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Publication: Hebrew Studies
Date published:
Language: English
PMID: 89208
ISSN: 01464094
Journal code: HBWS

Prior to the Zionist revolution the Jews were compelled to hover as in Chagall's paintings, and when heaven became too much, along came the pioneers and brought them down for a forced landing.... The pioneers gave this people its only material status in its entire history. They gave a homeland to a people whose umbilical cord was still attached to heaven.1


Ever since the early kibbutz settlement of the Jordan and Jezreel Valleys, the kibbutz concept has been perceived by many as the principal innovation of the Jewish people in Eretz Yisrael. The Utopian lifestyle, which was not put in abeyance until the End of Days but realized in everyday life, was set in the collective consciousness as a symbolic site that represented pioneering Israeliness at its best. People perceived the communal settlements enterprise as the true revolution in the lifestyle of the Jewish people, the true social and cultural avant-garde of pre-state Israeli society. Through the pioneering enterprise, the Jewish people, which for centuries had lived in a state of physical detachment and social alienation, had a fresh opportunity, a possibility of reconciliation between the sterile abstractness of diasporic spiritual existence, and the tangible-tactile concreteness of an experience filled with vitality.

In the early years, the 1920s and 1930s, no literature was written from within the kibbutz society, at least not in the professional sense of the term. The great revolution effected by the pioneering society in Eretz Yisrael raised physical labor, particularly working the land, to the level of a central value and relegated intellectual activity from the place it had occupied for generations.2 While literary creativity was rejected and blocked, it was during this period, the time of "material poverty," that beginnings were created, a unique sphere of literary activity into which the writers, by unusual means, attempted to deal with representations of the reality of pioneering life in Eretz Yisrael. The writers' avant-garde urge spurred them to create an ex nihilo repertoire for those spheres of life in which the old repertoire was unsuited to the needs of the new reality: the passion to shape the Eretz- Yisraeli "place" through the language encouraged the writers to invent a language of representations of reality that drew their power from the material and the vital; new tools of expression were created that were aimed at creating the "local," material place, not only with the hoe but also through words; new models of collective or semi-collective forms of writing were created, which were compatible with the experience of communal life; and the narrator perceived himself, first and foremost, as an emissary, a narrator- witness, who did not call attention to his inner world.

Over the years, several of the innovative models created during the early period (1920-1950) disappeared from the field of literary endeavor and were replaced by other, more popular genres that met the desire of the kibbutz society to reach wider audiences and influence them ideologically. But there is a specific phenomenon that was characteristic of the literary writing unique to this society, which reappears in the literary sphere even after a decadeslong interval.

The present article suggests returning to the starting point to observe several of the avant-garde models created within the kibbutz society from the perspective of a century and to reexamine the ideological effort behind them. This study will serve as a preface to a poetic and ideological discussion of Assaf Inbari's 2009 novel, Habayta (Home). Inbari's novel continues the tradition of documentary avant-garde writing that seeks to relate a collective story, the story of the creation of the "place." The writer's transformation of documentary material, and his sophisticated use of the collective voice, which is also simultaneously personal, makes this novel an innovative and complex work of art.


In the first two decades, "literature" was hardly written at all. In its first steps, the settlement enterprise swept up the kibbutz members and imbued them, first and foremost, with endeavor, hard physical labor, mainly on the land. Literary-artistic writing by professional writers was rejected and halted. In the wake of Brenner's central poetic article, "The Eretz Yisrael Genre and Its Adjuncts" (1911), the opinion became rooted in Hebrew critique that the Eretz Yisrael reality did not yet possess permanence and typification, and thus could not serve as a model for literary writing; in Brenner's opinion, the writers writing from Eretz Yisrael presented a sham model of life experience and thus did not succeed in creating superior artistic work.4 Meanwhile, Brenner proposed that only memoirs should be written - "an examination of memories and impressions from the dynamic situation."5

A. D. Gordon's demand from writers was even more stringent: he thought that the transition to "right living," undetached from the land, from nature, demanded Man's all, and that only when individuals redeem themselves and become whole people, their work would in any case become living work. Gordon accused the Hebrew writers who did not physically take part in the new life of pioneering of having a sterile "aesthetic" approach, and demanded that they first of all invest all their efforts in creating life itself. In his view, even Bialik's work did not pass the test: Gordon dared to say,

If Bialik were here working and living a life of labor and nature and seeing life purely as a life of work (for in any other way he would not achieve what there is to achieve here), and sing us the song of labor and the life of labor, then I would now give all his poems for that.6

Beri Katznelson, too, who founded the Davar newspaper and the Am Oved publishing house and who encouraged writers from the kibbutz movement taking their first steps, was in thrall to the conception which saw, at this stage, no legitimacy for intellectual creation without combining it with physical labor. The entire generation was preoccupied with converting spiritual energies to the practical, and all aspired toward a common aim: turning the Jewish people into a working people. The pioneers tried to translate "the religion of labor" into action and spoke of this conversion in religious terms. Joining the "Order of Pioneers" was perceived as ritual and called for enlistment of all the forces. Drab quotidian life became holy, and the simple road became "a heavenly road," "And like phylactery straps, the highways that palms have paved glide down," as Shlonsky wrote in his famous poem.8

This perception of the spiritual aspect as weakness, as one of the ills of the Diaspora, drove kibbutz writers into silence, or at best to writing in secret, in stolen hours, just before dawn before going out to work in the fields. The majority tried to physically maintain the difficult, perhaps impossible, combination of "worker- writer." Only after many years of paralysis of their creative power and their voluntary inhibition did some dare to critically address the early days: "The heroic and barbaric times alike, at the beginning of our road, the times of the rite of muscles and contempt for the spirit."9


In the early years, the collectivist trend encouraged the writing of collective anthologies that documented the experiences, troubles, and dreams of groups of pioneers. The groundbreaking anthology, Kehilyatenu (Our community), written by the founders of Hashomer Hatzair, was the best known of these. In the course of the summer of 1920 and the winter of 1921, a small select Hashomer Hatzair group settled at Bitaniya Illit, on a slope overlooking the Sea of Galilee, and was engaged in preparing the ground for planting for the Jewish Colonization Association's experimental farm. This site has special significance in the history of Hashomer Hatzair, as the movement views it as its cradle in Eretz Yisrael. During the day, the group worked at removing rocks, uprooting jujube bushes, and digging holes for planting olive trees and vineyards, and at night they devoted themselves to the ritual of confessional talks, hoping to thus bring about reformation of the self and the world alike. About a year after coming down from the mountain, the group set down its experiences in a collective anthology entitled Kehilyatenu (spring, 1922).

