Freedom, Nature and Training for War: A Boy's Diaries Offer Poignant Glimpse Into 1940s Kibbutz Life

A rare window into the early life of the generation that fought Israel’s wars and built the country

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Rami at age 6.
Rami at age 6.Credit: Hadas Parush
Meirav Moran
Meirav Moran
Meirav Moran
Meirav Moran

“Today one of the partisans who came from the Diaspora got drunk, and they tied up his legs and left him in some room. Some mean kids went over to him and started to taunt and curse him, and all the little kids gathered around and enjoyed the spectacle. M. and D. used a candle to illuminate the partisan comrade and wanted to see him, and I knocked the candle down and it went out. N., the kibbutz member, was there, too, and enjoyed it and didn’t stop them.”

The setting is Kibbutz Yagur, on the slopes of Mount Carmel, southeast of Haifa; the time, the 1940s. This report appears in the personal diary of Rami Valter, 14, who was born on the kibbutz. I don’t have to exercise my imagination to envisage the boy who would become my father. He discerns vulnerability and weakness; he’s outraged by the injustice. Without engaging in a confrontation he simply snuffs out the candle so the curious will go away and leave the tormented man in peace.

We didn’t know about the diary my father kept throughout his childhood – daily, it turns out. Sometimes just a sentence, usually no more than a paragraph. Precise impressions of activities and goings-on, hardly engaging in reflection but always in marvelous Hebrew. Sometimes he added drawings that he made. The first notebook was written in 1938, at the start of the first grade; the last ends in the summer of 1946, at the end of the eighth grade. The workbooks and notebooks, some sewn together, were kept in his parents’ house and were only discovered after his death, in 2007. I’ve only read them now for the first time, when they appeared in print.

History crops up in every corner: the nights of bombings, the refugees who arrive at the kibbutz, the establishment of illegal settlements and the drumhead court-martials for those considered traitors. Rami reports events in his diary that will become milestones in the leadup to Israel in independence, and about the nation girding for battle over its land – about explosions of the railway lines and police stations in the Sharon region, the weapons searches in Ramat Hakovesh, the break-in at Atlit (a British Mandatory detention camp for illegal immigrants, who were freed in the raid), the siege of Kibbutz Givat Haim and of Kibbutz Shefayim.

But even though historical events are interspersed in the diary, they are not the crux of it. With stenographic continuity, Rami describes everyday life during eight years of collective education on Yagur (today, one of the country’s largest kibbutzim). Without the filter of historical perspective, without the interpretation of a retrospective narrator – this is a childlike and teenaged description of life in a world that once existed and is forever lost. A rare picture of a free childhood, connected transparently to its surroundings and independent to an extraordinary degree. One that observes nature with delight, infused with grace and hope – and, at times, with cruelty, too.

“It’s not only a private diary,” my mother, Dalia Moran, 85, says, after rescuing the notebooks from perdition with her own hands. “He tells the story of a generation.” The thousands of pages were damaged in a storm and she spent days drying them out with hair dryers and fans. When the coronavirus pandemic struck, she turned to the task of making the diary available to a broad public by having it published in book form. The 600-page volume, which was designed and compiled according to her professional instructions, is titled “Today” – the word that opens almost every entry in my father’s diary.

“In the past few years memoirs of kibbutzniks have been published that might lead one to think that collective education and communal sleeping quarters for children were the source of suffering and caused damage,” my mother says. “One of the reasons I published the book is to sound a different voice. Rami’s diary speaks in the first person and in real time about that kibbutz childhood and about that collective education. His diary mirrors a life of wonder and an everyday that contained rare beauty. Rami left testimony about the possibility of a childhood life and a youthful education in independence and creativity, which today’s children and adolescents don’t get.”

• • •

Rami with his brother, Gadi.

“Yesterday we hiked to the squill hill, we pulled out plants with big bulbs. The squill prepares food for itself in the bulb, because the soil is ruined. A flower has 6 petals, 6 stamens and a pistil.”

