As the traveler who has once been from home is wiser than he who has never left his own doorstep, so a knowledge of one other culture should sharpen our ability to scrutinize more steadily, to appreciate more lovingly, our own. -Margaret Mead, anthropologist (1901-1978)

Ben, Noam and Dan

Dec. 16-17          

I met the Beit Hashita kids on Dec. 16th as they were travelling to Beit Guvrin and Ein Guedi. I talked to most of them during the day and a half I spent with them and took pictures of all.

Becca and her father Rob gave me a lift to Beit Guvrin from Tel-Aviv. I stopped at the hospital on the way to their hotel to give my father what was to be my last kiss.

The trip started at Beit Guvrin caves. Zvi, our guide, began by explaining to us the environment and the geography of Israel by demonstrating on Dan's body which looked like the map of Israel when his left elbow was raised.

See Rachella (house mother), Amir, Carolyn, and Elliott listening attentively.

We then proceeded to the caves where Zvi talked about the history of the place and how the cave was dug out. It is believed the people who lived in those caves fled from the Jews who tried to convert them. In their hurry they broke the pots they couldn't carry with them. It is still unclear why there are several layers of ruins all from the same period. The mystery may be revealed through what we find in the caves. This story motivated us to apply ourselves at the digs. Zvi demonstrated how to dig for .

We spread throughout the adjoining caves and each took several buckets and started our dig. It was amazing how we were able to find pottery in each bucket. We formed a human chain and carried outside all the found stones and filled buckets. Outside, we used big sieves to sift for our treasures.

We continued into our next cave which was more dug out and ventured through holes and darkness. It was a bit scarey. Carolyn, my daughter, was prompted to demonstrate how to climb up a tunnel.

Our third cave was completely dug out and there we saw how people in ancient times raised pigeons and made oil out of olives.

We also saw the place where the broken pottery was matched to create entire pieces such as vases, oil lamps and the like.

Pieces of pottery that were not matched out after a whole year of trials were for grabs, and we all took a piece or two for souvenir.

We were amazed and pleased to see a couple on their wedding day among the ruins.

Lunch was served out on picnic tables from cans, etc. It was nice to sit and relax with our newly made friends.

We ended up the day with a visit to the ancient Roman amphitheater, which is the only one that was built specifically for human fights, exactly as you may have seen in the movie Gladiator.

We took the bus through Arad to Ein Gedi, Beit-sefer Sade (field school) where we spent the night after a good dinner and a slide show and movie about the upcoming adventures of the next day. I shared a room with the metaplot (house mothers), Rachella and Lidia, and the madricha Chen. I had the opportunity to get to know them better and appreciate the wonderful people that they are. I had the time to talk at length with Amichai during our tour and later at the kibbutz, and I wholeheartedly trust him to guide our kids in this unforgettable adventure.

Some of us got up early to watch the sun rise over the Dead Sea. I feared that was the last day of my father's life.

After breakfast and after seeing the rams in their nature preserve we took the bus to the bottom of the hill where our journey up the mountain was to begin.

Amichai briefed us on what we were to experience that day. He talked of possible flash floods in the wadis, and his own experience of one a few years ago. We proceeded to the ancient synagogue. We saw there the Shita tree, after which the kibbutz was named (am not so sure about this fact as heard it may have been named after the Arabic name Shata).

From there we climbed up the mountain but not before we saw the banyan tree and heard some more explanations from Amichai.

At the top of the mountain we savored the scenery and the beautiful view on the Dead Sea. We found a shady corner of paradise with a spring, and some of us removed our shoes and socks and took a dip.

We climbed down into Nahal David and enjoyed the narrow passes and the beautiful sight of water in the desert.

We had a few moments time to enjoy the coolness of the water in the spring before climbing back up.