This is not the place to discuss the singular story of the Bitaniya Illit group, which became a defining myth in the history of the pioneering tribe. In the framework of the present discussion, we shall only say that the anthology constitutes a particularly fascinating example of this kind of writing. Kehilyatenu offered a unique lexicon, a system of symbols, images, and dreams; the expressive language and raw structure of the text that was intermingled with various documentary writing genres - group discussions, journal extracts, and things written in the group's notebook, articles, and letters - held the potential of a primal canon that is still uncompleted. And indeed, years later, three Hebrew writers found provocative and stirring raw material for their literary-artistic writing in the Bitaniya Illit episode and the Kehilyatenu anthology: Natan Bistritsky wrote his novel Days and Nights in 1926; Yehuda Ya' ari' s novel Like Glittering Light was published in 1937; and Joshua Sobol wrote his play The Night of the Twentieth, first performed in 1976 (Keshet, 2009). Other group journals, like the Kvutzat Hasharon Booh of the Kvutza, or the Kvutzat Kiryat Anavim The Book of Life, which for years were kept in the archives of these kibbutzim, were only published in the 1990s as part of a retrospective research effort.10

It is therefore only natural that a collective anthology like Kehilyatenu, which contains primary descriptions of the immigrant pioneers' encounter with the experience of the Eretz- Yisraeli place, still contains all the multivoice chords of the sacrosanct attitude toward Eretz Yisrael. The geographical place at Bitaniya Illit reverberated to the spiritual place: the Sea of Galilee, the Galilee, the place where Jesus and his disciples walked. For many of the contributors to this anthology, the present - the story of the renewed redemption of the Jewish people - was connected with messianic times, and the reborn Hebrew language, as it is depicted in the collective discourse, contains the hidden elements of the holy, apocalyptic tongue, whose dark influence was so feared by Gershom Scholem.11

We shall give only one example from the words of one of the anthology's contributors, Yehuda Ya' ari:

and in my memory there emerges a chain of tales, all connected to the land: that of the prophets who saw eternal visions here; the tale of Jesus and his disciples who lived here in these mountains, and who proclaimed the Kingdom of Heaven; the tale of Rabbi Shimon and his adherents who spent the best part of their life in these caves, and who ate a repast in the Divine Presence; the tale of Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav who came here to rectify his soul's flaws and straighten "the crooked heart"; and more and more and more, and to this chain I seek to introduce one more link: the act of the young people who came here to create a new life.12

This collective- documentary genre, which left its mark in the early days, reappears after more than forty years in the wake of the Six-Day War. The anthologies, The Seventh Day (1968) and Between Young People (1969), which were published by the Allied Kibbutz Movement, continue the tradition of Kehilyatenu. The second and third generation, which had recently emerged from the experience of that war, make the kibbutz community as a whole part of their confessions, thoughts, and observations.


Over a long period of more than two decades (1920-1940) the sketch genre claimed a central place in the sphere of literary production. Its characteristics were simple: a short, flexible text of elementary form which attempted to come close to reality. The words with which the experiences were transmitted did not attempt to draw attention to themselves, but rather to convey the authentic experience. The sketch gave expression to impressionistic moods and philosophical thought and described scenes from the life of labor while attempting to depict Eretz Yisraeli landscapes and nature in words. The writers chose the sketch as a preferred genre for two main reasons: the harsh conditions of reality that compelled them to find their expression in a minimalist literary form that enabled them to fulfill it even after a hard day's work in the fields; and the collective-egalitarian reason that in the sketch there were possibilities of expression for many, without distinction between skilled writers and the rank and file.

The sketch genre apparently drew its models mainly from the Russian tradition which influenced many of the writers. In two different but interconnected periods, the literary ketch flourished in the Russian tradition. Active in Russia in the 1860s and 1870s was a group of writers associated with the harbingers of the revolution, which in research are known as "populists." They belonged to the Russian intelligentsia movement that supported "going to the people" and viewed a return to rural life and tilling the soil as a redemptive experience. These writers wrote about their experiences and endeavors in a rough, documentary, "sketch" style: sketches from village life, the life of sailors in the fleet, of farmers, and so forth. The texts attempted to convey life experience in a direct fashion, bordering on a journalistic chronicle. The critiques cast doubt on the literary value of these texts, but their social influence was important.13

This direction, which created a precedent in Russian literature, recurred after a brief decline during the Soviet period. The communist regime, which established schools for proletarian writers who would create a Russian "Proletkultur," recommended this type of writing to them as the most desirable way of describing revolutionary subjects.14 In the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics too, fictional writing was rejected in favor of semireportage genres. This new trend was well received by the literary critics of the time as a successful example of the required integration of life and art. Worthy of particular study are the words of the critic Shklovsky, who together with the neo-futurists joined the sympathetic wave that welcomed the new literary trend. Shklovsky contended that there are periods in history wherein the old aesthetic forms lose their effectiveness. In these periods, literature must move beyond its own world and renew its contact with sources of vitality to prevent its fossilization. It must enter the non-literary to bring from it raw life materials to its realm and activate extra-aesthetic modes.15

Ha 'adama, edited by Y. H. Brenner, and Hapoel Hatzair, edited by J. Aharonovitz, were the first journals to open their platform to sketches expressing the authentic feelings of the pioneers. Brenner, and Beri Katznelson too, viewed the initial attempts of workers as a fount of vitality and originality that would influence the entire literary spectrum. Katznelson even viewed workers' literature as a continuation of the popular genre of Hasidic literature, folk literature, that would be written by the people and speak to the people.16 The workers' press of the third aliya pioneers - Hasolel, the road workers' journal, and Mihayenu, that of the Labor Battalion, which were handwritten, duplicated, and distributed among the groups between 1921 and 1929 - continued the tradition. The kibbutz movement journals, too, whose publication commenced in the 1920s - Mibifnim (1923 onward), Mv Hakvutza (1929 onward), and Hedim (which first appeared in 1927) - gave pride of place to sketches, and in them can be found examples by Fanya Bergstein, David Maletz, and Shlomo Reichenstein, alongside sketches by almost anonymous authors who published but one or two on the public platform, and usually signed them using only their first name or a pseudonym. This genre was close to life, and its writers - members of the rank and file - viewed themselves as expressing truths deriving from the depths of the pioneering experience, not as professional writers.


