Family Affair The Ner-Davids

The Ner-Davids of Kibbutz Hanaton

Avner Avrahami and Reli Avrahami
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Avner Avrahami and Reli Avrahami

The cast: Haviva (41), Yaakov / Jacob (41), Michal (17), Adin (14), Meira (11), Hallel (9), Nachum (7), Mishael (2.5).

Ner-David: A fusion. Shes Krasner, hes Davidson, and the Interior Ministry, they say, instructed them to remove the hyphen (in Hebrew).

Hanaton: A kibbutz in Lower Galilee, founded 1984, now in the midst of a fierce internal struggle for survival, definition and affiliation.

The home: Red stucco, flat roof, split level, sunny, surrounded by lush Galilee green. Resting in front are 13 bicycles (some for multiple riders). In the background is the Beit Netofa Rift and Eshkol Lake, a reservoir of the National Water Carrier. They are renting, but plan to move into their own home in the kibbutz.

Renting: For NIS 3,800 a month they get 140 square meters on three levels. They arrived a year ago from Jerusalem with a group of Masorti (similar to Conservative Jews) families. Haviva: We wanted something in nature outside the Anglo bubble, and to help rehabilitate the only Masorti kibbutz in the country. They feel like kibbutzniks, though Michal, the firstborn, is dubious: We are not really living a kibbutz life. Jacob: There are mutual guarantees, there is nursing insurance, there is a regular kibbutz assembly [in the synagogue] and once a month there is a common Shabbat meal.

Entering: Straight ahead, books fill an entire wall (Most of our books are still in boxes). From here we can turn left down to the living room/kitchen, or right to four bedrooms. In either direction, we encounter piles of laundry (Two-three loads a day, says Haviva).

Descending: In a well-lit space that contains the living room and kitchen is a large, oval dining table (from Jerusalem) and next to it a heavy brown leather sofa (from Habitat) and a white wooden table (from Westchester, New York). The kitchen is busy, filled with dishes, food products, fruits and vegetables. Bubbling on the burners is corn soup (for the Sabbath meal) and on the marble work space yeast dough is rising. Yaakov says he makes vegan challah (without eggs).

Livelihoods and occupations: Yaakov has a law degree; he is a high-tech entrepreneur, involved in Internet projects in which he is responsible mainly for business strategy and fund-raising. He is also the founder and a managing partner of a venture capital fund (a small one) called Jerusalem Capital, and has already been involved in one exit (Delta Three, which preceded Skype). Thanks to this, he says, we are still eating. He inherited his technological bent from his father, Prof. Don Davidson, a senior lecturer in computer sciences at CUNY and an Internet pioneer (when it was known as Arpanet). Works from home two days a week, the rest of time attends meetings in Tel Aviv, Herzliya, Raanana and Jerusalem (where he also has an office). Has no car, travels by bus, always with a folding bicycle he pedals between Herzliya, Tel Aviv and Raanana. A couple of weeks ago, he relates, a screw came loose and he found himself sprawled on the road.

Haviva: Rabbi and social activist. Ordained by Rabbi Aryeh Strikovsky (who is Orthodox) in Jerusalem. She herself loathes labels and says she is a rabah [female form of rav, or rabbi] of Jews no matter from which community or stream (I grew up Orthodox, but today I am egalitarian). Manages a mikveh (Jewish ritual purification bath), where she also give seminars on relationships for secular and religious people; is involved in gender issues, has a Ph.D. in halakha (Jewish religious law) from Bar-Ilan University. She is the author of Life on the Fringes: A Feminist Journey toward Traditional Rabbinic Ordination (in English), is now writing a new book (when Mishael is at the nursery), once a week attends a basket-weaving course in Kafr Manda, a nearby Arab village, swims, writes about Judaism (via several blogs, including one for the New York-based Jewish newspaper Forward), takes part in the forum of Rabbis for Human Rights and is involved in the struggle of Women of the Wall (I got hit), likes riding across the countryside with Jacob on a two-seater bike, drives a Toyota Land Cruiser and, as of our meeting, had never heard of the Mondial (soccer World Cup).

