In a drawer, in an office, under lock and key, lay a master list. I was given that key. This was the only key that counted (in my humble opinion) and now I had possession of it. I felt drunk with power. Those who I disliked—who’d offered me no compassion when it came to my attempts at my pool crossing, who sniggered when they found out I’d fucked up a whole factory—well, they were in for a shock. No one, other than Andrew, was safe. Even Sally, my “oh so close, but never to be” fuck buddy, well yes, even she was on a slippery slope towards those damn chicken coops. Power!
Okay, that was my dream. In reality, Shimon controlled everything. No harm in pretending, right?
I’d done my best to avoid Sally and any contact with anyone who knew her. It was best for both of us…let’s be honest, it was best for me. Living in close proximity to everyone on a kibbutz was proving hard to do, and with Sally looking after Shimon’s kids every day, it was near on impossible to stay out of each other’s way. Sally of course, had no idea how I felt, and there was no way she was ever going to find out. I now had eyes for a kibbutznik named Rachel, or as they called her “Rachelli.” She was about a year older than me, very petite, with short brown hair and a smile to die for. I’d met her once or twice but had decided she was worth pursuing, especially since Sally was now in the hands of that blonde Israeli God. Shimon had agreed that I should pursue Rachelli; on my first day at my new job, he’d sat me down and told me how to approach her. In his mind, she was perfect for me because she hated chickens, too.
I was beginning to believe that this chicken issue was going to follow me for the rest of my days, but when Shimon and I began working together and I had a chance to share some of my background with him, he changed and liked me even more than he’d done before. No one—except those who lived there—could believe there were any Jews in Scotland, and I think that this was one of the reasons we got along so well. He was dumbfounded that someone of the his faith, from a country with only 6,000 Jews, had made his way onto the same kibbutz and that that someone could relate so deeply to his cause.
I think in talking to me, Shimon realized that beyond his borders were many people who really wanted to be part of what he was actually living. His was not a dream but a reality; the dream was with those who wanted that reality but couldn’t quite find a way to accomplish it. I was fortunate enough to have managed both. Shimon accepted that and accepted me, and our relationship soon blossomed into a bond that remained strong for many years after my visit.
Shimon pulled out the daily worksheet. “There are about 200 volunteers, Eli. Normally I dictate who works where, and we know from experience where most of the workforce has to go to and how many are required for each section. Therefore it becomes quite simple. You follow my direction, and unless there are any special requests—” Shimon looked at me with a wry smile and a hint of disgust “—then we just place them where it suits us and change them around as we think it relevant.”
“Okay, so let me get this right,” I said. “If we have ten of them in the cows for a week, do they then move to the chickens the following week, or do we keep them in the cows?”
“We can do whatever we want, as long as the quota is filled for each position,” he replied.
POWER! This was it. This was the best job on the whole kibbutz and I was going to love it. Each day we posted a work schedule and each night we redid it. We also moved around the kibbutz to check that everyone had showed up for work and that none of these lazy bastard volunteers were in bed shagging or sleeping or just lounging about the pool. This was wonderful! I’d found my calling. My first task was to move Andrew.
“How about fish ponds?” I’d asked him earlier that day.
“Anywhere but chickens,” was his answer. So Andrew, instead of continuing as Elmer Fudd, was about to become Captain Birdseye. He was going to be a very happy boy. I decided to take a walk towards the coops and deliver the good news. I left Shimon’s office and made my way toward the other side of the kibbutz. It wasn’t hard to find the chickens: you stuck your nose in the air and followed the smell of chicken shit. Eventually, you would arrive at a place where feathers were strewn all over a barren strip of ground near where the “death trucks” were parked and you’d know you were near the three large coops—which you could enter or avoid depending on your tolerance for carnage.
I intended to enter when Rachelli came dashing out of the dining area unexpectedly, almost knocking me down. I was in “run” mode and didn’t notice her sweet face coming towards me until it was too late.
“Rachelli, how are you?” I must have looked surprised and embarrassed because the look on her face was exactly the same as mine must have been.
“Eli, where are you rushing to?”
“The chicken coops to tell Andrew he’s being moved to the fish ponds. Want to come?”
“Sure, why not. I have some time.”
Now my world went into slow motion. As we made our way down the road towards those chickens, Rachelli began to tell me all the things that she had done at school that morning and how she was hoping to hop on a bus to Haifa that afternoon to do some shopping. “I wish I could go with you,” I said, knowing that would be impossible due to my heavy work load, but she thought that would be a great idea and told me that Shimon would probably agree if she, not I, asked him nicely. We parted at the chicken coops and she went on her way, telling me she would find me once she’d spoken to Shimon and received the all clear. I wanted to believe that would happen, but this was only my first day on the job, so I was skeptical.
“Yo! Jimmy!” I shouted to Andrew, who was trudging toward one of the
death trucks carrying six struggling chickens—three in each hand, all turned upside down and pecking the heck out of his wrists. “You are now on fish, not chickens,” I said and waited for the smile that would reward my miraculous management skills.
“Fuck, I hate fish,” he said. It wasn’t the applause I was looking for. I was rather deflated and ready to walk away in disgust, but I thought better of it, since Andrew was the only person in that place who I trusted.