In his important book On Israeli and Jewish Place, ZaIi Gurevitch defines the pioneering idea first and foremost as the restoration of "the place" to its place. The pioneers turned the country from a solely symbolic magical object, from a Torah commandment, into a total reality of life, and their project is measured, first of all, by its ability to create a territory of a new Jewish totality, in contrast with the Diaspora situation.17

Classification by subject of the sketches that appeared in the first years (1920-1940) shows - and not by chance - that Eretz- Yisraeli nature appears at a far greater frequency than other subjects.18 It is the sketch writers' principal arena, and in it is created the basis for new representations of the EretzYisraeli place.

The literary repertoire of Eretz- Yisrael descriptions, created over centuries of detachment from it, was based entirely upon the spiritual-religious world. Yearning for Eretz Yisrael created a special mode of description that leaned on materials of the dream: Hebrew-religious poetry, such as that of Yehuda Halevi, offered a trove of images and descriptions that relied on abstract symbols, not on reality. In part, the materials drew on the Utopian repository of the prophecies of the End of Days, not other biblical sources, such as the Song of Solomon, which preserved hints of sensual EretzYisraeli reality. Whereas the descriptions in Jewish Enlightenment literature, like Mapu's agricultural utopia, were close to the idealistic style of the Book of Ruth, they also created a "secondary" inventory that leaned on a recycled "literary repertoire." The Utopian repertoire of the Middle Ages and Jewish Enlightenment literature alike, stood in stark contrast to the situation of the country, which for centuries had lain in ruins. This repertoire also had a negative educational effect in the view of the philosophers of the period, such as Y. H. Brenner, who in his seminal "The Eretz Yisrael Genre and Its Adjuncts," vehemently decried the presentation of reality by means of "the accessories of stage sets" that characterized the faux-Romantic approach.

In the literary field, together with the idyllic-utopian repository, we can also identify traces of another repository, the "readymade" one, which the writers brought from their homelands. Leah Goldberg's "My Beloved Country" tells of longing for her previous homeland, not the new one. The entire repertoire of descriptions of the European autumn "emigrated" to Eretz Yisrael in the footsteps of émigré poets like Leah Goldberg, Natan Alterman, and others.19 "Our Avramek has not yet seen the sun setting in this country, since he remains true to the sunset of Juliusz Slowacki" - thus Emma Levin-Talmi describes the feelings of one of the protagonists in her book Time of Tents.20 Domestication in the new landscape was slow. The immigrants mainly experienced difficulty in coping with the burning sun and the Eretz-Yisraeli summer. The summer in Alterman's "Six Summer Poems," for instance, is dry, gray, lacking piquancy and vitality, and all the wealth of the sensual characteristics of the Eretz-Yisraeli summer - the abundant fruit, juicy watermelons, the sensuality of the grape harvest, the eroticism of the paintings of the vineyard, and the threshing floor. This is how things seem, in the opinion of Yonatan Ratosh, who attempted to create a native culture instead of the "Jewish" one, through the eyes of someone still "aloof from the country."21

The attempt by the early writers of the second and third aliyot to shape descriptive modes of the Eretz-Yisraeli landscape was a groundbreaking effort that should be examined and evaluated in the specific context of the period. By means of sketches, an innovative, avant-garde genre, the writers aided the pioneers, for whom the Eretz-Yisraeli landscape was the arena of their day-to-day activities, the construction of a new micro-semiotics, laying the foundations for a primary repertoire of "realms," which describe and represent the "native" Eretz- Yisraeli reality. (The concept "realm" was developed by Itamar Even-Zohar to define the cultural repertoire of representations of reality.22) At this stage, in which a people detached from its territory attempted to form a new identity, and more particularly to renew its connection to the place, there was no other way of stimulating the vital flow of blood from reality to language, than through documentary writing, without secondary rhetorical barriers, in which the language suckles its vitality from the language, not the reality.

Sketches describing landscape and nature, descriptions of work, the seasons, which appear with great frequency reinforced the consensus of "the building line" and the "return to the roots" of the Jewish people, after 5. Zemach's coinage.23


After a period of incubation, with the institutionalization and stabilization of kibbutz life during the thirties and the forties, there appeared in the various kibbutz movements an explicit call to abandon the sketch form and replace it with a more complex literary one.24 The license now given to kibbutz writers to describe the new reality through sophisticated literary-artistic writing that would serve as an educational tool and shape the "spirit of the generation" yielded but few results and in the main not broad-canvas works that demanded both time and effort. In the 1940s only three novels were published: Beginnings by Shlomo Reichenstein (1943), Circles by David Maletz (1945), and Time of Tents by Emma Levin-Talmi (1949). Two more novels, Land Without Shade by Yonat and Alexander Sened, and A Man 's Home by Zvi Arad, were published in 1951, after the War of Independence.

To a great degree, all these early novels met Gordon's demand to integrate life into literature, and clearly documentary elements are evident in them. The works were based on events from a life of labor and selfrealization, and in his work, the narrator "documents" the first period of the "pioneering tribe." Bistritsky's Days and Nights and Yehuda Ya' ari' s Like Glittering Light based their plot schema on the Bitaniya Illit episode. Beginnings by Shlomo Reichenstein, a member of Tel Yosef and later Ein Harod, tells of the first years of Kibbutz Tel Yosef and the split in the "Labor Battalion"; Time of Tents by Emma Levin-Talmi, a member of Mishmar Haemek, tells of the early days of the Hashomer Hatzair groups on the roads, and Land Without Shade by Yonat and Alexander Sened, members of Kibbutz Revivim, describes the outpost settlement enterprise in the Negev and the early days of Revivim.

