Family Affair / The Urman-Giv'ons of Kibbutz Nir Am

Liah and Yam live dream of careers in poetry and photography, regret very little, rate themselves as almost perfectly happy with what they have.

The cast: Liah (40 ) and Yam (8.5 ).

The Urman-Giv'ons of Kibbutz Nir Am
Reli Avrahami

 The home: The house has a red roof and white stucco facade, and is located in the shade of two pepper trees at the end of a lawn and concrete path. There's a covered porch in front and a new security room (built in 2007 ) in back; all told, 70 square meters, consisting of living room, kitchen, bathroom and three other rooms.

 Midday Friday: The floor is being washed, but the glut of stuff that has yet to find a place makes housecleaning a bit tricky. We enter carefully (after things have dried somewhat ). A minor problem with organization is apparent; Liah will explain why later. On the way into the living room we pass a porch crowded with an old sofa, a bicycle, a clothes drier (not in use ), a rack for hanging out laundry (in working order ), an Israeli flag and a pack of curious foundlings that includes Beigaleh, Mary, Dushi, Shchori (tied up, because "he's not friendly to strangers" ), Guri and Pappy (the puppy ) - all of them house dogs. Liah is fond of animals. Later we will meet Toffo and Figi, the house cats, Lucy the parrot and Shimon the goldfish. On to the tour.

 The tour: In the living room is a mattress for guests, along with many photographs, most of them by Liah. Photography is her main hobby. One old photo, in black and white, is dear to her heart: It's of her grandmother and was taken in Warsaw before the war. Adjacent is a study with a desk ("my father's" ) and two computers that peek out from among the objects. Liah's father, Dan Urman, who was a professor of archaeology and history, died suddenly six years ago at age 59. One of the pictures on the wall shows Liah on his shoulders. He was young and good-looking, a lecturer at Ben-Gurion University in Be'er Sheva. To the right of the living room is a renovated kitchen ("but it has dampness problems" ) with an old stove. The stove, Liah says, is in "auxiliary" mode, meaning that it does not play a leading role in her life. She frequently eats out, she says. Onward. To the left is a "junk room," straight ahead is Yam's room with a sea of toys on her bed. We reach the security room.

 Security room: It's here, in nine square meters, that the family's life is centered. "We turned it into our house," she says. The room contains a double bed, a television, a mirror, books, a first-aid kit, a beeper (for advance warning of Qassam rockets ) and a stuffed sheep (created by Yam ).

  Livelihoods and occupations: "I don't have a livelihood at the moment," Liah says. She is subsisting with her mother's help ("She helps me a great deal" ). Liah is engaged in photography and has a Canon camera but does not, she says, have a profession. "I tried studying English literature and communications," she says, "and I realized after repeated attempts that I am not cut out for academia." She adds that she grasped too late that attention deficit and concentration disorders prevented her from making progress in her studies. However, a career on the radio is taking shape. Liah: "It's possible that I will present a current events program on Voice of the Negev." She is currently practicing in the station's studios with the encouragement of Ido, the director of the station. In addition, Liah does a lot of walking with the dogs, surfs on Facebook ("I have more than 400 friends" ) and runs a farm.

 Farm: Actually it is FarmVille - a virtual site where her main crop now is asparagus ("It's doing really well" ), thanks to which she is raking in quite a few FarmVille dollars (the game's local currency ). "You harvest, you plant," she says. "There are pests, there are weeds and with one click the nature problems are solved." Most important, there are no Qassam rockets in FarmVille.

 Qassam rockets: Liah says that Mary, her deaf dog, senses impending Color Red alerts and warns her and Yam ("She barks beforehand" ). The security situation has greatly affected her life, she notes, but so has her thyroid gland.

 Thyroid gland: The core reason for the mess in the house, she says. Because of irregular thyroid activity, she fluctuates between being apathetic and hyperactive ("Sometimes I'm into projects and sometimes I don't even have the energy to lift an item of clothing" ). To better cope with this situation, she is availing herself of the services of a personal coach ("from the Alon Gal group" ) once a week at NIS 400 a meeting. Liah: "I have to be target-oriented, know how to manage myself financially and deal with my problem of organization." The security situation does not contribute to her stability, to put it mildly, she says. "When I hear a helicopter I start to shake, and then I become frozen. For years I stood during rocket alerts under a ceiling with no protection. A lot of miracles happened here."