“Today we saw the yellow wagtail in the vegetable patch. In the vineyard they’re spreading manuring for the winter. The vine is shedding.”

– Second grade

“This morning we walked to the mountain. Yochai knew where there was a lily and we both went to look for one in bloom, but we didn’t find a single one.”

– Fifth grade

The bond with the earth is forged within kibbutz children from an early age. Every day they go out into natural surroundings, to the mountain and the river; they observe the breeding of animals, the farming of land in the fields, the chicken coop and the pasture. Rami’s diary entries for the first and second grades are devoted almost exclusively to those activities. With the elaboration of someone who will later pursue a Ph.D. in botany, my father describes the parts of the meadow saffron, distinguishes between a terebinth and an oak by the shape of the leaf, and accurately records the names of all the types of birds they encounter in their hike to the woods, including the colors of the feathers and the sounds of the chirping. He also makes a point of noting their contribution, if any, to the working of the field, such as in the case of the falcon that eats pests. The plowing and sowing in the fields, autumn in the vineyard and the sorting of chicks in the coop seem to be the essence of life.

The ties to the Hebrew language and culture are also established from early childhood. Life on Kibbutz Yagur adheres strictly to the Hebrew calendar. My father – who would eventually become a vexatious nonbeliever – is even unpleasantly surprised that the day of the destruction of the Temple, Tisha B’Av, is not commemorated. Already from the age of 6 my father writes in clear, error-free Hebrew, including perfect vocalization. From the first grade the class reads masterworks of poetry and short stories. “Today I ate a grapefruit, today I read ‘Night Dwarfs’” [a poem by Haim Nahman Bialik], he wrote on one of the first pages of his diary.

The living space of the children of Yagur is contained within a radius of a few kilometers around the kibbutz: They go by foot to such locales as Nesher, Kfar Ata and Kfar Hasidim, which is across the Kishon River, where they swim and go boating. And they bike to the seashore at Kiryat Haim. Without an adult escort, the children descend into caves with ropes, splash about in springs, make campfires, cook meals and look for wildflowers tucked away in crevices.

"Thursday. Yesterday we hiked on the mountain and found oak and terebinth. The leaf of the oak is..."

“Today we went to the pond by bike and swam there,” “Today we went in the afternoon to the ‘gate of hell,’” Rami writes of the nature that surrounds him, an inexhaustible source of adventures.

He notices nature and its various phenomena in every place, including within the bounds of the kibbutz. “In the morning I saw something beautiful,” he writes in the eighth grade about the flights of ants after the first rain. On another occasion he anthropomorphizes the trees around him. “Today I saw that one of the cypresses next to the dining hall was being cut down so that the carts will have room to turn around. The carts could have turned around even without that, and they’re cutting down the tree for no good reason. If the tree had a mouth it would definitely shout out. But it has no mouth and it suffers its pain in secret.”

Local animal life provides another rich source of adventure (“Today I saw a terrific fight between two pigeons,” “Today we found a green, big and horrid scorpion”). Young kibbutz children look after the farm animals devotedly, display concern about wild animals (in one instance, Rami relates how eighth-graders tried to save three jackal pups) and embark on missions that one cannot imagine today’s children carrying out. In one case, Rami describes how the children needed to cut off a puppy’s tail (as is done with certain breeds shortly after birth) and afterward made certain to bandage the wounds gently.

Nevertheless, the attitude toward animals is not sentimental. “Today we made a campfire from 3 pigeons,” “Today we fried potatoes and pigeons and made coffee,” Rami writes. “Yesterday Y. and A. slaughtered their white rabbit, which was sick, and called me to the campfire. It was great.”

'It’s not only a private diary,' my mother, Dalia Moran, 85, says, after rescuing the notebooks from perdition with her own hands. 'He tells the story of a generation.'

Life unfolds outside, so weather becomes major news in the life of the little boy. The first rain of winter, the last rain and the foaming waters in the wadi are the subjects of ongoing reports. In fact, at times Rami writes only about the weather. “Today it rained,” he wrote in a fifth-grade one-liner. And the next day: “Today it also rained.”