The early novels were first and foremost works that created a "place." They mimetically and accurately reconstruct the rituals sanctified by the kibbutz society, and mainly make room for descriptions of working on the land in the Eretz Yisrael landscape. These descriptions create a singular atmosphere, a kind of rhythm of epic width that dwells on details of the description. A new type of novel is created here, a "spatial" text that attempts to restore the lost harmony of the epos to the world, to heal the rift between the Jew and the world, and reconnect literature with the concrete material of life.

Beginnings by Shlomo Reichenstein (1943), is a good example: step-bystep the text describes the conquest of the site of Kibbutz Tel Yosef: the removal of rocks, the first plowing, the first planting, harvesting, threshing, building the cowshed, and so on. The meticulous description of agricultural work (one can learn, for example, how a broken-down threshing machine is repaired) ends with a big ceremony, the first harvest festival in the kibbutz. The novel's title, Beginnings, alludes to the main theme: the re-creation of the world out of chaos, the creation of paradise on earth. Raphael, the novel's leading protagonist, is a kind of first Man, discovering Nature's deepest secrets each day, learning to cultivate and maintain the Garden of Eden. The novel ends with a harmonious scene: Raphael is walking through the kibbutz fields, seeing the abundance of the world that he and his comrades have built, and like God, he sees that it is good. The secular pioneer has become a god on earth and his deeds are praised in religious language.

The close familiarity of the authors of these novels with the Eretz Yisrael landscape and climate, which came from personal experience, endowed their writing with sensual details of reality, scenes, feelings, smells, and colors that were all grounded in a specific landscape. A deep connection with the tracts of the Jezreel Valley landscape stands out in the writing of Reichenstein and also of David Maletz, who for many years worked in the forage crops branch. The descriptions of flora and fauna in Beginnings present a realistic catalogue of the Valley in its first stages of clearing: numerous jujubes, wild shrubs, reeds and rushes, clover and alfalfa, oats and other cereals all growing wild; in the fields larks, red-legged and red-billed storks, hares, and jackals could all be seen. The agricultural landscape in those years was the wide-open spaces of fields of grain, and center stage was occupied by scenes of plowing and harvesting, stacking the sheaves, and threshing. In the spring, ranunculus stood out among the wild flowers, and with the commencement of the harvest, the blue cornflowers. This is an inventory amazing in its richness when compared with that found in other works of the "settlement novel" genre, as defined by G. Shaked, that were not written by kibbutz members.25

The descriptions of winter in David Maletz' s novel Circles (1945) attest to the formation of a new mode relying on an authentic renascence in the new climate. The winter sky does not shroud the protagonist, Menachemke, in "European gloom" as it does in the realms taken from the European mode, but rather in quiet, tranquility, and a sense of secrecy. The Eretz- Yisraeli winter is "like a restful oasis in the desert of the days." In winter there are days drenched with brightness, a day that is "refreshing and thriving and slakes its thirst from the miraculous vessel of a benevolent sun and the deep blue sky and the green of the fields that is soft to the eye." Thus in his descriptions of winter, Maletz connects with the ancient literature written in our region, the climatic -geographic region on the edge of the desert, and which well defines the Eretz- Yisraeli winter as nature's most vital and thriving season, not as one of cold and death. "As I was in the days of my winter [youth]" (Job 29:4), says Job to his companions in a moment of yearning for lost days of his happiness. A literal translation of this verse into European languages will make understanding of its meaning difficult, for if the repository of descriptive modes is based upon conventions that perceive winter as the season of nature's dying, it is hard to understand Job's yearning for "the days of my winter." Only someone who has grown up in the local climate views the short season of nature's renascence in this way.


Land Without Shade by Yonat and Alexander Sened (1951) is also a novel that creates the "place." This work, too, describes step by step, faithfully, and accurately, the stages of the establishment of the place, the first plowing, the planting of the first tree, a carob, laying the foundation stone of the fort, establishing the experimental vegetable garden, storing water in bitumen ponds, and so on.

In the book, the elusive landscape of the Negev is described in all its hues and unique climatic phenomena: the sunset, the first floodwaters, a sandstorm, rain, a heat wave, spring in the desert, twilight, dusk, summer, autumn, winter, moonlit landscapes, and so forth.

Here, too, the struggle against the forces of the desert is described as a mythical struggle against the forces of chaos. The creation theme places the pioneers inside an all-embracing framework of the tension between desert and culture, between Jewish detachment and the rooting of Hebrew, and turns the pioneering endeavor into a cultural pole advancing humanity.

The diffuse zone between fiction and reality, and the tension between the personal and collective voices, is fully demonstrated in the testimony of Alexander Sened in the writing of Land without Shade. Nine of the thirty members who settled at the Revivim outpost fell in the War of Independence, and the group wanted to publish a booklet in their memory. The Seneds were given permission by their comrades to write the story of the founding of Revivim as a fitting way of perpetuating the memory of the fallen. In a prior agreement between the Seneds and the book's commissioners, it was decided that the characters of the fallen would appear under their real names, while the other members would be given fictitious ones. Noteworthy as a historical aside germane to the subject of this discussion, is the story of how the book was received in the final stages of its writing by those who commissioned it, when it became clear that the "documentary" book commissioned by them also sought literary license. In an interview with Alexander Sened he told me that the group convened a kibbutz meeting and demanded his expulsion. The official reason says Sened, was that "I was given work days by the kibbutz to write a commemorative booklet, or the story of the members who were killed, and I had written a novel to which I had put our names. The members claimed: This is our book; we provided the means and the 'material'. Can the poultry man put his personal stamp on each egg?" (Incidentally, by a majority of thirty-nine to six, the kibbutz general meeting rejected the proposal to terminate Alexander Sened' s membership).

