Family / Life / Spirituality & religion

On Becoming a Queer Kibbutznik

When my family and I decided to move to Hannaton more than three years ago, we assumed, perhaps naively, that becoming kibbutz members would be a straightforward process. We drank from the Kool-Aid that described Hannaton as a progressive, egalitarian religious community, a description that fit(s) us to a tee.  My husband, Daniel, and I are committed, practicing, egalitarian Jews, and became active members of the community the minute we moved in. Daniel created weekly Sabbath programming for the children in the community. I, a rabbinical student, participated generously in synagogue and ritual life. We both regularly attended extra-curricular meetings and communal meals and events. Our family began hosting a weekly “movie night” at our place for all of the local kids so that our own children could make new friends and feel part of their new home. We relished being part of a kibbutz community that was actively rebranding and rebuilding itself in the wake of past financial and communal challenges. Everything seemed reasonably peachy.

Until it wasn’t.

We soon noticed that we were being scrutinized and judged more, and more unfavorably, than other families.  Other seemingly similarly situated families whose applications proceeded more quickly than ours and without much fuss at all.  We heard through scuttlebutt that some among the powers-that-be were hostile to the idea of a queer family moving in, lest the place acquire a certain “reputation.” Others were concerned that because one of our son’s has autism, his special needs might sometime, somehow bankrupt the kibbutz. When we started advocating for ourselves and our son by dispelling misinformation and confronting prejudice, it only added fuel to the fire. On top of everything else, we were now pushy, argumentative, anti-authoritarian New Yorkers who couldn’t work quietly, politely and reverently within the system (a cultural irony given the general reputation Israelis have for being blunt and aggressive).

To make a long story short: Within less than a month of our lawyers sending a letter to the powers-that-be pointing out the legal errors of their ways, and with ongoing behind-the-scenes advocacy and support from loving friends and allies in the community, our application proceeded to a vote, and we were officially accepted as kibbutz members. Truth be told, I licked my wounds for a long while afterwards – in part because I have chosen to live in a tight-knit community where one sees almost everyone on a regular basis, including those who preferred that we not move here in the first place. In part also because I am often astonished by discrimination. I identify whole-heartedly with the semi-rhetorical question of African American folklorist Zora Neale Hurston: “How can any deny themselves the pleasure of my company? It is beyond me.”

Overall and over time, the cultural and communal positives of living in Hannaton have outweighed the challenges of our early days here by leaps and bounds. Kibbutz life in the historic Jezreel Valley has a rich rhythm all its own. A rhythm that often tries, but rarely succeeds, to lull me into a sense of complacency.

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