During her gap year in 1973, Gracie—a non-Jew—spent several months working on a kibbutz in Israel. Her time there was sandwiched between the murder of Israeli athletes and coaches at the summer Olympics in Munich, West Germany and the Yom Kippur War between Israel and a coalition of Arab states.
Q: How did you know about the kibbutz movement?
A: A girl I went to school with moved to Israel with her family and she sent letters describing the experience to my piano teacher and he would read them to me. She had to join the Israeli military, which was quite something for a woman at the time. I learned that a kibbutz was a communal way of living and that appealed to me. I also heard they were looking for volunteers.
Q: Did you go there during your gap year?
A: We didn’t call it that but it was a time when I needed to rethink the direction of my life. I was 20 years old, had finished one year of university and knew I was in the wrong program. So I went out to Banff (here in Canada) to earn money, saved every cent that I could, and headed for Europe. I had about eight months to travel and I knew it would include going to a kibbutz.
Q: Was your journey to Israel well planned?
A: Not at all. I travelled around Europe for a few months and was running low on money. I actually sold my blood a couple of times in Greece. It was January and the weather was rather cold. When I ran into a girl I had worked with the summer before who was also on her own and eager to go anywhere, it all came together. Aside from being broke and tired, I had no concerns. So we flew to Tel Aviv where we enrolled in the voluntary service program and were assigned to Kibbutz Hamadia near the Jordanian border.
A: It was a new and interesting experience right from the start. We travelled to the kibbutz on a local bus that stopped for soldiers who tossed their weapons up on the luggage rack as they got on. Since it was a border kibbutz, there were many soldiers.
We were put in a very basic room with an American girl and told to keep a carpet under the door at all times to keep snakes and lizards out. We were assigned ‘parents’ who invited us to have dinner with them on occasion. Otherwise we ate in a big dining hall. It was a small kibbutz with maybe 15 to 20 volunteers.
The other Canadian who was there with me was delicate and small but not at all domesticated. Unfortunately she was assigned work in the kitchen and sewing room and I don’t think it suited her. I got to work in the fields weeding sugar beets with the soldiers and Arab women, which was great. So I was one of those who pulled out the rocks and the weeds. When it rained, I sorted carrots in the carrot barn.
We were expected to work hard. We worked six days a week and got $10/month plus room and board. No drugs were allowed but we got all the cigarettes we wanted! Once a month we got four days off and they would help us plan an excursion. I visited En Gedi, Masada, the Golan Heights, Jerusalem and Nazareth.
A: It was a tremendous opportunity. We felt appreciated and believed the work we were doing was important. I stayed for four months and got a certificate which I value to this day. If I were Jewish I think I would have stayed. As it was, I had to return home to earn money to go back to university.
A gap year is another form of education and I look back on my year with very positive memories. I grew up in a sheltered environment and the experience shifted my mindset, working with people I would not ordinarily meet and getting to know them for awhile.
I always thought I would go back to Israel but never have. Perhaps I will in the near future.
© Riding the buses 2011