The novel achieved unprecedented success. It was published in eleven editions, between 70,000 to 80,000 copies (up to 1970, the number of copies of a Hebrew book sold in a regular edition did not exceed 3,000). The authors received hundreds of readers' letters and were invited to scores of meetings in kibbutz movement settlements and at youth movements. A dramatized version was staged by dozens of amateur theatre groups. Chapters were translated into other languages, Yiddish and Portuguese, and were used in educational activities in the Diaspora. Readers praised the work as a "heroic epos" written in a simple tone, without romantic pathos, and admired the authors' success in shaping the figure of a collective protagonist that succeeds in attaining the aims of the community. Many years later, in 1990, in an interview I conducted with him, Alexander Sened defined Land without Shade as a "protectionist book": "The public wanted a book like this. It wanted a book of 'Who will speak of the valor of Israel,' and we spoke of the valor of Israel." In the first kibbutz-Israeli novel they wrote there is no allusion to the biographies of the two authors, which contain Alexander's mission to the Diaspora after the Holocaust and Yanka-Yonat's activities in the Warsaw ghetto and the underground. The collective protagonist they created is mainly described from the outside; the characters live without conflict and actually have no internal life.

In the majority of the early novels, clearly evident was a unique effort to base the characters on a collective principle. The mandating power that acted in the extra-literary reality brought about a conversion in the shaping of an individual character, with its inherent contradictions and contrasts, into a group character.

The renewed commission called upon writers to keep any conflict quiet, ignore the psychological schism and focus on "externalized" descriptions of the conquest of the wilderness. Malaria, the life of poverty, the hard physical labor under the burning sun, the voices of despair, were all concealed. To bridge the chasms in the soul, an "amendment" to the concept of happiness was proposed which included the self-sacrifice component, the total identification of the individual with the aims of the community.


In 2009, a year before the Kibbutz Movement celebrated its centenary and about seventy years after the first kibbutz novel was written, Assaf Inbari's novel Home was published and entered Israel's bestseller list, where it stayed for more than thirty weeks. The book restores the pioneering generation to center stage with the story of Kibbutz Afikim, whose founders were members of the fourth aliya.

Assaf Inbari's modern writing brings to fruition many of the expectations that appeared in the writing of the early years, and mainly the hope expressed by trendsetting critics in the kibbutz society that the authentic documentary repository collected in articles and personal and collective journals, would serve the great literary writing in the future;31 this kind of process had already taken place in the context of the Bitaniya Illit episode. As we have seen, the documentary material collected in the seminal anthology Kehilyatenu (1922) created a narrative process that gave birth to several literary works on the continuum of the twentieth century. Inbari's novel, too, is based upon archival material, commemorative booklets, and journals, and it too is a novel creating a "place." What was presented earlier as innovative avant-garde - but also deficient - attempts, gain a complex transformation in this novel. The documentary genre, which was so dominant in the early phase of kibbutz literature, and the collective model are now restored to center stage.


From many standpoints, Inbari continues a tradition that was dominant in kibbutz literature in its early years. The first novels written in kibbutz society were all based, as I described, upon documentary plots. The works also attempted to meet the expectations of the readership of the time, by placing the collective - not the individual - at the center of the kibbutz novel.

Assaf Inbari worked on his book between seven to eight years collecting materials from archives, memorial booklets, diaries, etc. Home is both a history book and research study from which the references and footnotes have been deleted, but it is also a literary work of art. Assaf Inbari addresses the pioneers' authentic stories as ones that contain the power and vitality of those of the Jewish Sages, or of a Hasidic story, or in other words, as "true" stories.33

The sense of exaltation that characterized the early years of the Kibbutz Movement has waned. Eighty years have passed since the beginning of the fourth aliya, and Inbari's novel has to also relate the sadness of missed opportunities, the bereavement, the silencing, and repression and also describe the paradoxes created by this unique way of life in order to protect itself against the impossible encounter between a too-great dream and reality.


I would like to devote the main thrust of this article to the personal stamp left by Assaf Inbari on the collective history of Kibbutz Afikim, or in other words, the literary work of art crafted from documentary material. The first association that came to my mind regarding the narrative technique adopted by the narrator was the excellent Iranian film Gabbeh, directed by Mohsen Makhmalbaf. A "gabbeh" is a type of Persian rug woven by the nomadic tribes people of southwestern Iran, and is inspired by their life. The rugs present the history of the tribe, and its colors are taken from those of the region - the sky, the mountains, and the vegetation - and the symbolic visuality woven into them unfolds the film's plot. A woman is washing one such rug in the river, when the figure of a beautiful young woman called Gabbeh emerges from it. The unfortunate Gabbeh is forbidden to see her beloved until her uncle's return from the big city. When he finally returns, she has to wait even longer, this time until the elderly uncle finds himself a bride. Thus the beloved remains as a kind of silhouette, always riding along the horizon. In Inbari's story of the history of the kibbutz too, there will always be characters riding close to the horizon, always on the road. Some will display excessive caution in this regard and will hardly be part of the experience of home but will constantly wander from one mission to another in the service of the movement and the state.

Similar to the weaving of a rug, Inbari weaves the threads of the collective plot, warp, and weft. There are seven principal characters, through which the main weave is depicted, and many other minor characters mentioned only in the plural, or who enter and exit the book after only one sentence, and it is they who form the background. The rug occasionally shows its reverse, hidden side in which the knots are visible, everything that has been repressed (as in the "Refuge" paintings by Dudu Roth, son of artist Leo Roth: "Leo Roth's paintings conveyed joy and humor; those by Dudu expressed anxiety"34). Consequently, from (referential) reality signifiers the plot material and the characters become literary ones representing allegorical, metaphorical, and symbolic qualities. As in a rug, some of these literary signifiers are woven as a recurring motif. One example is the finger gesture used on every Independence Day by Z vi Brenner and Klara to mark the fact that the state is celebrating another year, when they thought it would not survive for even a fortnight, or Klara' s Persian silk scarf that recurs as a metaphorical dash of color in some of the plot's stages.


The book's readers will surely remember the story of the letters that arrived from home in Russia for the group of pioneers in the land of Israel. There was a group decision: the letter is not the addressee's personal property; the contents of these personal letters were read out in public, even if the addressee himself had not yet managed to read it, and even if he was not around, for there is no such thing as a "private" letter. But as it transpired, every letter contained another, hidden one written in invisible ink made from lemon juice, a letter that was revealed only when the paper was heated by a lighted match held beneath it. This "other" letter always concerned the movement platform, and thus the personal became dually collective: the contents of the personal letter became the group's property, while the visible personal text embodied a sort of collective "subconscious."

