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Top of His Caste

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An Anthropological Novel by Monte Silver

BOOK 1 Chapter 1


“Good night, Dave, and good luck in court tomorrow."

      The words hung in the air like a dark cloud.  Slowly Dave looked up from the casebook on his lap at his boss who stood in the office doorway.  The two stared at each other but neither spoke, and in the tense silence Dave couldn’t help but wonder whether Ron's words were sincere, or whether he'd return from court only to find himself unemployed, his belongings packed in a cardboard box at the reception.

"Thanks, Ron," he replied, the false smile frozen on his face.  Ordinarily, he might have added that luck was merely a function of preparation - and God knew he was prepared - but this was no ordinary situation. "I need luck," Dave murmured.

Dave looked down at his Armani shoes and the two were silent again.

Do I deserve to be fired? Dave wondered.  True, he'd broken a promise by allowing his billable hours to drop from the very first day he’d volunteered for the case, and continue to plummet the more obsessed he’d become with it, but never had he imagined that the client would so dominate his thoughts and test his every belief.  Law-firm economics aside, it seemed unfair that his years of work could be jeopardized because he’d followed his conscience.

Had he made a mistake? No! No! No!, he repeated to himself.  To quell the turmoil raging in his mind, he drew on the only image that for months had quelled his troubling thoughts:  Ragiv sitting on the mat in the mud hut in India fighting for Untouchables.  Ragiv would have been proud of him.  Momentarily optimistic, Dave envisioned himself victorious, receiving a handsome award in attorney's fees from the judge, and returning to the firm a hero, having won against all odds.  Moreover, by enforcing his client's social contract, he'd extinguish his own lingering doubts forever.  Forever!

"It's late and I'm leaving," Ron said. "Go home.  I am sure you'll do fine."  Dave nodded solemnly, muttered goodbye, and when alone began cursing himself for not having thanked Ron for his support in case he lost.

The mere possibility of losing, as improbable as it was, made Dave shudder.  He considered the severe implications of defeat not only for his client and for concepts which he believed much greater than she, but for himself as well.  A decision would be inevitable.  Although valiantly acknowledging only one alternative - to persevere and fight on - deep down, Dave knew that his mind would devise ways to rationalize the choice he now refused to consider.  Repulsed by the mere thought of such inner weakness, he reached for the secret evidence he'd uncovered and vowed that Mr. Lancaster would fry.

Yet the document provided only seconds’ worth of reassurance as the objective black and white facts on the paper paled in comparison to the gray subjective reality which lay ahead.  Having suffered through many soul-wrenching transformations, Dave feared that a loss tomorrow might trigger the most devastating one yet, proving to him the falsity of the most fundamental axiom in which he had always believed - and had to believe - that an individual could make a difference, and thus that his life had meaning.

The fact that his client was a woman only added to the irony.

Dave worked on until late that night - reading and rereading his questions, and trying to predict Mr. Lancaster's possible responses.  At length, feeling exhausted but confident, he packed his file and locked the office.  He collapsed onto the leather seat of his Saab convertible which parked at the far end of the secured parking lot.  To drown out his thoughts, he turned the compact disc player up, and drove home, through west Los Angeles toward the ocean.

Once inside his condo, he activated his answering machine and walked over to the fridge.

"Dave, this is Jerry.  I’m crossing my fingers for you.  I need the money too.  Just kidding.  Let me know how it goes, bye." 

Devouring the remains of yesterday's take-out Caesar salad, he spotted a sole crouton inside and signed nostalgically.  Although these days he ordered the low-fat version as part of a losing battle against weight, he remembered the first time he’d tried the salad.  In so many ways, his life had begun that evening in Jerusalem, and ever since seemed to be a fulfillment of Doctor Rosenberg's prophetic words:  “a search for personal meaning”.  Yet, what meaning had he discovered? Would any meaning remain after tomorrow?

He turned on the hot water tap in the bathroom and let it run.  After hanging up his suit, he took a long shower, climbed into bed, set the digital alarm clock to the classical music station, and at once fell asleep.