“The little boy of the diary is the prototype of the grown man,” says my mother, who sees in the diary the man who would collect rainwater in test tubes, and was thrilled when there was a large amount. The man who would go to the cliffs in winter to look at the sea in order to see “what the storm did,” and who, when viewing sunsets, “measured their time.” The man who checked the wind velocity in anticipation of observing the movement of the treetops of the kibbutz. The man who hung up thermometers in the house and outside, compared temperatures and ensured that we too, his daughters, always had thermometers in our apartments. It wasn’t by chance that on the first anniversary of his death, Kibbutz Ga’ash established a weather station in his memory.

• • •

“A feeling of joy came over me when it was learned that a plot of land had been purchased for the kibbutz, and my joy was even greater when we were told that we would go to see it. When we got to the field the clatter of the tractor greeted us, we carried out an ‘invasion’ and sat on it… But then I looked downward to the ground and a drop of sadness was mixed in to my cup of happiness. I remembered who the land belonged to, whom we took it from: from poor farmers… Finally they were subdued, and the land became our preserve.”

“Today we went in the afternoon to the ‘gate of hell,’” Rami writes of the nature that surrounds him, an inexhaustible source of adventures.

– Fourth grade

My father and his friends were brought up to be familiar with every inch of land, to bond with it whether in farming or in nature, to believe that it was theirs and not to hesitate to take it at any price. Members of that generation were raised as lords of the land: strong, brave and convinced of their right and of their prowess in charging ahead and in conquest. In addition to physical training, there was a need for psychological preparation that forged confidence and indifference to plunder, and haughtiness in the face of weakness.

The children frequently climb up to Isfiya, the Druze village high on Mount Carmel, bathe in its springs and hang out in its olive groves (“The way is delightful in its beauty. We returned by the Druze trail”). Freely roaming the territory reinforces confidence in controlling it, and with it the sense of entitlement. The youngsters would steal electricity cables from that area, and obtain items for campfires by similar methods (“We made a trap where the chickens and the pigeons of the Arabs wander around”).

“Today is the 20th anniversary of our founding. [Kibbutz movement leader Yitzhak] Tabenkin spoke in the evening,” Rami wrote in December 1942. Yagur, established on the lands of the Palestinian village of Yajur in 1922, continued to expand without anyone asking questions – facts were simply created on the ground. “Today the kibbutz committee prepared a place in the field behind the orchard,” Rami writes. “We leveled the ground.” Territory is demarcated according to the places where people would walk, work and enjoy themselves. The land, the mountain and the river – all belong to them. The sky’s the limit. The youths with the long earlocks who today roam among the settler outposts in the Samarian hills in the West Bank would be proud of my father. Dad, who eventually became a left-wing activist and a fierce opponent of the occupation, would have bristled at that comparison.

Legend has it that kibbutz children were convinced that the Hebrew letters mem-heh, which were painted on equipment and farm vehicles to designate ownership, stood for merkaz ha’olam – the center of the world. Not until they grew up did they realize that the letters stood for the names of kibbutzim: Mishmar Ha’emek, Mishmar Hasharon, Mishmar Hanegev and others.

For the kids of Yagur, there were good reasons for feeling that they were situated in the center of the universe. Yagur hosted important political conferences, performances by its choir were broadcast countrywide over the radio, and the members’ lives were rich with high culture – which came to them, not they to it. Rami mentions a host of celebrities of the time who performed at Yagur: the poet Kadia Molodowsky, the singer Bracha Tsfira and such theater companies as Hamatateh, Ha’ohel and Habima.

