Ninth grade students at the Kadoorie agricultural school in the Galilee found it hard to believe the stories of 95-year-old Emanuel Ramot and 91-year-old Shaul Biber.
"We went home only three times a year," said the graduates of the school's first and fourth years. "We had to keep the farm running."
The school's current students learned the effort paid off: "At the end of the school year I received a letter from Fiat, the headmaster who wrote that I 'know my way around a cow,'" Ramot recalled.
The encounter with the contemporaries of Yitzhak Rabin took place this week to mark Rabin Memorial Day at the school where the slain prime minister studied. The students at the junior high and high school that at one point was considered an elite breeding ground for soldiers were exposed not just to a memorial ceremony but to school-related anecdotes and a touch of values.
"We asked the teachers to hold honor exams, meaning that the teacher left us alone during the exam - and indeed nobody cheated," Ramot recalled, adding that those who did cheat were treated to a "blanket" that night, meaning that they were beaten up.
The alumni told of the ascetic life they led at the school, which at the time was only for boys and was nicknamed "the monastery next to the Tabor Monastery." They also talked about soccer, which Rabin enjoyed playing at school, and the pranks they pulled, like the day Rabin, Biber and another friend ate the chicken that had been cooked especially for the high commissioner of Palestine, Arthur Wauchope.
In the days before the State of Israel was established, Kadoorie was one of the most important educational institutions in the country, and its graduates were commanders of the Palmach, the elite fighting force of the prestate underground army. Apart from Rabin, these included Yigal Allon, Haim Gouri and many others.
Indeed, one of every six Kadoorie graduates was killed in the War of Independence.
"We probably look as if we arrived from the era of legends, or the time of the flood," Biber said to the students. "You really have to work hard to imagine and understand, but the stories we told really happened, and the establishment of the state was far from obvious. At the time, we didn't know if it would really happen."
During Biber and Ramot's era the school housed 25 boys every year, but nowadays some 1,600 students study at Kadoorie - including not just Jewish ones from kibbutzim and moshavim but also Muslims, Christians, Druze, Circassians and African refugees, said principal Hillel Millman.
Millman lectured the students about Kadoorie's trajectory, from elitist school for Ashkenazim to multicultural youth village.
"Rabin and his generation led the way," he said. "We wish to continue that way as well as adjust it to today's reality."