Chapter 2



David silenced the deafening alarm and sat up in the dark, excited and alert.  Tuesday, how he waited for Tuesday, the one weekday when the grade-eleven students got to remain on the kibbutz to work, rather than attend the regional high school and waste countless hours supposedly learning.  Inhaling robustly, David distinguished the scents of cow-dung, chicken-manure and dew, aromas he believed superior to those stupid perfumes which his mother and sister saw advertised in the newspapers, but which neither he nor them had ever actually smelled.

David switched on the lamp and gazed at the photograph of himself standing on the rugged terrain among the avocado saplings which hung beside the dusty study desk.  What a glorious summer vacation it has been, waking up long before the other crew members to work a few hours in the darkness before the sun converted the valley into an inferno almost too hot for even him to bear.  Crawling on hands and knees over stones and thorns, he spend days struggling to yank rocks from the virgin soil to prepare the land.  Fingers cut, Blood dripping from his hands, David refused to wear gloves, and despite the scorching sun, he won’t stop – except perhaps to reach for the cooler and sip lukewarm water.

Then, trailing behind the tractor and wagon, he’d load the rocks he’d gathered.  One by one.  Ton by ton.  He’d begin the day dashing from pile to pile, and end it stumbling about like a cripple, collapsing into bed in his filthy clothes, only to wake up the following morning and start again.  Content.  Hoe in hand, David would then attack the earth like the paratrooper he dreamed he’d be, wincing as his blistered hands tightened just as the blade struck the ground.  After burying the irrigation pipes and digging hundreds of holes, one for each tree, he pounded the support stakes into the ground; but often, he’d hit the stakes on the edge  and the sledge hammer would come down and catch him on the ankle.

But he never stopped, for when he opened the pipelines and watched the water drip, drip, drip into the earth and breathe life into the young saplings, words could express the feeling of godliness which possessed him knowing he’d created life, life which would outlast him, maybe even last forever.  David loved the land and tedious Zionism lessons only kept him from it.  He was a part of the land, and the land was a part of him.  He could never live without it, and swore he never would.  

"Tick-tock, tick- tock, tick-tock."  The wind-up clock on the stool was considered inferior to the digital clocks which were becoming more numerous among the students despite David's campaign to ban the damn things.  People didn’t understand that the old clunkers were not merely timekeepers, but a covenant to live according to the two values that he deemed absolute: equality and self-sacrifice. True, some considered the matter trivial, others thought it juvenile.  Not David, who cherished arguing his values with the young and old alike, passionate arguments which often ended in harsh accusations and made him several enemies.

For David, there was right and there was wrong.  Standard items like his clock, provided free by the kibbutz, were the only legitimate property, while luxury items served an admission of access to forbidden private funds.  It was a case of black and white.  No compromise.  Today the wealthier members would allow themselves digital clocks, tomorrow they’d get video recorders.  Where would it end? Private automobiles?

Of course, the new clocks were quieter.  Some nights David  lay awake unable to fall asleep, the ticking pounding inside his skull like Chinese torture, but he had no choice.  Living in a small community where privacy did not exist, gossip was the currency which everyone held in abundance.  The most minute deviation would spell instant ruin to David’s hard-earned reputation, and as high school assembly chairman and leader of the ideology squad, he could demand from others only that which he demanded from himself.

David looked across the room at Michael who lay fast asleep on the army-green mattress. A glow from the standard heater reflected off his roommate’s sheets.  David's eye twitched, as  what he saw outraged, but didn’t surprise him.  Two coils were working.

"Wake up!" David barked.

Michael didn’t budge.

"Get up you lazy bum."

"What time is it?"

"Five after five, and I’m not leaving until you're out of bed."

A hand with a rainbow colored bracelet around the wrist emerged from under the covers and reached for the digital clock.  "Are you crazy? I start milking at six.  Let me sleep."

“I know when the morning milking begins,” snapped David, “but that’s not the point.  You're always late.  Go to bed earlier."