The extreme independence, the feeling of control over their environment, the bravery and the physical strength imbued kibbutz youngsters with the feeling that not only were they set apart from city dwellers, but perhaps somewhat superior. That attitude prevailed even when they met their peers who arrived in the country after enduring ordeals in a horrific war, yet who possessed no less and perhaps more life experience. The refugee adolescents from post-war Europe were received in the kibbutz with activities as formal as they were festive: ceremonies, performances and the presentation of gifts. These newcomers were the “redeemed children,” a term that reveals their status as dependent on the good graces of the one doing the redeeming. My father developed independent ties of friendship with them, however, and was disturbed by the patronizing:

“Today we and the olim [new immigrants] had a party. The places were not arranged nicely: We sat, like an audience, on chairs arranged in semicircles, and they sat opposite us, like actors on a stage, next to tables that were already set. They didn’t want, were apparently ashamed, to eat alone. From the start there were children who were against this arrangement, but they didn’t want to listen to us.”

Children on Kibbutz Yagur being introduced to farm work.Credit: The Kibbutz Yagur Archive

• • •

“Today we tried out the motorboat we built, but it didn’t have a steering wheel because we forgot it at the kibbutz, and the hose wasn’t set up well, either, so it kept rotating all the time and finally hit a branch.”

“Before lunch we made a ‘magic lantern’ and in the afternoon we brought the ducks to the pond. And now I’m bored. I look at the clock every minute and wait for evening. In the evening we’ll try the ‘magic lantern.’”

“Today we tried the ‘hotplate.’ At first we tried the copper wire… It didn’t work. Afterward we tried a wire spring made of regular steel – and the thing worked!!!”

– Eighth grade

From the diary we learn about the types of entertainment the children enjoyed (“Today we heard the ‘Listen and Learn’ program on the radio”), about their school curriculum (“We talked about the different forms of slavery”), about the kinds of presents they received on birthdays (fountain pen, collected poems of Bialik, stamp album) and the books they read in bed before sleep (“Doctor Dolittle,” “The Wonderful Adventures of Nils”). But above all we learn about their adventures, experiments and mischief.

My father moves from one project to the next. For a few months he’s engaged in building a so-called magic lantern with which he can project pictures and movies. Amid a devastating shortage of materials – at a time when boots are shared, sugar has to be “swiped” and there’s only one egg for a campfire – he gets hold of a tin box, a magnifying glass, a light bulb and a piece of celluloid, draws and paints and creates his own individual frames, and rehearses and plans impatiently to show the transparencies at the birthday party of one of the children. On the evening of said party, the light bulb breaks. I can only imagine the disappointment and I’m not surprised that it’s not described in the diary. I discern in the boy growing up a person who keeps his personal pain to himself, avoids other people’s company, but never despairs and sticks relentlessly to his plans even when failure is recurrent. So, even back then, not yet 13 years old, he would persist, and in the weeks that follow builds an improved magic lantern.

Subsequently he decides to build a hotplate. For that he needs electric cables, and nothing stands in his way to obtain them. “I climbed a pole, and H. and Yochai held me, and from three poles we brought down about 120 meters of excellent cable… I, Yochai, H. and S. started to dig for cables next to the barn, in the garden, and with a chisel we started to dig into the barn wall for them.”

“We made a trap where the chickens and the pigeons of the Arabs wander around.”

The calculated efforts of finding the right composition of materials for the homemade hotplate foreshadow the man of scientific research that he will become. In repeated efforts, thin cables replace thick cables, the copper spring whitens, a steel wire snaps, the steel plug pops out, electric panels burn out and new ones are installed. It goes without saying that these experiments with electricity – like the campfires on the mountain, the building of boats, cruising on the Kishon River and the use of saws to build wooden gliders – take place without the presence or guidance of adults. All the children survived.

• • •

“Today I was switched to a job cleaning the ping-pong room instead of A. because he has a boil.”

– Fifth grade

“Today instead of school we worked as part of the ‘giyus’ [mobilization effort] to collect tendrils in the vineyard.”

The extreme independence, the feeling of control over their environment, the bravery and the physical strength imbued kibbutz youngsters with the feeling that not only were they set apart from city dwellers, but perhaps somewhat superior.