"You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You must do the thing which you think you cannot do." Eleanor Roosevelt

Dead Sea behind me






I left the group after lunch as they were heading for a dip in the Dead Sea. I was dropped off at the bus station where I waited for over an hour for a bus that was supposed to be direct for Tel-Aviv. In the bus I had time to contemplate the Dead Sea from my window and reflect on the two days events and what was awaiting me in Tel-Aviv. As the bus crawled into Jerusalem my mom called and told me of my father's death. Jerusalem looked particularly surreal under the veil of my tears and the setting sun. Carolyn and I shared a grieving moment on the phone. I was conforted in the knowledge she had many loving friends to keep her company at that painful time. She was able to leave the tyul early the next morning with Chen (whose father was also in the hospital), and rejoin our family in Tel-Aviv.

A week later, after our shivaa and a visit to the grave site, we returned Carolyn to the kibbutz.

To understand your parents' love, bear your own children. -Chinese saying

By the time a man realizes that maybe his father was right, he usually has a son who thinks he's wrong. -Charles Wadsworth

Dec. 24-25

At the kibbutz we stayed at Nof Hashita guest house. The rooms were nice and the breakfast basket was great. It lasted us the whole day.

The cow barn was just next door. I loved the aroma.

The kids were busy cleaning their dorms as they usually do every Monday afternoon, so we left Carolyn there to do her chores and went on our way.

We met Mordy, the Tanach teacher, shortly after our arrival. Arlene and Len, Elliott's parents, saw him before us. His office is in the kibbutz' archives. Mordi showed us around the center which serves the entire Galilee. We had a nice talk and he took some family pictures of us on the stairs of the center.

Back in the dorms we visited some of the rooms and sat to chat in an outdoor sitting area. The public phone is very close by and free for local kibbutz calls.

That evening Lidia made dinner and some kids later made salad and helped her carry the food. We all ate together at different locations in a large appartment like youth club. It was delicious. I even had time to play a short game of ping-pong with one of the boys.

After dinner we went to visit Carolyn's adoptive parents, Erela and Tzvika, where we received a second dinner and some olives cans produced at the kibbutz. Tzvika promised to arrange a special tour for us the next day at the Zeitia, the olive factory.

The next morning we visited the school. It is in Kibbutz Ein-harod, 5 minutes away from BH. We talked to Amichai in his office, chatted briefly with the history teacher nwho was on break, and sat in Gila's physics class. One of the students told me that school is too easy and that they only get one hour of homework a week. Amichai assured me it was an exageration. Every day he supervises them for 1/2 an hour homework time, but they are expected to do more on their own. Of course with the laxed atmosphere it is the student who has self discipline who is going to succeed. Amichai believes that once the kids are back in the US or in college, it is their experience at the kibbutz that is going to help them self motivate. This is how I understood Amichai and will be glad to correct my writings if I'm wrong.

After the school visit we rushed to the Zeitia where Eddie, the manager, an immigrant from Chile, was waiting for us. He gave us a grand tour and we enjoyed tasting olives and even tahini that is prepared in the same facility along with other fruit products.

We said our goodbyes again at the kibbutz dining hall where the kids ate their lunch.

Dec. 29

On my last day in Israel this year I decided to drive one more time to Beit Hashita and take my mother with me. She has visited Carolyn there once before, but needed to keep her mind away from wandering and keep me company. Carolyn was waiting for us sitting on a rock in the middle of the main road leading into the kibbutz. On the cell phone she just said "You will see me" and of course, we couldn't miss her. She was tired as it was shabbat, and she spent the previous evening with her friends late into the night as is the custom. We spent a good hour in her room talking, while my mother was attempting to clean up under Carolyn's protests. My mother cannot sit still.

Then when the sun was a bit higher in the sky and the threat to rain postponned we took a long walk around the perimeter of the kibbutz, just above the dorms (the kibbutz is pretty hilly). We picked two tangerines off a tree, which we ate right away. Then we picked a grapefruit, which I kept. My mother found a piece of wood to decorate Carolyn's room. Finally we said bye bye, and released Carolyn back to her freedom.

My mom brought some lunch with us and we decided to drive somewhere quiet to eat it. We chose to visit the kibbutz cemetery. The previous day we were selecting a grave stone for my father so it was only natural we ended up in a grave yard again. We were impressed with all the well-tended graves at the kibbutz with many tropical vegetation that grew all around.

