'The Kibbutz Almost Threw Me Out for Insisting Kids Should Eat Dinner With Their Parents'

A mechanical engineer who is working on a humongous groundbreaking printer talks about his 'Zionist' project; a retired teacher explains how she revolutionized her kibbutz

Liat Elkayam
Liat Elkayam
Liat Elkayam
Liat Elkayam

David Veil, 42, from Kfar Sava; flying to Vienna

Hello, can I ask what you’ll be doing in Austria?

It’s a business trip. I work for HP. We are developing an industrial printing machine, and this is the first client who’s getting the first machine to print with.

Sounds exciting.

It’s an insane story, combined with some anxiety. It’s new to the market, and it prints on carton. For example, boxes of Coca-Cola and of corrugated carton. It’s meant to replace the analog machines.

An analog machine in a digital world?

The analog method is still used for printing on carton. The same machines have been in use for more than a hundred years. They have boards with cutouts of what needs to be printed, the carton passes underneath, and the plate imprints the color on it. It’s old technology, but super stable, and it works. To this day, no technology has been invented that will enable digital printing, which is a lot more convenient. That may sound off the wall, because our home printers have been doing it for years, but the print market of corrugated carton is still analog. It’s a huge market, so the challenge to develop a similar printer is equally huge.

But why is digital preferable?

For example, if you want to add a line or change a word, with the analog system you have to make a new plate, and with the digital system it takes a second to change things.

Why is it a problem to print digitally on cartons?

Because you have to sustain a tremendous rate – at least the analog rate, which is 1.3 meters a second.

Not something my home printer would be able to do.

The machine we’re developing is 40 meters long and costs a few million dollars. If you think of a home printer, the printer head has a great many tiny nozzles from which the ink emerges, while our machine has millions of nozzles that have to be controlled, and they print at a rate of 15,000 times a second. That’s a lot of shots of color and a lot of information, and the rate is tremendous, and the precision you have to achieve is less than a hair’s breadth. The size of each drop is six nanograms, and each nozzle is capable of shooting out color 15,000 times a second, and the media has to arrive in precise fashion. And there’s a print system and a mechanism that feeds the plates and one that channels the ink and also a coating system. Not to mention the ink that has to be developed to be suitable for the machine and the print heads, because corrugated carton undergoes tough processes of cutting, folding, pasting and sun, so the durability demands are high. It’s insane.

Sounds like it. What’s your job on the team?

I’m managing the whole project. And if I can inject a little Zionism into this story, this is an idea that’s been developed here in Israel from the concept stage. The project has been ongoing for five years and I’ve been managing it for three.

What does the project manager do?

In my opinion, the most important aspect of management is the interpersonal ability to get people moving. Development teams today are multicultural, and everyone has to communicate with everyone, and you have to understand how Americans work, how people in Barcelona work and also how the messy Israelis work.

Messy? Can’t be.

I apologize all the time because we’re like that, but it’s part of our distinctiveness. We have a can-do approach. In my opinion, that combination brings about a better product. A lot of people don’t know it, but Israel has been a world printing power since the days of Scitex, which was one of the country’s first startups. That firm gave rise to a generation of technology personnel in the printing realm, each of whom went his own way and generated a huge industry. There are four-five Israeli companies that are world leaders in the field.

How did you get into the industry?

I’m a mechanical engineer. To be a mechanical engineer you need passion, you need to want to create something out of nothing. There’s something substantial that you can hold in your hand, not just a code and a program. I remember that at some seminar about mechanical engineering, even before I knew what I wanted to study, something one of the lecturers said grabbed me: “If you’re the type of person who, as a child, loved to take things apart and put them back together, you’re in the right place.”

And you were a boy like that?

Yes, I always had bags of things that I took apart. I wrecked a very expensive camera of my father’s. To this day my parents remind me of it.

Shlomit Snir.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

Shlomit Snir, 71, from Kibbutz Nahshon; arriving from Tbilisi, Georgia

Hello, can I ask where you’re coming back from?

We were in Georgia – my son-in-law, who’s just disappeared, and me. We were on an organized tour of the Behefez Lev company [literally, “with pleasure”]. I was on another trip of theirs to China, too.

How was it?

Marvelous. We were deeply impressed, Georgia is an amazing place. Full of water, greenery and mountains. A few days of serious walking and one day in jeeps. I don’t remember the names of the places.

Can I ask what you do?

I retired three years ago. Now I teach and volunteer one day a week in school, and I’m a grandmother. I have five children and 12 grandchildren, with the 13th on the way. Some live on the kibbutz. The oldest grandchild is 18 and the youngest is 18 months.

What did you do before retiring?

I was a preschool teacher for 32 years, but when my grandchildren started preschool, I switched to managing the preschool system in the kibbutz. I didn’t want that mix: A preschool teacher is a preschool teacher and a grandmother is a grandmother.

What’s changed in 32 years?

Today there’s less – how can I put it? – less control. Back then, we were responsible for everything, for body and mind; today that responsibility has switched to the parents. But first of all, we switched from communal education and children’s houses, to living with the parents.

Did you feel comfortable with communal housing?

It didn’t bother me then. As a mother I accepted it fully, and as a teacher I gave my best, in the hope that others would do the same for my children. But in retrospect it wasn’t right. For starters, children need to be with their parents. It was thought that parents don’t know anything, but that’s not what we saw in reality. Besides that, for communal education you need a very high-quality system, and there weren’t always good professionals around. The kibbutz women worked in education, whether they were suitable or not, or wanted to or not. From that point of view, there has been a big change. The caregivers today are no longer from the kibbutz, and there are also male caregivers, which is terrific. We’ve also taken in many children from outside and see things in a different perspective. We stopped being a bubble.

When did you end communal housing?

The decision was made to stop in 1990, just before the Gulf War. But the war broke out before new children’s rooms were built in parents’ homes so everyone went to live with their parents anyway. Even before that, suppers were eaten in the parents’ house, thanks to me. I was almost thrown out of the kibbutz for that.

What did you do?

I went to the education committee and said: Enough! It’s impossible for there to be only one person in the evening to feed all the preschool kids alone. I felt, “Wow, I’m a real revolutionary.”

Do you miss the profession?

In the past, summer vacation was my most intense season. It’s a sensitive period when you have to be supportive mainly of the parents, because the preschool teachers are on vacation and parents don’t like that. Managing parents is harder than managing children. You have to show them they’re always right.

My daughter will be entering first grade in September. Do you have any advice?

You have to do preparatory work. The transition to first grade might make them feel isolated, as though people don’t see them. There are a lot of children in the class, and the parents have to be aware of what their kids are liable to go through, especially in the first month. The teacher might be scary, and there are a lot of new faces. It’s important to allow space for fear and anxiety in the face of the unknown.

But if you talk about that with the children, isn’t that by itself liable to generate anxiety?

No. Kids sense the excitement of their surroundings. You have to say that they’re allowed to be afraid. Like during a war. What do you think, that I’m not afraid in a war? You just have to know how to put yourself to the side, both as a teacher and as a parent, and let the child speak and then go on from there.

What do you recommend for summer vacation?

For there to be a daily schedule and very clear boundaries – what’s allowed, what’s not – and to be with them and initiate activities, as much as your job allows. Have defined sleeping hours and don’t wander around with them until the middle of the night. And get Grandpa and Grandma involved.

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