– Seventh grade

There were very clear expectations of these young people. They received grades for how they made their beds, washed their hair and cleaned their rooms. From a young age there were specified times devoted to work – in the vegetable patch, with the animals they looked after – and, when needed, they worked “until dark.” To allow them to become familiar with different types of labor, the children switched jobs according to a set schedule. If special “mobilization” was required, they worked instead of going to school. They stuffed mattresses, stacked hay, scattered rat poison, planted and sowed in the fields.

That responsibility, at such a young age, went hand in hand with extraordinary independence. “Today we, the pupils of the seventh grade, are teaching ourselves, because we don’t have a teacher. Why? Because that’s what happened.” It turned out that a teacher from the city arrived who didn’t know the rules, and the children refused to attend his class. “No sooner did he come to the class than he started to demand respect,” Rami writes, “and he didn’t give us permission to argue with him.”

A lesson in hand-to-hand combat held as part as the military training received by kibbutz youth.Credit: The Kibbutz Yagur Archive

The adults don’t solve the problem, but give the children the freedom to decide their own fate – “to work in the garden, or to try to teach ourselves” – and they choose to teach themselves. One of them teaches arithmetic, another geography – and Rami teaches English for “the advanced.”

That’s not the first protest he describes in his diary. In fact, the first children’s revolt, or at least the first one that’s reported there, erupts already in the third grade.

“Today there was a ‘strike’ in the morning in the bedrooms. In general there is no worker now in the [children’s] house, and the children clean it up by themselves, as much as they can. There is only one worker in the dining room. This situation has been going on for a long time and there is still no worker in the house. This morning they decided not to get up until a worker comes to wake us.”

In the eighth grade my father and his friends are assigned to guard and do surveillance – to discover who’s roaming around next to the classrooms at night and relieving himself there. The kids take the assignment with complete seriousness. “At first, I guarded with L. and A., and at 2:30 we woke up Yochai and H., who were sleeping on the floor, which they had padded with coats.” At 4 in the morning they solve the mystery. “H. shined a flashlight,” Rami writes. “We saw a figure sitting, with bare backside, relieving herself. Both sides were stunned.” The woman fled as fast as she could, he adds, “gliding on the wings of fear.” Even in this situation, my father did not mock the woman in any way. On the contrary, he is empathetic to her situation as a kitchen worker who gets up early and doesn’t manage to get to the distant, shared toilet.

The youths knew what was expected of them. Early in eighth grade (1945), even before he had turned 14, a farewell party was held for a training group that had been housed on Yagur, which was actually a company of the Palmach (pre-state militia) in disguise. My father’s class is let in on the secret of the practical organization underway ahead of the struggle to found the country.

Henceforth the diary features reports about “training” that prepares Rami and his buddies to become part of the fighting force. They learn signaling and Morse code, train in face-to-face fighting and embark on foot patrols. These are not the nature hikes they went on when they were younger, but patrols whose purpose was to get experience in military missions. “Today we had training,” Rami writes on one occasion. “There were order drills and afterward we went in two groups and marked off sections on the kibbutz.”

Along the way, my father writes about the initial steps in the creation of the carrier-pigeon dovecote on Yagur. The pigeons that he and his friends obtained in different ways for their dovecote joined it in the service of the Haganah and the Palmach. It was from it and others like it that author Meir Shalev’s novel “A Pigeon and a Boy” would later spring.

• • •

"Wednesday, Yom Kippur. This weeks shots were fired on the kibbutz, so I haven't written in the diary."

“Today we turned 14. There are 15,000 army and police around [Kibbutz] Shefayim. Tanks broke into [Kibbutz] Givat Haim and wounded two people seriously. The people in Shefayim were locked in with barbed wire… By evening – five killed.”

“Today we had our hair cut. We went on sawing the glider. Yesterday Haganah people blew up two police stations.”

“Today we’ll see the movie ‘Nina and Sabrina.’ Yesterday all the main train lines in the country were blown up, to interfere with the Arabs’ demonstration on November 2 [the anniversary of the Balfour Declaration].”