Lunch was not sufficient so we stopped at the small shopping center at the exit from the kibbutz where Carolyn told us would be a falafel stand. The falafel was good and cooked by an Arab from Nazareth who rents the space from the kibbutz. It was also 50% more expensive than in Tel-Aviv. We then visited the Indian-style shop where the kids shop sometimes for presents and clothing. We finally had some starbuck-like coffee at the cafe (also more expensive than in America) and headed back to Tel-Aviv. I understood where our kids' pocket money disappeared every month. The food at the hadar-ochel by the way, is excellent, and varied. However the dining hall is not headed any longer by members so it is run down. Some kids just need a little more variety, and a nicer environment.

Some reflections

I enjoyed meeting the kids and regretted not having enough time to talk to all of them at length. There are several clicks in the group but all children are liked and are accepted by all. Some are happier than others. Some are more participative. All seem to be content. The metaplot are liked by all and the discipline is permissive which allows for harmony and well-being. The madricha is learning successfully how to deal with discipline with kids almost her own age.

The little I observed of the school was not enough to form an opinion. I hope other parents saw more and can comment. There were only 4 students in the physics class I attended, which is not the typical situation (I heard the calculus class has only 2 students). The atmosphere was laxed which encouraged all the students to participate actively. This was the positive aspect. I made some suggestions to Gila on how to improve the class and she was very receptive. The children who were outside of the classroom should be advised to not disturb the classes which are being held. Their openning the door is very disruptive. It might be that the presence of parents on the vicinity has contributed to the festive atmosphere.

Over all the children are very supportive of each other, and I am confident they all are benefitting from this wonderful experience.

If you have a picture of your child you'd like me to add/replace below, let me have it. Also let me know if you'd like me to comment on other aspects I haven't as yet mentionned.

The kids

  • Becca - 15 - from GreenBank Whidbey Island near Seattle. Her favorite is Meshek Hai (zoo). She likes geometry. Misses home but feels confortable at the kibbutz.
  • Daniella - from Maryland. Her favorite is people. She's having an amazing year. She believes that youth should see the world and do everything they can and want. Math is her favorite school subject.
  • Oren - from LA. He was at Pardess Hana last year with his 17 year old brother. To be in Israel is the best thing for him. He was a fun companion in the human chain when we passed on the buckets.
  • Donna - from LA too. Friends are the best thing for her. English is her favorite at school. She's scared about the situation in Israel, but safe in Israel. Her parents were arriving 4 days later, and the coincidence was that her aunt is a friend of mine who came to see me in my grief in Tel-Aviv.
  • Danielle - from San Francisco. My talk with her was interrupted by my brother calling me about the declining state of my father. The tears choked me. Sorry Daniella for missing your words. At breakfast though the next morning she assured me that she feels at ease in the kibbutz.
  • Josh - from Maryland. We arrived to the Dead Sea by night, and he was amazed by the big body of water he found at the foot of the mountain when he awoke. He had no idea what it was. I think it is a natural reaction of many when they first encounter the Salty Sea (yam hamelach). Nice smile and direct look.
  • Arielle - from Florida. Is a bit scared by the situation in Israel but safe in the kibbutz. She suffers from back pains which challenge her physically, but her will power wins at the end and she makes it everywhere she chooses to go.
  • Lindsey - Both Lindsey and Jenn felt sick and missed on the Ein-Gedi hike. She helped me though in our crawling through the caves.
  • Jenn - Leaving Israel in February. Maybe a bit conflicted.
  • Sergio - from Bolivia. The son of the ambassador to Israel. Has lived in Russia and Israel for the last 5 years and will go back to Bolivia in a year. He is not sure how he will adjust back to his own country. He's well liked by many.
  • Dan - from Maryland. Seems shy but is not a scaredy cat. Feels secure in the kibbutz and with his friends.
  • Elliott - from the Maryland clan. Feels confortable in Israel.
  • Nina - from Germany. Hangs mostly with Katharina, her copatriote. No fear living in Israel.
  • Katharina - from Germany. She looks a bit like my Carolyn from the back. Mixed them up several times. Seems very happy.
  • Ashley - from NY. In Israel since 7th grade. Fluent Hebrew. 2nd year at BH. A senior. Very mature.
  • Karen - 15 - From Highland Park near Chicago. Met her in Tel-Aviv too before the tyul.
  • Amir - from Hondouras to Israeli parents. He's the perfect trilingual. He's one of the few kids who actively participates in discussions and asks questions. A senior.
  • Larissa - from Australia. Her mother came especially for health reasons to live in Arad near the Dead sea. Sweet smile.
  • Carolyn - wants to stay a 2nd year at BH. She has the rare ability of getting along with all the kids.
  • Ben - from Richmond VA, but really from the Maryland gang. Seems more mature than his age. Blames Sharon for starting up the conflict. Strong political views.
  • Noam - from the Maryland clan. Came by my mom's house during our shivaa when dropping off Carolyn. Nice smile. Likes to wear his hat.
  • The staff

