11 Kislev 5759

(Monday morning, November 30, 1998 – my birthday!) – Kfar Blum

The Jordan River at Kfar Blum

The rest of Shabbat was pretty hard. During Shabbat lunch, the wait-staff completely ignored me. I felt isolated, terribly alone. I wrote Dubi (the General Manager of Kfar Blum) a note about my experience.

Sunday night when I returned from my daily adventure, I found a bottle of wine and an apology from Dubi. He wrote that he realized they needed to be more attentive to people traveling alone. My bad experience will be worth it if it translates into genuine concern for women like me in the future.

I spent most of Shabbat wandering the kibbutz grounds. It is a fascinating place, Kfar Blum. Bordered on one side by the Jordan River, life is simple here. Children play in nice but un-fancy spaces, wide open, inviting, low-tech. They have a swimming pool, not Olympic size, but big enough.

Their tiny homes feel like something out of an earlier time. The kibbutz’s money goes into improving their agriculture, updating computers, making guests comfortable. So far, they choose to live simply.

But they have a very nice high school and the Clore Music Centre. While I was there, they had just finished the groundbreaking ceremony for the dance wing of that music school. Their homes may be small, but they spare no expense in the education of their children.

And their “security system” along the Jordan River consists of a chain link fence. Trusting souls.

Yesterday, my original plan involved driving down to Kinneret, with backup plan being Jezreel Valley. But first at Rabbi Iser’s recommendation, I would see Kfar Nahum, Capernaum. According to Fodor’s, it would be interesting.

I arrived only to find that: a) It’s not a real town; b) There’s almost nothing to it; and, c) To put it nicely, it’s a farce, a ripoff. I went ahead and paid the NIS 2 admission, wondering at the irony of paying admission to “Jesus’s town.” I strolled as much as was possible, but at least on the day I was there, I could not go down to the lake. Access was very limited to the site – not quite sure why.

I drove through Tiberias; for some reason I’ve taken a dislike to that town! Perhaps because it is too touristy? I did not linger, but kept driving. Since I had more time than I had anticipated, I decided to drive down to Beit She’an. I had heard that there was an excellent archaeological dig in progress there. But I arrived to find it shuttered, barricaded, closed down. I later learned that the dig had ceased operation two years earlier.

A little discouraged, I stopped at what appeared to be a deserted gas station so I could get my bearings. One thing I have repeatedly seen in this country: When plans fail, it’s usually the options you were not even aware of that turn out for the best. In this case, the gas station was anything but deserted. Even the bathrooms were spotlessly clean. The establishment was generally well-run.

Looking towards Old Gesher from the highway (and towards Jordan)

After filling up, I bought lunch, eating my simple meal from a vantage point overlooking the Jordan River – and Jordan. I spied a brochure on the counter for Old Gesher, which I had passed on the way to Beit She’an. However, since my Fodor’s guide didn’t list Old Gesher, I assumed it would be stopgap, not really worthwhile. I headed towards the kibbutz with very low expectations.

What a pleasant surprise! The woman who gave me the tour of the place hailed from San Francisco. She married a fellow who grew up on the Gesher kibbutz, where they still live. His mother was one of the six women chosen to stay at Gesher during the ’48 war – her husband was sent to Haifa with their children.

Ann loves the place. Since it was a “private” tour (I was the only person!), we talked a lot about her life there. When she showed me the dining hall – very small – I asked where the kitchen was. She laughed and said she liked my question for two reasons. First, it was the first thing she had asked when she arrived, and I’m the only other person who’s ever asked the question. Second, because they built the dining hall long before they built the kitchen. The only answer she’s ever gotten from old-timers on that very strange order of events: “Why build a kitchen when there’s nothing to eat?”

Gesher Community Hall
(formerly the dining hall)

She was very proud of the fact that those original kibbutzniks – such a small number – had held off the entire Iraqi and Jordanian armies in 1948. The Iraqis spent eleven days trying to capture Gesher, and finally retreated. I took bunches of pictures. The same landscapes I had driven on Thursday took on new meaning the more I understood about the love and sweat that has made them Be.

But I was equally astounded by her far more moderate viewpoint on peace between Israel and her neighbors. “Gesher” means bridge. It earned that name because of the three bridges at the site. The first is an old Roman bridge, one that appears as little more than a footbridge by modern standards. The second is the “Train Bridge” built by the Turks at the turn of the twentieth century. That bridge enabled commerce to flourish between Haifa and Damascus.

Box cars for peace at Gesher

The British built the third bridge at Gesher in the 1920s. It too linked Haifa to points east.

Ann looked to the trio of bridges, the empty and abandoned railroad cars, the tracks protected behind barbed wire fences. “All of us here at Gesher hope and pray for the day that trains once again carry cargo between Haifa and Damascus,” she said. “Because then we know that there will be peace.”

The most powerful lesson of the trip so far, I learned during a ‘tour’ at a place that wasn’t even on my itinerary. I now join Ann in hoping and praying for trains carrying cargo between Haifa and Damascus.

Let there be peace, and let it begin at Gesher.

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