It was 1970 and I was going to Cal State LA. I’d been out of the army a couple of years and I grew my hair very long and bushy and grew a big beard and hung out with a bunch of other hippies at Cal State LA. Turns out that a lot of hippies were Jewish so this was pretty much my first time I was hanging out with other Jews besides my family who didn’t really celebrate much about being Jewish except during the holidays when my mom would try to explain to me what Passover or Chanukah was. I never really knew the difference and none of my 3 older brothers or myself ever had any religious training or had a bar mitzvah but I liked the hippies I was hanging out with and the progressive political and social ideas and values we all seemed to share.
I was hanging out with my girlfriend who lived with a group of other students in a commune type household called “The Tribe,” It was a few blocks from Cal State LA and soon all my friends were hippies with all the trappings with long hair and bell bottoms and beards and listening to psychedelic music and smoking pot and taking LSD and going skinny dipping and enjoying free love and thinking we were going to help make a social revolution and turn society away from a system of greed and selfishness and embrace cooperation with our lifestyle of peace, love, sex and rock and roll.
One of my friends was a young Jewish guy named Sinai (like the desert in Israel) and his best friend was a guy named Sholmo who happened to be Israeli. We’d hang out on campus and would go to West LA where there were a lot more Jews and we’d celebrate whatever Jewish holiday it happened to be by joining with other Jews and eating Middle Eastern food and singing Israeli songs and dancing Israeli folk dances. Eventually Sinai and Sholmo began talking to me about “making aliyah” which means “ascent, going up” The expression is used when someone immigrates to Israel, it is called in Hebrew “making aliyah.”
“Yeah? What’s it like in Israel?” I asked Sinai.
“You’d love it! It’s beautiful there with beautiful desserts and the blue-green Mediterranean Sea and where you’re not the minority. It’s like a combination of Santa Monica and Death Valley not to mention all the historical sites and archeological ruins.” Sinai said.
“Yeah? I guess that would be kinda cool to see.”
“Well, me and a group of other college people are going to make aliyah to a place called kibbutz Gezer.” Sinai said.
“Yeah? What’s that like?” I asked.
“It’s like The Tribe where your girlfriends lives but so much better. We all share everything, not just living together but also sharing common interests, property, possessions, resources, work and income. We also have consensus decision making and, non-hierarchical structures and ecological living.”
“Wow sounds great!” I said.
“Well, we’re going to a kinus in New York in a couple weeks. Would you like to join us?” Sinai asked.
A kinus. It’s a gathering of people and a unique opportunity for the sons and daughters of people considering making aliyah to draw the same energy and inspiration.”
“It’s a weekend retreat with a full schedule of well-planned activities including learning, trips and more. Throughout the weekend we’re all in a warm, spiritual environment with great food that is supervised by a dedicated staff of people from Kibbutz Gezer. They’ll fly you there and put you up for free.” Sinai said.
“Kibbutz Gezer? Where’s that?”
“It’s between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem with 200 plus members. The kibbutz was established in 1945 on land purchased by the Ancient Order of Maccabeans in England, a philanthropic society founded in 1896. The pioneers were immigrants from Europe, who named the kibbutz after Biblical Tel Gezer, an archeological excavation located nearby.”
“Oh, interesting. What are the members like?”
“They’re almost all college educated American Jews. They’re from the first group of people who’ve immigrated there in a group called Garin Alef which means the first garin. Gezer is putting together a second garin that’s called Garin Bet.”
“Sounds good.” I said.
“Well, the kinus is coming up. It’ll be in upstate New York next month at a nice campground. Would you want to go? They’ll pay your air fare and put you up and feed you.”
I looked at my girlfriend and she looked at me and shrugged her shoulders.
“She can come too. They’ll pay for her too.” Sinai added.
So we went to the kinus and Sinai was right, it as a lot of fun with singing and playing volleyball and dancing and eating and laughing and having a lot of fun with other Jews.
“So are you interested in making aliyah? You can be part of Garin Bet.” Sinai asked when we got back to LA.
“Hmmm.. Well, maybe…”
“There’s another kinus coming up in a few weeks. Would you like to go to that one too?”
“Sure, why not?” I answered as I looked at my girlfriend.