– Eighth grade

As he matures, and while he and his peers undergo training, Rami starts to report increasingly on current events as well. His writing shows that he is aware not only of historical occurrences (“Today the newspaper announced that America agreed to the partition of the country”), but also of clandestine activities and decisions being made on the kibbutz. He describes the updates broadcast on the “secret radio [station] of our movement of rebellion” and relates that the Yagur members’ assembly decided how to behave in one instance vis-a-vis the British Police (“If they open fire – we will respond”). He also describes straightforwardly a kangaroo court-martial that the members of the kibbutz held for a person suspected of being a traitor:

“When the olim came to the kibbutz, a spy was found among them. He was together with the refugees… He was beaten brutally and then locked in a room that was guarded. In another few days he will very likely be taken,” he writes. “He was apparently sent by the [British] police in return for a bribe.”

My father was born and grew up in a generation that prepared itself for great events and to perform deeds that demanded physical stamina and mental toughness. Reality and education were enveloped by values and social rites that took place on a daily basis, in various occasions, in happiness and in mourning. The diary entries don’t differentiate between routine times and celebratory ones, between the general and the personal. Rami writes about a downpour, new sandals, a great hike and a fun party in the dining hall, and in the same breath reports on a fire that totally destroyed a building on the kibbutz, apparently because explosives had been hidden in it, on the release of a friend from a British prison and on the suicide of another friend: “Yesterday was the bar-mitzvah celebration of 8 children from the seventh grade. The movie was very good. This morning a tragedy happened: H.S., a member of the kibbutz, committed suicide in the Notrim [Jewish police force] station. He shot himself twice with a rifle, in the chest and the head. The reasons are not known.”

In some cases he uses the word “disaster” for a serious event, but Rami’s style and fluent, uniform tone are maintained within a mixture of reporting that includes the bad, the good, the predictable and the unexpected. Death and disasters are another thing that happens in life, and they continue, they don’t stop. There was the summer camp, for example, that went on even after the brother of one of the participants drowned. The children attend the funeral and return to camp the next day. Similarly with the May Day demonstration, which they don’t forgo, not even after a road accident on the way to the event in which dozens of kibbutz members are injured.

Rami's diaries.Credit: Hadash Parush

One day the youngsters witness a disaster: a Palmach woman who is involved in military training on a zip-line [“omega” in Hebrew] crashes from a great height and is critically injured. My father describes in detail her many bodily injuries and then immediately goes on to relate how on that same day in the afternoon the children – 13 years old – slide down their own omega. “We had a thicker rope, and a good one, and there were hardly any accidents, in contrast to the descent this morning,” he sums up.

• • •

“Today we’re not showering.” “Today we wash our hair.” “Today we had a haircut.” “Today we’re learning.”

– Seventh grade

My father’s diary is personal, but is reported mainly in the first-person plural: We went, we saw, we hiked, we learned – and of course: we built, we worked, we plowed. “We” can be the whole kibbutz “children’s society” and sometimes only the children in my father’s class, the fifth graduating class of young people born on Yagur. The collective “we” has an opinion which must of course be taken into account (“On Monday I need to go to Haifa for my cousin’s birthday. It’s not pleasant for me to go time after time, the other children will also be angry for sure, but what can I do”).

Within this society, in which sharing is a supreme value, there is just one thing to which Rami attaches the word “mine” – his dog, Kushit. Rami chooses Kushit (“Blackie”) as a puppy, and before bringing her home, builds her a doghouse. When she gets bigger, he trains her to swim in the river and climb the mountain, and he’s proud of her when she excels in doing tricks among the other dogs in the pond.

For an entire year, Kushit is a major protagonist in the exploits penned in the diary. Rami is attached to her: He gets her rare meat treats, and when he can’t fall asleep he romps with her outside until midnight. Kushit is attached to him, too: She runs alongside when he rides a donkey and runs after him when a wagon takes him to work in the field. Toward summer, when the kibbutz conducts a campaign to eliminate stray dogs (“They killed Itzi, Bira, Rex, Aza and Negbi. They shot them and then threw them into the Kishon”), Rami manages to procure a fence to protect her, and they spend the whole summer and fall together.