I took particular note of the techniques adopted by the narrator to incorporate the personal into the collective. The narrative is generally and restrainedly related from outside, but sometimes embedded within the fabric of the story are some personal descriptions. One of the best-known methods is to focus on a personal scene in "close-up." Excerpts of this kind are always absorbed into the memory. They are places where Inbari halts the general description from the outside, and moves closer to one or two characters in the narrative.

For example, a little girl called Nira plants two cyclamen bulbs in the inner yard of the factory, which is strewn with cigarette butts and saturated with gasoline and motor oil. Little Nira is the daughter of Mitya Krichman, and a few months later she falls ill and dies. The two cyclamen bulbs, which against all odds flower amid the filth and symbolize the young life that was taken, appear as dashes of color later too, and become a memorial, a personal-public garden, and also a typical subject of discussion in kibbutz society: Is it permissible for a family to ostensibly take over a public area in order to memorialize its personal grief? The cyclamen bulbs are expropriated from the documentary story and become a parable and recurring motif in the rug's fabric.

Another example of this lingering is the description of Zvi and Ruth Brenner's wedding "ceremony." Inbari halts the flow of the overall description and there is a momentary pause. Zvi Brenner comes back from the Acre jail after months of waiting for death by hanging. The camera moves to a "close-up." The couple's wedding ceremony takes place with the celebrants sitting on the floor, since the bridegroom does not have the strength to stand, and in attendance are only one friend and a bottle of wine.

Zvi Brenner, one of the seven leading characters, accords us a few more focused, personal moments. In the previous chapters, we are told that Brenner volunteered for the Jewish Brigade, was stranded in a minefield, and bravely fought the Germans face to face. Zvi' s story, which in itself is a fascinating war story, is also related by a cinematic technique, almost in slow motion. He comes back from World War II with only one leg, and on his return is not given a hero's welcome but is received as a cripple hobbling on crutches. In the kibbutz public outhouse, which was a hole in the ground type, he slips on the filthy floor:

Zvi Brenner hobbled to the public outhouse by the dining room, leaned his crutches against the wall, pressed his sweaty hands against the wall of the cubicle, and tried to crouch over the hole in the ground by bending his healthy leg and extending his disabled one. His left hand slipped from the wall and he fell onto the hole. His trousers soiled, he sat there for half a minute, laughing and crying, and then grasped a crutch and lifted himself up, almost falling again, but managing to steady himself and pull up his trousers, and as he stood wiping his sweating face with toilet paper, a thought flashed through his mind - in alarm, he took his penknife from his trouser pocket and threw it down the hole.36


Another technique for expressing the personal voice is through direct quotation. Inbari frequently does this through women's voices (which in itself is interesting and merits further study). Simplistically, the novel's narrative space can be divided into "rigid male Zionism," and a different, "female" fulfilling Zionism, which speaks in a softer voice that had not been eradicated by the suppression of emotion in the name of ideology. Klara' s letters to her husband Lasia Galili, the founding leader, are provided in direct quotation. I have no idea whether Inbari used authentic letters, but what is important is that he quotes Klara in her own language. We have Lasia Galili who is always "on the road," on the horizon, and there is Klara, his wife, who is constantly guarding reality, the home, the family. The family mixture from whence Klara came is an assurance at the outset of a stance of spiritual-ideological flexibility: "My mother believes in Jesus, my sister in reincarnation, my brother in Stalin." Klara' s is the sane voice safeguarding the proper balance in an ardently ideological society. Inbari allots a similar role, that of the guardian of the minutiae of day-to-day life, to Ruth, who writes to Zvi Brenner in Acre jail. In her first letter she writes: "I dream of the day you are released and we can get married," but in the third she reveals that declarations of love suffer rapid wear, and therefore it is preferable to write about trivial matters from the nascent kibbutz yard. One can write about trivia for ten years; how many times can you write "I miss you"?38


Inbari adopts an opposing technique when he projects the general onto the personal, notable mainly in the numerous cases of death that occurred during the building of the kibbutz. Death appears in a chain of descriptive sentences as an integral, inseparable part of the general narrative: Rosiner is digging the first irrigation ditch, the water laps his ankles, he runs alongside the stream, hugs a comrade standing there, shakes him, and roars, "We have settled! We have settled!" and drops dead from cardiac arrest. As a token of esteem, Gitta Perlson, the outstanding dairy worker, is sent for a day's sail on Lake Kinneret together with ten other dairy workers from other kibbutzim, and the boat capsizes and sinks, with no survivors.40 Afikim's first son is on a paratrooper course, he jumps from the aircraft, his parachute becomes entangled in the tail of the plane, and he falls into the sea; the Yom Kippur War sends the children of Afikim into the bomb shelters for three weeks. Above ground, the edges of the paths were painted white for the blackout,

And in Sinai, Be 'eri Hazak, Yishai Yizhar, Avremele Korin, Yudale Laish, Zelly Gilboa, and two of the Youth Aliya graduates, Rachamim Franco and Michael Marshall, have been killed. Shuki Wolfson, the younger brother of Yossi the mechanic-basketball player, parachuted from his burning plane and was captured by the Egyptians.41


In the course of my reading, I began noticing a type of paragraph I term "the Inbari paragraph." It is constructed of descriptive-objective sentences, seemingly from the outside. And then a concluding sentence appears, which is also restrained and seemingly from the outside, but it is like a bridge over a chasm. It contains the silenced narrative that the reader has to complete.

For example: "On his last day in the kibbutz, Aronchik went to the cemetery. Every time that Shuka, his son, called him 'Abba' [father], he replied 'he's not present'. 'He is', replied Shuka, who fought for his right to call him 'Abba', until he died aged six."42 In those years it was not acceptable to call one's father "father," but by name.

