Photos and Text by Lydia Aisenberg
Thirty veteran members of Kibbutz Barkai recently met with overseas students participating in the 5‐month MASA‐Givat Haviva Intensive Arabic Semester based at the kibbutz. The locals are used to seeing new faces in and around the 1949 founded Hashomer Hatzair kibbutz in Wadi Ara as this is the fourth term of the IAS program bringing students from the States, Britain, Germany, Bosnia, Czech Republic and Canada to live and study in their community.
American accents are certainly nothing new to be heard in Barkai being as a large number of founders hail from North America where they were members of the Hashomer Hatzair movement prior to aliya (immigration to Israel). Together with a group of Holocaust survivors and others they succeeded in settling, protecting and developing the small kibbutz on the lip of Wadi Ara a short distance from the 1949 Armistice Line between the State of Israel and the West Bank, the latter between 1949‐1967 under the jurisdiction of the Jordanians.
Gathered in the moadon (clubhouse) at Barkai, David Helfand, Rachel Goldberg and Matthew Monahan addressed Barkai veterans, sharing with their new neighbors a little of their backgrounds, what they had been doing prior to signing up for the Intensive Arabic Semester and also explaining what attracted them to the program in the first place.
The academic director of the Intensive Arabic Semester Dr. David Mendelsohn and the students also touched upon how things were looking with almost a month of the semester behind them whilst Kibbutz Barkai born and raised Uri Barel, a co‐founder of the program, touched on the logistics and marketing side. Kibbutz member Efrat Haas, the program’s in‐house administrator, gave an overview of where one could find graduates of the program and what they were doing in present times – either continuing their studies, working in their already acquired professions and she also spoke of the three former students who had decided to make Israel their home.
Matthew Monahan – a Bostonian – studied Arabic in Cairo for a number of months before coming to Israel. He came across the Intensive Arabic Semester when surfing the internet. David Helfand – from Massachusetts – studied Hebrew in Jerusalem and also completed an internship at the Palestine‐Israel Journal in that city. Rachel Goldberg interrupted her university studies in the States for the opportunity to study a semester in Israel and had also studied Hebrew in the past.
The kibbutzniks were intrigued as to why the students wanted to learn Arabic and asked what about Hebrew, how much of that language would they be studying as well. They also wanted to know what plans the students held for the future and upon hearing of their volunteering at a high‐school in the near‐by Israeli Arab Muslim city Baka al‐Gharbiya, where they teach English, the kibbutz folk fielded a few questions as to whether the students were getting to know the kibbutz community as well as the Arab community where they also have families to visit – as they do now in Barkai.
“The students are exposed to both the Arab and Jewish communities where they are working, studying and volunteering. They, in more ways than one, have become a bridge between those communities as they share with the Arabs they meet something about the Jewish community they are part of whilst doing the same when meeting with Jewish Israelis, whether it be in the kibbutz or when they go to visit family, friends in Israel in their free time,” explained David Mendelsohn.
“My wish is to speak both Hebrew and Arabic so as to be able to converse with all the peoples of Israel,” said David Halfend speaking in Hebrew to the best of his ability, as did fellow students Matthew and Rachel when they answered questions.
Syrian born kibbutz member Ovadia Shveika who made aliya in 1949 was curious to know how Matthew had been treated in Egypt. “Very well indeed,” answered Matthew.
“I was a bit apprehensive as to how it would work out but that was only in the beginning. Right from the outset I told them I was Jewish and that I had studied in Israel in the past and most people were very friendly and there were those who asked more about Israel. In general I felt comfortable in openly speaking about everything.”
Rachel Goldberg is from Delaware and has taken time out from her studies in the States for a semester in Israel. “My family was concerned about my living so far away but in the end they agreed to my joining the program. When I tried to explain to my friends what the concept of kibbutz was and why I really wanted to have a kibbutz experience as well, they really thought I was crazy,” she said with a smile. “They were right!” murmured a few of the veterans in good-humor. “My family thought the same fifty years ago," joked someone else.
Eighty-something native New Yorker Mitzi Alper, one of the veteran members of the kibbutz and familiar face on the nearby Givat Haviva campus where she has been volunteering for many years at the Art Center as a teaching assistant commented after meeting the students that she had really enjoyed listening to the MASA-Givat Haviva program trio.
“I was particularly interested in what motivated these young people to embark on such an intensive language program. They look upon the acquisition of language as one of the first steps in social action. I find it encouraging to meet young people who want to have an impact on the social interchange between Arabs, Christians and Jews,”
“I was quite impressed with their ability to express themselves in Hebrew and hopefully we will have the opportunity to meet, and talk with, the other members of the group,” she added.
The students received a number of invitations for tea or dinner in the veteran’s individual homes and the evening in the moadon was, it would seem, just the beginning of better things to come – for both the students and the veterans!