But then, in mid-October of 1945, there is one day on which Rami doesn’t write in his diary. Skipping a day is a rare event and almost always has an explanation – such as the time he received “a hard blow on my right hand, and I had to wear a splint,” or the time in first grade when he explains simply that he didn’t write that week because “there was shooting at the kibbutz.”

The kids work at Kibbutz Yagur's vineyard. Credit: The Kibbutz Yagur Archive

The diary entry the next day tells the whole story. “This morning I went to the big pond and bathed in it. Yesterday they killed Kushit.”

I try to guess how he learned about the killing. Did he know about it in advance and have the opportunity to part from her, or was he told after the fact? Did he see the killing? I know that he could have conjured it in his imagination. Two days earlier he described how a kibbutz member shot Bili, his friend’s dog, after she lay in her death throes for hours. “Afterward they went and cut off her head,” he noted, to see whether she was rabid. Two days later Rami tries to reassure himself that Kushit’s death was not his fault – she was shot because “there was apparently a suspicion of rabies. Maybe they announced that before they killed her, I don’t know.” Never again does he mention her.

Putting Kushit down was apparently unavoidable. But the heartbreak that emerges between these written lines sheds light on the insensitivity of Rami’s surroundings to his deep pain – a boy who was attached to his dog, who felt that in a world where sharing was absolute there was just one thing that was his alone.

The diary entries don’t differentiate between routine times and celebratory ones. Rami writes about a downpour, new sandals, a great hike and a fun party in the dining hall, and in the same breath reports on a fire that destroyed a building and on a friend's suicide.

• • •

“Today I shaved for the first time. Dad helped me, of course.”

– Seventh grade

The adult members of Yagur, most of whom had come as young immigrants from Eastern Europe, looked upon their children and their wards with admiration: a new breed of Jew, a bold and daring Hebrew person. This new generation grew up and became those who fought Israel’s wars and built the country. It’s not by chance that the kibbutzniks of my father’s generation held key positions in politics, culture, industry and science.

My father was a bold and resilient kibbutz member all his life, but the tough education he had didn’t erode his special attentiveness to human beings and didn’t blunt his feelings toward injustice. His writings reveal that he was like that already as a child, and an adolescent, thanks largely to his father, a gentle nonconformist, and his mother, a sharp-witted intellectual whose skills didn’t coincide with the needs of the kibbutz in that period. Both his parents were different in many ways from their social milieu. Both of them, as well as Rami’s two siblings, are mentioned in his diaries far fewer times than his classmates and teachers, as is to be expected in a kibbutz children’s society that exists separately from that of the adults.

Children on Kibbutz Yagur cleaning their living quarters.Credit: The Kibbutz Yagur Archive

But it’s only when he records the deeds of father Leib, mother Ruhama, brother Gadi and sister Bilha that warmth, affection and softness surface – feelings that are rare in the landscape of the collective kibbutz system of education. There was forgiveness in this family cell, you were allowed to yield to others, to be forgetful and become confused, and it was acceptable, too, to like those who were on the margins.

It’s clear from the diaries that Rami took his younger brother under his wing and took him along to hikes and campfires with his friends. “This morning I went to the mountain with Gadi,” he writes about the 6-year-old boy who would become deputy commander of the Paratroops’ reconnaissance unit and a senior professor in the University of Haifa mathematics department. “I walked quite a long way with him and he walked very well.” When their parents were not around, he took their place looking after him, read him a bedtime story and put him to sleep in the house for the younger children. Afterward, Gadi did the same for their sister.

“Mazal tov!!! Today my sister was born!” Rami writes about the birth of Bilha, when he was 11, whom he describes as looking “like a little doll.”

A particularly intimate relationship with his father is discernible between the lines. “Today Dad and I went to Mishmar Hayam,” Rami writes on one occasion. “There was a party there for Russia in honor of the victory at Stalingrad. There were readings, and songs were sung. Dad and I walked along the seashore and saw the sunset. It is a beauty that is indescribable. How the sun sets in the sea and everything is pink all around it.”