We went to that one too and it was also a lot of fun and for one of the first times in m life I felt like I belonged to something. I met a guy named Marty who lived in New York City and was also considering making aliyah to Gezer. We hit it off very well and liked each other a lot and we hung out together in New York City and he took me all over New York from the Statue of Liberty to Harlem to Central Park to several of the museums. We had a blast hanging out together.
Marty took me over to his house where I met his mother and his father and while eating dinner, his mother looked at me said said, “So you’re not really serious about going to live in Israel are you?” I looked up from my meal and looked over at Marty and shrugged and shook my head yes. Then Marty’s mother looked at Marty and said, “You know it’ll just kill us if you leave New York where you’re going to law school at Hofstra University, where it’s costing us an arm and a leg to go make aliyah. It’ll just kill us.”
I felt very uncomfortable and squirmed in my chair and looked at Marty who said, “Well, I’m sorry ma but law school doesn’t mean that much to me. Going to live on kibbutz Gezer feels a lot more meaningful to me.”
Marty took me with him to Hofstra University where he was going to law school to sit in a class with him and I had a hard time keeping my head up from nodding off trying to listen to the professor’s lecture but I could see what a big change making aliyah was going to be for my new friend Marty especially since his mother was dead set against it.
At the kinus when they asked me if I wanted to make aliyah and I answered “Yes” without even talking about it first to my girlfriend who looked at me with wide eyes and a look of “Hey, you forgot to ask me.” Then she said, “Phil we don’t even speak Hebrew.”
Sinai said, “For the first 6 months in Israel you’ll be in a Ulpan where you go to school for 4 hours a day to learn Hebrew and for 4 hours a day you work on the kibbutz.”
“Oh, that sounds cool. What’s it like?”
“Ulpan is especially popular among immigrants who go to live in Israel, it’s also very popular amongst tourists, theologists, historians, and those who study the Middle East and Semitic languages.”
“ You can take a Hebrew class in the US but Israel is truly the best place to learn how to speak Hebrew by immersing yourself in the culture. Even though many people in Israel speak English, there are always opportunities to learn Hebrew wherever you go. This gives you a chance to get real-world experience that you cannot get anywhere else in the world.”
So my girlfriend and I began getting into the consciousness of making aliyah and wondering what it was going be like. I called up Marty a few times and he said he was looking forward to us getting together again the at the kinus coming up in December in New York City. He was anxiously looking forward to leaving school at the end of the school year even though he only had one semester left and his mother wanting him to at least finish law school first. She kept saying, “Can’t you at least finish law school first? It’ll kill us if you don’t.”
In December some members of Garin Bet named Mona and Mordichai and a few other members picked me and my girlfriend up at JFK airport. I was disappointed that Marty wasn’t there. After a few minutes of happily catching up laughing and joking with each other while driving on the parkway heading to the kinus I excitedly asked, “Where’s Marty?” It was very quiet for a long moment when Mordichai looked back from the front seat and said, “I was hoping we weren’t going to have to tell you this, Phil, cause we know how much you and Marty liked each other.”
“Ahh…yeah? What? He’s not going to make aliyah after all?! What? He chickened out?”
“Well, Phil, I hate to tell you this but Marty passed away two weeks ago.”
“What?! You’re kidding!
“No, I’m not kidding.”
What are you talking about? How could that have happened?!”
Mordichai looked at me and softly said, “I hate to tell you, Phil but Marty died while working out at the gym trying to bench press too much weight.”
“What?! You got to be kidding me?!”
“I wish I was, Phil. I’m really sorry to tell you. Kinda was hoping you weren’t going to ask about Marty because I know Marty’s a big reason you want to make aliyah.”
I sat there in the back seat for a few moments in complete shock. My girlfriend held my hand while quietly sitting next to me in the back seat and all I could think about was Marty’s mother saying, “If you make aliyah, Marty, it’ll kill us. It’ll just kill us, Marty.” Whoever thought that his mother saying that caused Marty to have even more stress and pressure in deciding what to do and maybe it was just too much for him.
I’ve often thought about and Marty since then and wondered how his poor mom and dad dealt with him dying so young. It was a painful loss for me but I’m sure nothing like it was for his parents. He was only 27 years old. I’m sure that suddenly the idea of Marty making aliyah didn’t sound so bad to his mom and dad after all had he still been alive.
I never made aliyah either. Instead, me and my girlfriend broke up and I moved up to Chico to go to Chico State and I’ve been in the area for the past 38 years.