“Well, what do you want to do? I asked. “I can get you any place you want.”
“I want the archeological dig.”
“No way. You’re not qualified.”
He glowered. “Come on, you said anywhere!”
I looked at his red face, sweaty armpits and bloodied hands. I couldn’t let a mate suffer at the hands—beaks—of those vermin without putting up a fight. “Okay, I’ll try.” I walked back to the office while dreaming up believable lies that would persuade Shimon that Andrew was a closet archeologist ready and willing to uncover ancient artifacts and leave them in impeckable condition.
The shopping trip to Haifa never materialized, at least not on that day. In fact, I spent the rest of the day looking through the list of volunteers, deciding who was going where, and when, for the next three days. It would soon be the weekend, and, because of the Sabbath, everyone had Friday afternoon and all day Saturday off. I was planning on taking a bus with Andrew to Tel Aviv, just to see it, but right now, my focus was on scheduling workloads and keeping that process fair.
I came across Sally’s name on the roster. Hmm, what to do? I decided to ask Shimon: I should move Sally to another position outside of the kindergarten? His suggestion was that I shut up and concentrate on everyone else. “Leave your vendetta someplace else, Eli,” he said. But I knew that I couldn’t do that. I also knew that doing what I wanted to do would get me fired from my great job and kicked off the kibbutz. So in the end, I decided to visit the archaeological dig taking place on one of the kibbutz’s perimeters. It was time for a break and the dig was a perfect place to explore in the heat of the afternoon. I’d heard that they had dug up some incredible Roman remains already, and I was keen to see the finds firsthand.
When I walked up I saw my man, the aging cowboy I’d seen on day one when we got off the bus. Rabbi John Wayne, as I named him, appeared to be in charge of the dig site. Gun in a belt holster hanging from his hip, with a brush similar to a paintbrush in one hand and a clip board and pen in the other, he regarded me with flinty, gunslinger eyes.
“Can I help you?” he asked.
“I came to look.”
“No one just comes to look.”
“Well, I’m not no one.”
“Who are you?”
“You mean you don’t remember me?” I answered as I barked a loud, fake laugh to show my disdain for his lack of recognition.
“You must be from England with an attitude like that,” he laughed.
“Insulting, my good man, very insulting. I am Scottish, and I am really keen to see this dig. I’ve never been to one before.”
“And you’re not about to get into this one, either.”
He rose from his kyphotic posture and stared at me while I stared at the revolver in his holster.
“I’m Eli,” I said, and stuck my hand out. He didn’t acknowledge it. He tightened his belt. “You really need that?” I asked, pointing to his gun.
“Have you ever been shot at?”
“Have you ever been to a Rangers Celtic football match?” I replied.
He placed his clipboard on the closest table, and looked at me a long time before saying, “I have.”
I was amazed. “When?”
“In 1964 I went to Scotland to look at some machinery for this kibbutz. We went to a huge manufacturing plant in Cumbernauld, just outside Glasgow. My friend and my wife came with me and the men with whom we had meetings got us tickets to go to Rangers. There were 90,000 people there, and we had to stand, but I will never forget it. Are you a Rangers fan?”
“Then once you look around my dig you are welcome to come to my home to look at my Rangers scarf and hat. I still have them. My name is Ronnie.” He stuck out his hand to shake mine and just like that, I was in!
Ronnie gave me the grand tour, showing me all the artifacts his crew had managed to find and how they had carefully cataloged everything and stored it in sealed containers to be shipped to the archeological records office in Jerusalem. I was fascinated, and also flabbergasted: some of these items dated back over two thousand years! Ronnie was brilliant. He let me look into the section that they’d just opened, and he explained the entire process of a dig from beginning to end. He made sure that not only did I look but that I also understood what was going on. Ronnie then introduced me to Colin from South Africa, who’d come to the kibbutz especially to participate in this dig. Colin was studying at the University Of Johannesburg, and to him this was paradise. We talked for more than an hour and then Ronnie was called to a meeting where a “major find” was to be authenticated. With a smile like a Cheshire cat, and a spring in my step, I returned to Shimon’s office for an update.
“What you doing for dinner tonight, Eli?” Shimon wanted me to come to his home, but he warned me that Sally would be there, too.
I thought about the inevitable crossing of paths and the best way to handle it. “No problem,” I said, “but can I bring Rachelli if she returns from Haifa?”
“That’s my boy,” said Shimon, “taking my advice and sticking with a nice Jewish Israeli girl! I’m proud of you! Of course you can bring her, and I will tell my wife that you’re coming so she can prepare.” He picked up the phone and called Hannah, his wife, who in turn must have told Sally, because when I arrived, around seven that evening, with Rachelli in tow, Sally was waiting at the front door.
“Have you been avoiding me, Alan?” She always called me by my English name. Jealousy and anger were written all over her face. I could tell. Rachelli could tell. So could Shimon. Hannah, on the other hand, found it amusing, and blurted out, “So this is the Scottish Jew everyone is talking about?” As she said that, Rachelli gripped my hand, squeezed it and gave me a very unexpected kiss on the lips!
Oh, how my fortunes had changed.