Michael propped himself up on an elbow, his ponytail dangled down on a shoulder.  "D...d ...drop dead, " he said shivering.  "No one cares if I begin a few minutes late."

"Where were you last night?" David asked, then quickly added:  "At the volunteers' club?" 

Volunteers – youth people from around the world – visited kibbutz to experience its unique lifestyle.  In exchange for work they received free room and board, plus all the condoms and beer they required.  Although in David’s mind they did not contribute according to their ability, their needs were remarkable.  Their club was a decrepit shack, and Kibbutz men, regardless of marital status, buzzed around it like bees to honey, especially when a fresh shipment of Swedes arrived.  If relatively few divorcees took their first steps on the dance floor, it wasn’t for lack of cause, but for lack of better alternative.

Of course, David had never set foot inside it and vowed he never would, so fierce was his hatred of the volunteers.  However, a week after the great scandal, he and his best friend Ben had come close.  Persuading Ben to take revenge, the two of them hid in the bushes meters from the shack; they were armed with matches and gasoline. 

"Burn it," David had urged, "the prostitute deserves it. "

An English volunteer had infected Ben’s father and several other men with a disease causing them to walk about months scratching their crotch.  Although usually obedient, Ben chickened out, but David, refusing to accept defeat, passed a resolution banning students from entering the club until age 18.  Action had to be taken.   The volunteers were affecting him as well: often, when he lay in bed, fantasies of pretty blondes filled his mind.  It had to be stopped. 

"Where were you?"  David persisted.

 Michael smiled.  "You would  like to know, wouldn't you?"

David shuddered, fearing that his worst nightmare had come true.  He turned toward Michael, placing his feet on the floor, next to, but not on to the straw mat  – a matter of principle.  His legs trembled from the cold.  “Why did you leave both coils on?"

 "Because it's cold.  Besides, this isn’t the army and you’re not my commanding officer, so why must I account to you?”

"The high school assembly passed my one coil proposal, that’s way."

“Who cares about your dumb resolutions?”  Michael replied.  “The only reason you were elected chairman is because everyone else considered the position a headache.”

“I was elected me because of my ideals; the fact is I’ve convened twice as many meetings as ever before and attendance has never been higher.”

“That’s because everyone’s afraid you’re going to ban breathing.”

“But why did you leave two coils on?  The frost has damaged the avocado crop and  everybody’s tightening their belts and sacrificing for the common good.  But you don't care, do you? You don't give a damn about anyone but yourself."

"I do care,” Michael said, his golden earring shining, “only not for the meaningless resolutions you pass.  Vote on records for the disco like they used to, and I might even come to one.  One coil policy , ha!  What a joke; even the members wouldn’t propose such a dumb idea."

      "That's the point.  The adults are weak and contaminated by comfort.  It's the students who must lead the revolution."  Though lecturing to a blanket, he carried on, reminding Michael of last year’s harvest when David’s idol, Sasha, had posted a plea on the bulletin-board begging members to sacrifice their one day weekend to help salvage the avocado crop before it turned black on the branches, rotted, and fell to the ground to be devoured by rodents.  Beside David and his comrades, only two people showed up.

Michael rolled over.  "Not everybody goes to bed at 10:00 p.m. on Friday nights, “ he murmured.  “Now shut up and let me sleep." 

David replied that except for the sing-a-longs which he, his parents, and his friends attended religiously, he saw no point in staying up late on weekends.  

Michael's self destruction had begun in grade 9 with the girlish hair band, but when he shaved off his hair leaving only a braid, and started buying cigarettes in the grocery, David took action and got permission from Joel, the high school coordinator, to room with Michael.  A year later, however, Michael seemed like a lost soul, a fact which occasionally saddened David, as the two, along with the other ten in their grade, had been like siblings since being separated from their parents and transferred to the communal quarters at birth. 

      Rising from his bed, David tiptoed to the door and unplugged the heater. 