Or the final chapter in the life of dreamer extraordinaire Mitya Krichman, in which the machine he invented managed to swallow him too (which is also symbolic). Krichman, who left the kibbutz, was on a private business assignment to the Congo when he died:

Israel's ambassador to the Congo demanded that his hosts investigate if it was an accident or an assassination, and the Congolese police investigated until reaching the conclusion that it was either an accident or an assassination. In the cemetery, Berta told Mitya about his new grandchild, placed jugs of flowers around the grave, and went to water Nira's grave. A few weeks later she left Afikim and went back to Tel Aviv. She didn't know how she'd live and how she wouldn't go crazy with loneliness, but in Tel Aviv an apartment redolent with the smell of Mitya' s clothes and books awaited her, and in Afikim only her children, grandchildren, and two graves were waiting.43

The repression and pain are not raised to the surface. One must reach the true internality that peeks between the lines by identifying the narrator's conscious and emotional place.


Home is not always the land of Israel. The early pioneers miss the home that remained "there," in Russia, but toward the end of the novel it still transpires, even when it seems that this entire home is built on sand, that no less than a paradise on earth was built here. Whereas one might think that Inbari's descriptions are somewhat detached, the following are written entirely in musical, poetical language:

The kibbutz that was built next to the biblical Garden of Eden - or perhaps even on the soil of the Garden itself. . .was no less beautiful than the biblical Garden of Eden....

The citrus, dates, bananas, and avocados, the productive orchards that encircle the kibbutz that was treeless in Mitya Krichman's time, now surround a kibbutz forested with conifers, ficuses, and other trees bearing no fruit. The hard, unvarying light that in Mitya Krichman's time blasted the exposed buildings and the open expanses between them, now filters through the treetops and drips patches of green shade onto the paths, and in the tops of the non-fruitbearing trees, passing birds have settled, birds that in Mitya Krichman's time were neither seen nor heard. Doves cooed and rustled, woodpeckers pecked, bulbuls gossiped, blackbirds blurted a clarinet-like "oh-oh", and hoopoes landed on the lawn with a murmuring quiver. Here and there, between the trees, idle benches have been scattered for sitting idly in the shade. Who sat down in Mitya Krichman's time, just sat on just an unproductive bench, and just enjoyed filling his eyes and ears with the verdant chirping of birds?44

But the kibbutz home was built not only with hoe and tractor, it is also forcefully expressed in the languages of poetry and art. Again we are given the directly-quoted personal voice. Inbari quotes a long excerpt from the journal of the poet-son of Afikim, Be'eri Hazak, who fell in the Yom Kippur War:

At such a wintry time, when it is cold outside and the rain wets the windows of the gray, isolated hut... at this lonely time I breathed the full beauty of life. Today I drove wagons loaded with fruit to Tzemach. ... It was wonderful, being alone in the wind and rain, cutting through them at a gallop. There are moments when I manage to be moved, and today at work I had many such moments. It seemed that everything ran to embrace me. The clods of soil, the plants, the Jordan flowing beneath my feet, the mountains soaring to the west, the strong hills of Gesher, the white Hermon, the Kinneret - all took me to their bosom. I ran to them, I was sad like them and happy like them, I hated them, I loved them, such a powerful feeling of devotion to them. I was ready for anything, ready to connect with life, to be in it. I lay with them, I gave birth to them anew.45

Leo Roth, the Afikim artist whose painting of the water tower is on the cover of Home, also relates the story in his personal voice. Roth gained worldwide success, even when he sailed to all the magnificent galleries showing his paintings wearing work clothes from the kibbutz clothing store and work boots made for him by Yitzhak Levy, the cobbler. At the opening of his latest exhibition at Afikim, he suggested in his whispery voice to try removing the social masks that had accumulated in the kibbutz life of togetherness. Perhaps art would help to remove the shell and demand the right to be different, to live the colors.46

What, then, is the picture obtained in the end? It is one of a crowded world, whose deeds and the people active in it cling to each other like the figures in the rug. It is a world that seems to be flat. The lack of knowledge, the repression and the pain are not raised to the surface. The true internality peeping between the lines must be reached through locating the conscious and emotional place of the narrator. This place, Assaf Inbari's place, can be identified through the composition, the allegorical qualities, the oppositional structure he has created, through moving closer to or moving away from the characters, and mainly through the "Inbari paragraph" that ends with a bridge-over-a-chasm sentence. What we as readers must do is not to stop on the surface, but activate the literary mechanism, and fill the gaps with content of emotion and consciousness, as in the ancient stories in Jewish tradition, as in biblical or Hasidic stories.


At a conference held this year to mark the centenary of the kibbutz, author Assaf Inbari addressed the changes that have come about in kibbutz society literary writing over the years, by drawing a distinction between the central and background plots. According to him, the realistic, more "conservative" literature written in the kibbutz society from the 1960s onward failed in defining its objective when it mixed things up by shaping the kibbutz experience as background, and as in many popular realistic novels, placed a love affair or some kind of psychological intrigue story at the center. In other words, in his opinion "normal" kibbutz literature replaced the central story with a background one, and turned "the big story" into a "little story."

During the pioneering period, the avant-garde literature written in the kibbutz society told "the big story": the story of the Jewish people striking roots in its old-new land was the main plot story, and gray, quotidian everyday life, the enervating routine of work in the fields, were presented at center stage as "great" events. This fact lies at the basis of the passion for the documentary, and is the drive, which some seventy years later nurtures Assaf Inbari's writing when he resettles his generation's account.

But I find the principal innovation in Inbari's writing in the artistic - and human - reformation he has conducted on the "collective protagonist." The old model attempted to deal with the image of the conflict-less "new Jew." The dramatic tensions were repressed and sent underground. Thus they tried to write "present," material, literature that would concentrate its efforts on externalized descriptions of the pioneering endeavor at the expense of internal observation.

Inbari found original ways of meeting the challenge in a new way. The plot is still carried by the commune. The place, the home, is constructed by the joint efforts of many. But integrated into the novel's literary space is the direct quotation drawn from personal documentary material, and the collective ethos is related, time and again, by individuals, and frequently against public opinion. The pioneering plot demands collective discipline and emotional moderation, but the "Inbari paragraph," with its unique syntactical structure alludes - as in Bialik's "uncovering and covering with language" - to the abyss beneath the bridge of words, to emotional life. The pioneering pathos is softened with humor and irony, and the protagonists engaged in the endeavor are neither titans nor castrators, like Amos Oz' s founding figures, for instance. They are flesh and blood. Their greatness derives from taking the right historic decision at the point in time they were in, and from the stubborn and uncompromising desire to persist with it.

