This week I visited Dror’s educator’s community– or urban kibbutz– in Akko.
I arrived by train and met my gracious host for the day, Mirit. When we arrived at the kibbutz, Mirit asked if I wanted coffee. To be honest, I have never been a big coffee person. I mostly only drink it at night when I need to stay up late and study. If you have been to Israel you know that there is a huge coffee culture here. Since I never really know what to ask for, I ended up asking Mirit for “black coffee” (which you may know as Turkish Mud Coffee) with a little bit of milk, which I am now painfully aware is not something anyone really does. As soon as she handed it to me, I began to drink. Another big no-no, she immediately laughed and said “No! You have to wait” and motioned for me to put it back down. Too late–my mouth was full of ground coffee. Embarrassed, I told her that, clearly, I was bad at drinking coffee. She replied, “It's okay, you are American.” Ouch.
Mirit told me a little bit about how the educator’s community works. People live communally, in nice big apartments, sharing living space and food. Everyone that lives there works as an educator, some in schools run by Dror and some not. The Educator Kibbutzim of Dror strive to be an integral part of the communities they live in. For example, in Akko, Dror helped create a community board so the people of Akko could have a vehicle making it easier to organize and create change in their city. The community board recently stopped the city from building a street that would have cut through a park and would have made the area more dangerous.
Unusual for Israel, Akko is a very mixed city, with large populations of Arabs and Jews, many of them living close together, often on the same street. Something many people don’t know is that Akko has a very large community of immigrants (Olim) from the former Soviet Union. Many of these people moved in the 90s after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, however many of them also immigrated more recently in just the past few years. A lot of these Olim came with few family members and money and, as a result, have had trouble assimilating to larger Israeli society. A lot of the more recent Olim do not know enough Hebrew or are too old to be able to work. Dror has responded to this urgent need for community by providing a space for them to come together, socialize, learn Hebrew, and hangout. The group I met gets together twice a week for various activities. Dror calls the group “Freedom of Expression,” but the participants have taken to calling it “Hebrew with Friends.”
When I arrived, the participants were making masks for Purim. A woman was handing out slices of a cake she had baked for the group. Mirit and I stepped into another room where they had collected clothing and other items for the Ukrainian refugees who are now arriving in Israel. They had collected so many things that they had to start turning people away.
Some of the activities are planned by the coordinators in advance but some are organically organized by the group's members. For example, people realized that they enjoyed sharing recipes and decided to make a cookbook with a collection of all the foods they loved to make. I was given a copy to keep when I was there. It is full of delicious-looking Eastern European and Israeli recipes written in Russian, Hebrew, and Arabic. I am looking forward to making some of the Pirozhkis when I have the chance!
Another really awesome project they did is based on the work of Hanoch Piven, an Israeli artist. Piven is famous for making portraits of public figures, such as Einstein or Obama, using everyday objects like screwdrivers, uncooked pasta, lightbulbs, etc. The participants created a book filled with self-portraits they had made of everyday objects that signify what is important to them, things they enjoy doing, as well as aspects of their personality. One participant named Tatiana used candies and seeds to make earrings and a necklace for herself. She said it represented the fact that elegance is important to her. Another participant named Victor used candles for his eyes, which he said represented the sparks that light in his eyes when he meets good people. The portraits are really creative and fun.
Every week there is time that the participants look forward to where they either do pilates or work in the community garden. The participants that work in the garden are very passionate about it. They recently harvested a lot of the vegetables, things like broccoli, lettuce, and cabbage. The day I arrived, the community garden group was going on a trip to tour a big garden shop in the area. They had been anticipating this trip for a while and as soon as we arrived I could tell they were very excited. The tour took us through each area of the shop, the vegetables, big plants, flowers, succulents, vines, and more. A woman named Ifgeniya, who has a very bubbly personality and has lived in Israel for over 20 years, was helping to translate all the information about the various plants and flowers.
Mirit explained to me that while the participants were very excited and happy to be there, for many it was an emotional experience. Where many of these Olim used to live–even those from cities–they had land to grow vegetables. They come from places where agriculture and farming is a huge part of the culture and growing your own food is a point of pride. Now, living in Akko, the only place they have to grow their own food is in the Dror community garden. During the tour, many of them would ask about plants and vegetables they were accustomed to growing where they used to live.
It had recently been International Women’s Day, which is a national holiday in Russia and a big deal in many parts of the former Soviet Union. At the end of the tour, everyone got to pick two flowers, one to keep for their homes, and one to give to the women who lived in the educator’s community in celebration of the holiday.
After our tour, I went with a few of the residents of the kibbutz to a place called Hummus Hamoodi (which means “cutie” in Hebrew) for a hummus-adjacent dish called mashawsha. As I have rarely come across a hummus I didn’t like I am definitely biased. But, if you get the chance to go to Akko, do yourself a favor and go to Hummus Hamoodi. The waiter flipped a plate full of tahini before setting it on the table, looked at me, and said with a grin, “They don’t do THAT in America!”