Once upon a time when I graduated from high school, my parents gave me a present: they sent me to Israel to work on a kibbutz for the summer. I was eager to go, or at least eager to get out of the confines of their adequate but boring tract home in Pasadena, as any eighteen year-old would be, and looking back on it now, I'm quite sure they were just as eager to be rid of me.
A kibbutz, for those of you unfamiliar, is an Israeli socialist experiment in living and working the land. Kibbutzim (that's the plural) were established in the Palestinian Mandate during the early part of the 20th century to prepare Jews for the task of running a state, also to give them an actual stake in their country-to-be. For hundreds of years in many parts of Europe Jews were not allowed to own land or farm; by law they did not belong, and the kibbutzniks aimed to reverse that tradition. I went to a kibbutz in the Galilee near the Golan Heights, a place called Kfar Hanassi, which translates to Village of the President, although I doubt that any president-Israeli or otherwise-ever spent much time there. The kibbutz had a sprinkling of folks from Poland, Austria and Argentina, I remember, but it was mainly populated by Jews from Britain and assorted British places-Wales, Zambia, Rhodesia, South Africa. Every afternoon at four o'clock things stopped and we all had tea. It was very civilized. The work was another matter: during my three month sojourn, I got up each morning before dawn to pick apples and plums and peaches, or sometimes I packed apples and plums and peaches. Oh, and then there was a period where I washed dishes every day for the four or five hundred stalwarts who lived there. We slept communally and ate communally, and I have to say, on the whole, it was a lot of fun. I came home imbued with a new and deeper sense of my heritage and a good fourteen pounds lighter (a condition my mother sought earnestly to correct).
A few months ago a group of tourists from Israel came into the bookstore, and in the course of things, I mentioned my time at Kfar Hanassi. I know that kibbutz well, one woman responded. You wouldn't recognize it today. When I talked about my time in the orchards picking apples and plums, she shook her head. They can't grow those things much anymore, she said. It's been dry for so long. Now they do dates.
I was shocked. It was such a garden of Eden when I was there. Had the climate changed that drastically in just fifty years? Apparently so. Which brings me to my larger point. When I was a lad fifty years seemed like an unimaginable span of time, but geologically speaking, it's barely a blink. And when we hear now of the polar ice cap melting, we all agree (most of us, anyway) that this is bad, but since very few of us have any connection to the North Pole it doesn't really resonate. This struck me, however. I can still remember that place the way it was. And I can't help but think that maybe until we all have such places in our memory, cherished places that no longer exist, it may be hard to do anything at all about global warming.