1 A. Alon, Alma Di (in Hebrew; Tel Aviv: Shdemot Publishing House, 1990, p. 23. A. Alon, The World That (English translation; Philadelpia, Pa.: Jewish Publication Society, 1990).

2 S. Almog, "Pioneering as an Alternative Culture," Zion 58.3 (1993): 329-346 (in Hebrew).

3 Y. H. Brenner, "The Eretz Yisrael Genre And Its Adjuncts," in The Works of Y. H Brenner (in Hebrew; Tel Aviv: Hakibbutz Hamehuad-Sifriat Poalim, 1978), 3:569-578.

4 On the influence of Brenner on writers at that time, see N. Guvrin, Keys (in Hebrew; Tel- Aviv: Tel Aviv University-Hakibbutz Hamehuad, 1 978).

5 Y. H. Brenner, "The Eretz Yisrael Genre," p. 571.

6 A. D. Gordon, "From Reading," in The WorL· of A. D. Gordon (in Hebrew; Tel Aviv: Hapoel Hatzair, 1928), p. 236.

7A. Shapira, Beri: The Biography of a Socialist Zionist, Beri Katznelson, 1887-1944 (in Hebrew; TelAviv: Am Oved, 1980), pp. 259-260.

8 A. Shlonski, "Amai" in Poems, (in Hebrew; Tel Aviv: Sifriat Poalim, 1958), 2:105.

9 H. Neuberger, "Art and Artist in the Commune," Mibifnim (July 1937): 60-65. (in Hebrew).

10 A. Ofaz, Sefer Hakvutza- Kvutzat Hasharon (in Hebrew; Jerusalem: Yad Ben-Zvi, 1996); A. Ofaz, The Book of Life: The Diary of Kvutzat Kiriat Ananvim (in Hebrew; Jerusalem: Yad Ben-Zvi, 2001).

11 G. Scholem, On Heritage and Rebirth (in Hebrew; Tel Aviv: Am Oved, 1989), 2:59-60.

12 M. Zur, ed., Kehilyatenu (in Hebrew; Jerusalem: Yad Ben-Zvi, 1988), pp. 95-97.

13 M. Slonim, An Outline of Russian Literature (New York: Oxford University Press, 1958), chap. 1; M. Slonim, From Chekhov to the Revolution, Russian Literature 1900-1917 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1962), pp. 3-31.

14 G. Struve, Russian Literature Under Lenin and Stalin, 1917-1953 (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1972), pp. 27-31.

15 V. Erlich, Russian Formalism: History, Doctrine (Paris: The Hague Mouton, 1969), pp. 120-121.

16 Y. Berlowitz, "A Young Branch on an Ancient Trunk," Iton 77 (1984): 21-23 (in Hebrew); D. Miron, If There is No Jerusalem: Hebrew Literature in a Cultural-Political Context (in Hebrew; Tel Aviv: Hakibbutz Hamehuchad, 1987).

17 Z. Gurevitch, On Israeli and Jewish Place (in Hebrew; Tel Aviv: Am Oved, 2007), pp. 40-41.

18 L. Hadomi, "The Literary Reflection of Involvement Patterns, Content Analysis of Formal and Content Changes in the Kibbutz Short Story" (in Hebrew; Ph.D. diss., The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, 1974).

19 Z. Ben-Porath, Autumn in Hebrew Poetry (in Hebrew; Tel Aviv: The Broadcast University, 1991).

20E. Levin-Talmi, Time of Tents (Tel Aviv: Sifriat Poalim, 1949), p. 165.

21 Y. Ratosh, Jewish Literature in the Hebrew Language (in Hebrew; Tel Aviv: Hadar, 1982), pp. 75-83.

22 I. Even-Zohar, "The Emergence and Crystallization of Native Hebrew Culture in Palestine, 1882-1948," Cathedra 16 (1980): 165-202 (in Hebrew).

23 S. Zemach, "The Building Line," Hapoel Hatzair, January 2, 1925 (in Hebrew).

24 M. Braslavski, "On the Question of the Literary Expression in the Kibbutz," Mibifhim (June-August 1938), (in Hebrew).

25 G. Shaked, Hebrew Narrative Fiction 1880-1980 (in Hebrew; vol. 4; Tel Aviv: Keter-Hakibbutz Hamehuad, 1993).

26 D. Maletz, Circles (Tel Aviv: Am Oved, 1945), p. 173.

27 D. Maletz, Circles, p. 174.

28 S. Keshet, Underground Soul: Ideological Literature, The Case of the Early Kibbutz Novel (in Hebrew; Tel-Aviv: Tel Aviv Univers ity-Hakibbutz Hamehuhad, 1995), pp. 92-93.

29 S. Keshet, Underground Soul: Ideological Literature, The Case of the Early Kibbutz Novel (in Hebrew; Tel-Aviv: Tel Aviv University-Hakibbutz Hamehuhad, 1995), p. 280.

30 See, for example, E. Vulcani (signed E. Zioni), "The Literature of 'Labor," Hapoel Hatzair 23 (1930), (in Hebrew).

31 M. Braslavski, "The Literature of Labor," NivHakvutza (December 1961): 738-742 (in Hebrew).

32 S. Keshet, The Story ofBithania: Origin and Literary Transformations (in Hebrew; Tel Aviv: Hakibbutz Hamehuad, 2009).

33 A. Inbari in a public lecture at Efal, 2009.

34 A. Inbari, Home (Tel Aviv: Yediot Achronot, 2009), p. 215.

35 A. Inbari, Home, pp. 137-138.

36 A. Inbari, Home, pp. 155-156.

37 See, for example, A. Inbari, Home, pp. 66-67, 88, 97.

38 A. Inbari, Home, p. 132.

39 Inbari, Home, p. 99.

40 A. Inbari, Home, p. 144.

41 A. Inbari, Home, p. 241.

42 A. Inbari, Home, p. 159.

43 A. Inbari, Home, p. 222.

44 A. Inbari, Home, p. 195.

45 A. Inbari, Home, pp. 206-207.

46 A. Inbari, Home, pp. 213-214.

Author affiliation:

Shula Keshet

Kibbutzim College of Education

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