Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Give Me The Facts But Don't Tell Me What To Think

My uncle, my mother's youngest brother, lived with his family in a kibbutz. As a child I loved spending the holidays there, and announced to my parents that I planned to move to the kibbutz and go to high school there. They did not dismiss the idea a priori, but as I grew older I realized that my father would never agree. At the time I didn’t know why, it was only much later that I understood

Until the 1980s the kibbutzim (plural for kibbutz) had a critical role in the political and social life in Israel. Many were affiliated with different socialist movements or parties, and had a significant representation in the Israeli parliament –the Knesset.

In order to educate the next generation and to draw them closer to the kibbutz way of life, the  kibbutzzim movements founded youth movements all around the country. Most of them had  ideological agendas and often the leaders in charge were  on a yearly mission from their kibbutzzim. Off the top of my head I can recall at least  8  active youth movements in the 1960s, and out of those only one or two were apolitical.

 At that time there was no money available for enrichment programs, so most children attended the free activities of the  youth movements. Through those activities children, grade 5 and up experienced survival skills in nature, went on over-night trips, and spent a week at a kibbutz  during the summer.

My best friend, whose parents were members of the Communist Party, invited me once to  her youth movement. I had a great time; the program was interesting and the counselor and the children were welcoming. I wanted to join, especially since I heard that they would be spending  the summer holiday at a camp at the Crimea peninsula (how topical). In the late sixties nobody travelled abroad. But since my father objected to mixing political ideology with educational activities, I never went there again.

He also disapproved of political ideology as a way of life, and naturally was suspicious of the  kibbutzzim. Today many people admit that this experiment was problematic at best, but at the time my father's position was not at all common. He disliked the communal dining room  where the  kibbutz members  congregated 3 times a day, frowned upon the communal laundry and questioned the merit of the education system--the boarding schools like houses where children in the kibbutz led their life separately from their parents.

Had he chosen to voice his opinions my father would have been an unpopular guest in my uncle's kibbutz; and as he loved my uncle he kept quiet. Still my father never forgave that kibbutz  for taking too long to admit and condemn Stalin’s atrocities in the 1950s (especially in the case of the Doctors’ plot). At the time there was a heated debate about this issue, and for him believing the Soviet position and blindly obeying party line epitomized  everything that was wrong with the Kibbutz. He felt that this way of life could cause people to lose their ability to think for themselves and ultimately to compromise their personal integrity.

Individualism and free thinking were essential for my nonconformist father. When I asked him once why he preferred to read a popular newspaper and not the excellent Ha'aretz, he answered that he read a newspaper only for the facts, he didn't need the interpretation. Furthermore, he declared that he refused to let Ha’aretz "tell him what to think."

In recent years Haaretz has been airing the commercial: “The Paper for Thinking People," whenever I hear it on the radio I smile and answer: “apparently not for all of them.”

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