The children: Michal lives alone in Jerusalem and attends Sudbury, a democratic school (ages 4-18), where there is no commitment to do homework or follow a schedule; goes home for Shabbat. Says shes approximately in 11th grade and is taking several matriculation exams, but isnt sure she will continue; lives in a studio apartment in the yard of her parents apartment (now rented out) in the citys upscale Baka neighborhood. When her parents decided to move to Galilee, she decided to stay in Jerusalem with her friends, close to the Israel Museum, where she is studying art. Sometimes its hard for her, but sometimes its fun, she says. She is active in Noar Telem, a Reform Judaism youth movement. Subsists on Dads credit card. After high school plans to do a year of volunteer work and then army service in intelligence (if they accept me).

Adin: In ninth grade at Nahalal high school (a secular institution), gets there and back by busing, in the afternoon plays drums in the kibbutz storeroom and draws comics at home, says he has integrated well into the young society of the kibbutzim and moshavim (cooperative villages). Attends synagogue on Shabbat.

Meira, Hallel, Nachum: In fifth, third and first grades, respectively, at a Tali school (reinforced Judaism studies) in Givat Ala, a nearby community. In the afternoon, Meira paints at Kibbutz Harduf (one on one) and takes gymnastics lessons. Hallel is a member of the wall climbing team in the town of Ramat Yishai, plays tennis and soccer (only girl on the team), also does karate. Nachum likes to wander (We always have to look for him) and likes swimming, tennis and soccer.

Mishael: Attends a kibbutz creche, taken and picked up by Haviva and Jacob. Adopted.

Adopted: Mishael joined the family two years ago (with the help of the adoption unit in the Social Affairs Ministry). I wanted it, Nachum says. Jacob: He really wanted a little brother. Haviva: We thought we had the strength for another child.

Havivas bio: Born in Manhattan, 1969, grew up in Westchester, father a lawyer, mother an occupational therapist (now retired), modern Orthodox. English literature major at Columbia, masters in creative writing at the University of Maryland, also a doctoral degree in philosophy.

God: There is some sort of power that is with me, she says. Believes in tikkun olam (repair / reform of the world), does not believe in reward-and-punishment, thinks that the prophet Elijah and the coming of the Messiah is more in the nature of folklore.

Jacobs bio: Born 1969, Long Island, both parents U.S.-born, Zionist family, modern Orthodox, his father (the professor) wears a Borsalino hat on Shabbat. Undergraduate degree in biology (Mom wanted a son who is a doctor, but theres a limit to respecting parents), masters in literature, then law (Georgetown), which he didnt want to practice. Arrived in Israel in 1996 and got into high-tech.

The meeting: 1988. He was a biology student at NYU, living in a rented place on 142nd Street; she was a literature student at Columbia, living in the dorms. They met one day in the corridor when he came to the dorms to see a friend, and have been together ever since (even though the friend said: Definitely not Jacob).

The wedding: 1990, Glen Island Park, 250 guests, Leaving on a Jet Plane (Peter, Paul and Mary) playing in the background. Immigrated to Israel in 1996 (because of both Judaism and Zionism).

Daily routine: When Jacob gets up, at 6:15, Hallel is already awake. Haviva gets up 15 minutes later, and together they launch into the wake-up operation. By 7:15 the children are on the way to school by bus (after Cheerios). Jacob (on a Tel Aviv day) is waiting with his bike for the bus at 7:45; Haviva is drinking green tea, having taken Mishael to the nursery, finished the first load of laundry and taken Tiffany (their mongrel dog) out. Lunch is a haphazard affair (the children have sandwiches), Haviva skips the meal, Jacob sometimes indulges in sushi at work meetings. Their hot meal is always in the evening and in two shifts: children at 7, parents at 9 (without anyone climbing on me Haviva). They take turns bathing Mishael, there is no set lights-out time and they dont watch television (the set is used as a DVD screen).

Household chores: Laundry mainly Haviva; Folding Jacob.

Maid: None (on principle and to economize).

Romance: A quarter of an hour without the children Jacob; Once a month a mikveh together Haviva.

Israel: Haviva is fearful for her future in the absence of a peace process (There is hatred and racism on both sides) but has not lost hope, she says. Jacob: We have lost ideological orientation. A decision must be made, he says.

Decision: In a second, I would give the Palestinians half of Jerusalem.

Quarrels and making up: We dont always agree, but theres never a time that we dont talk.

Longing: For each other (Jacob).

Happiness quotient (scale of 1-10): Haviva 8 (There are things to repair), Jacob 9.9, Michal 7, Meira 6.5, Hallel 8, Adina and Nachum 6.

The Ner-Davids at home in Kibbutz Hanaton.Credit: Reli Avrahami

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