I remember the day, nearly 20 years ago, my father came to my apartment in Tel Aviv in order to pull me out of a deep funk. He persuaded me to go outside and we walked to the sea and along the shore. At the rocky area in the southern part of the boardwalk we noticed a white bird close to the waterline. It flew, dived into the water and disappeared for a few seconds, emerged and dived, over and over. Dad stopped, looked at his watch and started to time the bird. How much time elapsed between dives, how long under the water. After a few dives a record was set: 49 seconds. “A long time for such a small bird,” he said, using the wrong gender in order to make me laugh, and went on observing it. Another time, twice, three times, and here it is, flying with something fluttering gripped in its beak. Later he said to me, “You see, Maika. Once and then again and again – and success. Never stop trying.”

That was my father. Swimming persistently – against the current, too – certain that with time the world will be persuaded of your views. I think I inherited that quality from him. Even when things are bitter and hard, you don’t let go of the mission.

• • •

My parents fell in love in the 1950s when they shared a communal apartment of the Noar Ha’Oved (Working Youth) movement in Holon. In a white dress adorned with flowers she herself embroidered, under the chuppah at a ceremony that her parents arrived at by bus, a daughter of the city’s Borochov neighborhood from the Mapai party aristocracy married a son of the fifth graduating class of Yagur, a fighter in Shayetet 13, the navy commandos, Rami Valter. The young couple made their home in the kibbutz.

In the early 1960s my parents left Yagur with my two older sisters and were accepted as members of Ga’ash, a young kibbutz north of Tel Aviv. My brother, the then-youngest child of the family, who remained on Yagur, went on to become the dean of the computer science faculty at the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa: Prof. Shlomo Moran. He’s a member of Yagur to this day, as is his son, Dr. Shay Moran, also at the Technion, who lives there with his family. On Kibbutz Ga’ash my third sister and I were born – I’m the youngest. During their years of kibbutz life my parents taught various subjects and also served as teachers in the kibbutz school. My father was a teacher of the natural sciences and my mother taught the humanities. In parallel my mother developed a career as an archivist. For 20 years she was the director of the Kibbutz Ha’artzi-Hashomer Hatzair Archive; she then established the personal archive of Chaim Herzog, Israel’s sixth president, and was its curator for 12 years. My father got his doctorate in botany and worked as a researcher at Tel Aviv University.

On that walk we took along the seashore, opposite the small bay and the abandoned Dolphinarium building, which still stood there, kite surfers rode the wind and frolicked in the sea. My father stopped by the bay, watched them soaring upward and plunging into the water, and then sighed and said to me, “Well, maybe that’s something I won’t get around to doing in this incarnation.” He was 74, and that was the only time I heard him hesitate about his physical capabilities.

All his life he relied on his physical strength, and he took it to an extreme, far beyond most people his age. At 55 he began skiing (and broke a leg), at 65 he took up paragliding without a motor (and broke his shoulder), at 70 he learned how to ride a unicycle, and at 75 he was the instructor of the Ga’ash surfing group, which he’d founded 20 years earlier. During the summer, until his last day, he would descend the Ga’ash cliffs to the shoreline, enter the water and swim far out until he could see the kibbutz water tower in its full height behind the limestone hills – his sign that it was time to go back.

My father’s physical confidence was what finally killed him. His death, in 2007, was a surprise. Handsome, erect, healthy, with the bodily strength of a 40-year-old, as the doctors told us. He passed away at the age of 76 after a bicycle ride in the precipitous Judean Hills, on which he set out with a fever; he died of dehydration when he returned.

The final entry in his childhood diary is from the summer of 1946, where he reports on his grade for the final exam in history. Rami regrets that he was asked about the ancient era, whereas he had prepared mainly for the French Revolution. The diary ends with the words, “I got a grade of ‘very good.’”

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