  • Lidia - Has 2 children in their 20's. Lives alone on the kibbutz for several years. Visited her beautiful house and was charmed by her warm personality and self-giving.
  • Rachella - Has 3 kids; oldest is 11 years old. She is an athlete, fun and caring person.
  • Chen - 21 year old. Was a mem-caf in the army which is equivalent to a sargent (?). The boys especially confide in her. I hope her father is doing better.
  • Amichai - A charming and dedicated man. Just got remarried to Shula who lives in a near-by kibbutz. He is well trusted by all, and is doing a great job managing this wonderful American class.
  • We should be all thankful for this extraordinary adventure our kids are living.

    February 2002

    Katie Rosenbaum's rambling open letter after her visit in Israel:
    We didn't do too much, but it was good to see Ben and meet his friends. My cousins who live in Jerusalem picked me up from the airport and fed me. I slept some and swam at their club to help get over my jet lag. Then I got a car and drove to BH. A young cousin (Elliot's sister) on my husband's side came with me and her knowledge of Israel and Hebrew were reassuring. Also she is great company.
    I had planned to meet Ben's teachers but I slept too late on Friday morning so I postponed that activity for the next week. I met Ben's kibbutz family and had Shabbos with them. They are wonderful and take very good care of Ben and Karen, who is also in the class.
    On Saturday Ben and Elliot and his sister went with me to Jerusalem. We stopped in Tel Aviv for lunch and it was a beautiful day to walk on the beach. We then hurried to Jerusalem because my cousins had arranged a family get together for the evening. That was quite an event, since they are orthodox and there were 30 kids present. Ben had met some of them before and was quite overwhelmed. I too was amazed at their committement to Judaism and large families. I find the dress code a bit off-putting, but can put up with it for short bits of time.
    Sunday the kids and I went to Eliat, with a stop in Ber Sheva for lunch. We stayed at Kibbutz Ketura which is so beautiful and very close to Eliat. Our day at the beach was great, very restful and exactly what I had wanted to do. The water was too cold for me, but there were swimmers in it. Elliot and Danya, his sister and my guide, have cousins at Ketura so the kids had great fun hanging out with the Israeli cousins.
    Tuesday we drove back to Jerusalem and Wednesday I took the boys back to BH. I met all the teachers and sat in on classes on Thursday and then left Thursday night. The trip was exactly what I wanted it to be even tho we really didn't do the typical tourist type activities. My flight home was exhausting but I am recuperating as quickly as could be expected.
    Carolyn seems wonderful. She is in Ben's math class which I found quite challenging. The kids were keeping up with the teacher well but I could not understand her. In fact the Hebrew class was much easier for me to understand and I have forgotten almost all of the Hebrew I knew.
    I hope Purim was fun for you, the kids were invited to Gilboa, but I don't know how many of them went. Ben was vacillating when he last wrote. I know they had some time off, but I think they may be back in school tomorrow.
    The rental car company TAMIR was wonderful. They dropped off the car for me at my cousins' house in Jerusalem and they picked me up at BH and drove me to the airport on the last night of my trip. And the price was competitive with other companies. Arnold said that the extra trip to the airport cost about $50. I felt it was money well spent in light of the danger on the roads.

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