 Miracles: "Once, when I was taking Yam to kindergarten, a mortar shell flew over us, and another time I flopped myself on top of her." She considered leaving the kibbutz, but always stayed - to spite everyone, she explains, because they all expected her to be weak. Most of the residents use tranquilizers. "The tension is unbearable. You stay because of the honor, because of the place, because of the school." If the security situation becomes very bad, she does not rule out the possibility of moving to the center of the country.

 Yam: In the third grade at a school ("protected and computerized" ) in Sha'ar Hanegev, next to Sapir College. Liah has only good things to say about the teachers and the principal ("She's wonderful" ). At the end of each school day, which includes lunch (a hot meal ), Yam goes to Kibbutz Or Haner ("which is out of [rocket] range" ), where she stays (with 40 other local children ) until 5 P.M. There she also does ballet. Recently, she says, she was tested by representatives of the Royal Academy of London, who came especially to the Sha'ar Hanegev studio.

Liah's bio: Born in Jerusalem in 1969, the only child of Israeli-born parents, themselves children of Holocaust survivors, from the Haifa suburbs of Kiryat Ata and Kiryat Haim. Until his death, her father taught archaeology at Ben-Gurion University and also abroad; her mother was a dog groomer ("These days she looks after me and Yam full-time" ). As a result of one of her father's appointments, she attended school in New York until the fourth grade ("the most beautiful period of my life" ) and then went to junior high and high school in Be'er Sheva. She completed her matriculation exams without any special difficulty and in the army was categorized as a lone soldier, because her parents were at Oxford. Liah: "There was a feeling of abandonment along with being born into independence." After her service, she joined her parents in England, worked in a pub ("People came in boats to drink beer" ), moved with them to Chicago (1991 ), where her father was appointed a university lecturer, was saved from an arranged marriage with a "Jewish prince" from New York, worked as an au pair in Florida and returned to Israel, into the arms of a boyfriend ("my mythological beau" ). But they soon broke up, leaving her brokenhearted. She then moved to Eilat ("What everyone does after the army, I did at age 24" ) and half a year later, feeling she had tired of that scene, went north to Sapir College in Sderot. Her search for housing in the area brought her to a place she had never heard of previously: Nir Am.

Nir Am: In 1995 she rented an apartment on the kibbutz and two years later met the man who became her husband and the father of her daughter. "It was love," she says. She was a communications student, he was (and still is ) a member of the kibbutz. They met because of the dogs. Liah: "People said he knew a lot about dogs and I went to ask his advice." Three years later they were married (by the pool ) - the invitations included photos of their dogs and cats. Yam was born in 2001, and subsequently their relationship soured. She was married for eight years and has been separated for two. "A painful story," she says, at least for her. Living on the kibbutz doesn't make things easier ("It's hard to break up with someone in a place where the paths are so narrow" ).

Daily routine: "When do I get up? You should ask when I sleep." Liah is constantly troubled by thoughts about life. She drinks a cup of instant coffee in the morning (2 teaspoons of coffee, 2 teaspoons of sugar, half water, half milk ), listens to the classical music station, wakes Yam around 7 A.M., gives her a chocolate drink while she watches a children's channel, makes her a sandwich (for the morning snack ) and urges her to get dressed. At about a quarter to eight they wait for the school bus, constantly chattering. After Yam leaves, Liah goes to the radio station to practice or cooks something ("whichever I feel like doing" ). In any event, she does not make a big deal out of lunch ("I eat on the go, maybe a hot meal on a tray from the dining room for NIS 20" ), and waits for Yam to return at 5 P.M. They always have supper together at home, sometimes heating up what Grandma Metti, Liah's mother, has prepared. At about 9 they head for bed in the security room, and before falling asleep watch "Extreme Makeover" (a reality show on satellite TV ).

Dreams: "To be a recognized photographer" (Liah ); "to be a children's poet, like Naomi Shemer" (Yam ).

Someone in her life: "I'm not thinking about that now" (Liah ).

God: Liah believes ("I think it's a reaction to the atheism that dominated my parents' home" ).

Missed opportunity: "Academic studies. I could have been a lawyer." 

Longing: "For Dad, for his presence - everything could have been different." W Security worries: "Things are better, but my head fills with other worries."

What will be: "Another military operation will be needed to allow a normal life here around the Gaza Strip."

Happiness quotient (scale of 1-10 ): Liah - 7; Yam - 9.