Understanding Community in the North

This week’s participant blog post comes from Hannah Stonebraker.  Check in every week to see perspectives from all of this year’s participants on the Yahel Social Change Program!

When I was younger, I made semi-serious jokes about my future life in a feminist, vegetarian, nudist commune. I learned this weekend however, that perhaps, that type of communal living, is, somewhat surprisingly, not for me.

This past weekend the Yahelnikim spent 5 days in the Galilee region of northern Israel on the first of our 3 seminars this year. This seminar was centered on the idea of community.  We started by studying a unique idea of community well known to Israel – the kibbutz. We began studying the roots of the kibbutz movement, learning about the base of socialist Zionism, by visiting the pantheon of the Kinneret (also known as the sea of Galilee). This amazingly stunning graveyard holds the remains of what many would call the pioneers of Zionism and certainly the pioneers of the socialist experiment in Israel. Our incredible and charming British tour guide Jeremy led us through the history that lends this place its air of importance and heavy significance. He asked us, “What makes you get off your haystack in the morning?”

At the Kinneret Pantheon with Jeremy

For those pioneers, it was their hope of a new, better, society which pulled them off their haystacks in the morning. And as we continued to learn, there are those today still driven by these ideals and ideas of community, acceptance, and equality. Our exploration of community therefore took us into other examples of this type of social egalitarian community – into the pluralistic revitalized Kibbutz Hannaton, as well as a young urban Kibbutz called Mishol.  Mishol takes the idea of communal living to what some would call the extreme – an economic collective, where everyone’s income is pooled and distributed based on number of individuals per family. To those of us used to Western concepts of self-made men and economic individualistic success, this was something nearly unfathomable.

For most people in our group, the structure of Hannaton was much more appealing. Hannaton, after a period of great internal dispute and economic collapse, has been reformed in the past four years as a pluralistic Jewish kibbutz, mostly populated by young families new to the kibbutz movement. It is no longer mainly agrarian based, and no longer an economic collective. Members have there own income, that most make in a job outside of the Kibbutz, and the Kibbutz itself pulls most of its money from their educational center.

Many in our group felt some level of appreciation for the structure of Hannaton, some to the extent that they would live there, at least for a period of time. I instead felt the most connection to the final community that we explored on the seminar – the Druze community of the village Maghar.

We were given an amazing opportunity to briefly immerse ourselves in this unique community. Just for some history, the Druze were originally an offshoot of Shi’a Islam, but have long since been separated, and even persecuted by mainstream Islam. Their religion is a beautiful meld of different concepts of monotheism, but is for the most part entirely closed to outsiders – the secrets of their religion only open to the religious of their community. Furthermore, though the Druze speak Arabic at home, they feel a great connection to Israel as a nation, and the men even do mandatory army service. The women do not for modesty issues. These modesty norms play clear role in the community, and became very clear to us as we were hosted by Druze teens and their families. The restrictions placed upon girls are clear, though the generational changes and expectations seem massive. While the girls with which I spent my time were not allowed out at night, not allowed out of the town without a family member, not allowed to date or perhaps even spent time with boys, they spoke of wanting to allow their daughters to do whatever they pleased.

I left the community feeling truly baffled, amazed, and inspired, by these girls and young women with whom I met and lived albeit briefly. It was amazing to see a group of mostly 14 and 15-year-old girls so mature, aware, open, and honest. The comparison to myself at 15 felt very stark.

Hannah with her Druze host, Hadeel
Hannah with her Druze host, Hadeel

When I was that age, I had become disenchanted with American materialism and selfishness drawn to ideas such as communes, co-ops and collectives. But after seeing, feeling, experiencing, examples of these this weekend, I yet again realize just how much I myself have been shaped by American values of individualism. But I also recognize where American communities fall short for me and the ways in which I am so drawn to the close, insular nature of the Druze village. While this is in many ways due to their numbers and common practice of intermarriage with their cousins, this is also because of their shared experiences, beliefs, symbols, and values. It was a beautiful and truly inspiring sight, but taught me lessons about community that I not yet know how to encompass in my life and my communities. But the Druze girls prove that though they live as a somewhat persecuted minority religion, a strong community is still very possible and thoroughly beautiful.

Yahelnekim with some of their Druze hosts
Yahelnekim with some of their Druze hosts
Yahel's Director Dana Talmi helping with the Druze olive harvest
Yahel’s Director Dana Talmi helping with the Druze olive harvest







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