I arrived in Natanya on the Mediterranean coast at 6. The sun was orange as it looked like it was sinking into the ocean in the western horizon. The sea itself was calm, with hardly any noticeable waves. The sand along the beach was unusually white. It was late spring-early summer, and there were a few people strolling up and down the beach.
I had taken a bus from Haifa and was to catch a train back north from Natanya, to a small train station called Binyamina, near Caesarea. Binyamina could be reached by train only, that was why I was in Natanya.
My final destination was Kibbutz Regavim, near Binyamina. There would be some form of transport from the train station to the Kibbutz or I could walk there since it was not far. I had received all these instructions at the Swedish Theological Institute in Jerusalem where I had completed a semester of study.
I had indicated that I wanted to volunteer in a kibbutz after my studies because I wanted to continue learning modern Hebrew.
Volunteers in kibbutzim were usually European pre-college kids. They spent 90 days working in the kibbutz farms, earned an allowance – in kibbutz currency, which they could use there – but also got free meals and free lodging. I was thirty four and therefore did not have choices of kibbutzim. Kibbutz Regavim was one of a couple that accepted older volunteers.
There was also another reason for Kibbutz Regavim: It was made up of immigrants from North Africa and the Middle East, rather than Europeans.
These factors, according to my hosts at the Swedish Theological Institute, would make my stay at the kibbutz worthwhile and productive. What they were not quite happy about, and they warned me of the prevailing rumors – which they advised me to investigate – was some belief that kibbutzim were very secular and that they did not even observe Shabat.
What transpired for me – and somewhat disappointing – was the fact that the kibbutzniks were interested in learning English which they preferred for conversation rather than modern Hebrew. It was impossible to learn Hebrew in a kibbutz – I did have to enroll in an ulpan, but that was some years later and during another stay in Jerusalem.
It was getting dark in Netanya, and my train would not even be there for the next two hours. I would arrive in Binyamina at night, and I was not even aware of the surroundings. I decided I would have to stay in Netanya and take the train in daytime the following day.
Then I saw my dilemma.
There were beach hotels almost everywhere. I did not even bother to try to ask how much it would cost in one of them because I did not have any money for that. Then I saw a real estate office which was still open.
I went in there and asked the young man at the desk if he knew of any cheap lodging in Netanya where I could stay for the night. He referred me to the hotels along the beach and I told him I could not afford any of them. I further told him why I was in Netanya and the train and kibbutz arrangements.
“Do you really want help?” he asked me.
“Sure I do”, I replied.
“If you truly want help, come back here about an hour when I close the office”.
I did not know how Avner – I learned his name later – was going to help me but I went back after an hour. He closed his office, took me to his family – his recently widowed mother and a younger brother with a bullet in his head after being hit during a gun battle, so common, between Israelis and Palestinians.
They lived in a moshav outside Netanya. I was treated like a family member. When I left the next day, Avner’s mother said to me, “Remember you have a home here”. After the three months in Kibbutz Regavim I went back home. Some years later, I was back in Jerusalem and I visited my new family. Avner’s mother kept reminding me, “Remember you have a home here”.