The Old Kibbutznik

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Child in Wheat Field
13 Dec 2007

When my daughter, Ayelet, was a student several years ago at the Bar Ilan University, she was asked to join a group of orthodox students doing Gishur work (bridging the gap) in a secular kibbutz one Shabbat. The purpose was to have the different populations meet, exchange views and improve relationships between them. The kibbutz they were visiting was known to have little connection with religion, yet they made an effort to provide kosher meals and set up a minyan for the visitors. The discussions that the groups held were interesting. The life in a modern day kibbutz was of great interest to the students, and the interaction was kept light and friendly throughout the weekend. During the Shabbat prayers they were joined by a few curious youngsters and two elderly gentlemen who actually knew how to daven. One of them, Avraham, a man over 90, was given the honor of reading the Haftarah which he did flawlessly. After the davening, Ayelet came out from behind the mechitza and heard Avraham telling the others: “The last time I heard that Haftarah was when Herbert Samuel, the High Commissioner (in the Mandate Government) recited it at the Hurva Synagogue in the Old City.”

Now Ayelet was really interested. She lives in the Jewish Quarter, and davens herself right next to the ruins of the Hurva Synagogue. She even remembered from her classes in Eretz Yisrael Studies how this was the Central Shul of Jerusalem for over 100 years and a very beautiful one at that. Moreover when the English government appointed as their High Commissioner a Jew, it gave the small Jewish settlement in Jerusalem high hopes of a better future. In fact Avraham told the Bar Ilan students, “When Herbert Samuel came to the verse, “נחמו נחמו עמי,יאמר אלוקיהם” he read it in a very loud voice, and there was great emotional upheaval in the synagogue.

“How old were you at the time?” Ayelet couldn’t help asking the kibbutznik. “Oh, maybe five or six years old, but it made a great impression on me,” he answered. “My uncle took me there”. “Did you live in the Old City yourself,” she continued asking. “Come to my room after lunch, and I’ll tell you an interesting story,” said Avraham mysteriously. “It involves the saintly Rabbi Avraham HaKohen Kook, who was my ‘sandak’ (godfather)”. Now Ayelet was really intrigued. Rav Kook was the chief Ashkenazi rabbi of Israel during the Mandate period, and one of the most influential men of spirit in the 20th century.

Right after lunch Ayelet and a number of other students went to look up Avraham. At first he seemed to have forgotten why they came. But one of the young men reminded him, “You wanted to tell us a story,” and so Avraham began. “My mother lost her husband at a very young age. She lived in Poland at the time and since she was left with two small children, a boy of seven and a girl of five and had no means of support, she decided to make aliyah and join a kibbutz–not this one, but XXX in the north.”

“Times were very difficult in the Yishuv in those years,” he explained. “The kibbutz accepted her and the two small children, but she had to let them live in a children’s house, as the kibbutz dictated, and she worked very hard in the fields. After a while she decided that kibbutz life was not for her. She asked to leave the kibbutz and join her brother in Jerusalem. The kibbutz held a meeting and decided that she could leave but the children in whom they had invested so much, would have to remain. My mother wasn’t willing to leave her children behind, and appealed to the kibbutz movement’s judiciary committee. They decided to call in Rabbi Avraham Yitzhak Kook, who was then the rabbi of Jaffa, and who was revered even by the non-orthodox kibbutzim, to give his judgment on the case.”

“Rav Kook heard all the arguments on both sides. He listened as the kibbutz secretary explained their stand, and then he heard my mother’s plea to take her children with her. In the end the rabbi’s judgment was a kind of compromise. My sister would go with the mother and my brother would stay in the kibbutz. Of course this was a difficult pill for my mother to swallow and she cried. But the rabbi, to comfort the young widow gave her a blessing. ‘You will have another son,’ he said, ‘and I’ll be the sandek at his bris.’ So my mother moved to the city and indeed, after a number of years she remarried a widower in Jerusalem, and she gave birth to me and three other children.

By the time I was born Rabbi Kook was already the Chief Rabbi of Israel. My mother remembered his promise but was embarrassed to ask the revered man to attend my bris. Nevertheless she decided to leave him a note. Sure enough Rabbi Kook remembered the incident in the kibbutz. He remembered his promise and he turned up at my bris and served as my sandek. More than that, he kept in contact with us over the years, and made sure that I got a good Jewish education. I still remember his loving kindness to me and my family.

So here I am in a non-observant kibbutz. I keep what I can; I organize the services every Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. I make sure that the kitchen is kept kosher. And when there’s an opportunity I love to read in the Torah, so few people here can do that. But I think I’ve kept up Rav Kook’s expectations of me. I’m a kind of Gishur worker myself.” The 90 year old kibbutznik finished his story with obvious satisfaction. The young people were entranced. They had come to the kibbutz to spread some tenets of Judaism. They came away with an inspiring and totally unexpected tale.

Leah Abramowitz is a geriatric social worker who is the coordinator of the Geriatric Institute of Shaare Zedek Hospital and Melabev. She is a veteran freelance writer and active in community programs.

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.