The hallway was freezing. Scampering past Ben and Gabi's room into the common bathroom, his windpipes contracted and he could barely breath.  The bathroom was no bigger than a broom closet and had mildew on the walls and cobwebs in the window.  He cautiously opened the cold-water knob and jumped under the modest drizzle. "Aaaahhhh!".

Without checking the I.D. labels, he dried himself using the nearest of the four towels on the rack, then peered into the blemished mirror.  His soldier-short hair required no attention, nor could it receive any as he didn't own a comb.  His upper torso was firm, not muscular, but his thighs were like steel, on account of the rigorous pre-army training he and Ben had commenced two years ago.  His hands were no longer rough and blistered like they had been last summer, but pale and soft like an urbanite’s.  "I hate school!" he hissed.

      On the floor outside his room, David noticed a cotton-seed which hadn’t been there last night and knew it meant only one thing: Michael had been smooching with someone in the cotton-seed pile.  With who?  His eye twitched as he envisioned Michael and Tammy desecrating the place he himself dreamed of taking her, even though he lacked the courage to sit beside her at the Thursday night movies.  David stormed into the room and unplugged the heater again. "Goddamnit, get up!"

Michael sat up abruptly.  "Plug it back in."

"Make me."

"Don’t tempt me or I swear I'll dump a bucket of manure in your bed again," said Michael, a threat he’d carried out last year after David hid and refused to return his records.  "Freeze your balls off preparing for the army," Michael added.  "Just leave me alone."

David opened the left door of the dresser and shuffled through his wardrobe: work underwear, short work pants, short sleeved work shirts, and gray wool socks.  A pair of jeans and a set of long work clothes hung on a hanger, but were seldom worn. "What’s wrong with getting ready for the military?  Are you too scared to enlist in a combat unit?"

      "Spare me your machoism, okay? I'll be a fighter and even pop an Arab if I have to, but I want to enjoy life while I can.  You can hide behind your stupid values all you want; we both know you need them to conceal your insecurities."

      "Insecurities?" shouted David. "What are you talking about?  Everyone knows that my values are important and hold this place together."

      "Yeah, right,”  Michael snickered.  “Run yourself into the ground for all I care,” he smirked: “I get my exercise in other ways."

David's eye twitched, and he quickly he stepped outside into the darkness.


The chirp of crickets pulsated through the air, hyenas howled in the foothills, and chickens and cows were heard in the distance.  There was a shriek of squabbling cats and a garbage can crashed to the ground.  The magical sounds and smells of nature enveloped him and within moments he was calm. 

The boots he put on were coated with mud.  Besides them, he owned a pair of runners and sandals, but usually walked about barefoot; the skin on the soles of his feet was so thick he could extinguish cigarettes on his heel.

Headlights pierce the darkness.  The night watchman was making his final rounds and David sprinted up the hill, past the club house, and stopped next to the passenger window.   Avi, the gardener, sat inside smoking a cigarette.  Over the years, Avi had transformed the kibbutz from a barren hillside to a Garden of Eden.  From almond trees along the main road, to the 'Fruits of the Bible' garden adjacent to the swimming pool, there wasn't a corner he hadn't touched.

"Why are you up so early?” Avi asked.  “Don't you start work at six?"

 David reached for the Uzi submachine gun inside and instinctively began dismantling it.  “The wagon is always a mess and unless I arrange it, no one will.”

"Who’s Michael seeing these days?"

David froze.  "Why?"

"I spotted him near the cotton pile a few hours ago, but before I could see whom he was with, the two of them jumped into the bushes."

David dropped the gun barrel.  "Was she a volunteer?"

"I don't think so.  She wore work clothes."

Under his breath, David cursed Michael.  Surely fate wouldn't be so cruel to make the one girl he secretly adored fall for a hypocrite who lured his victims by quoting lines from "The Little Prince,” a stupid children’s story.  David tightened his grip on the Uzi as the image of Tammy in a bikini sprawling on the grass by the pool returned to haunt him as is had all last summer.  As he pounded stakes into the ground, lewd thoughts had possessed his mind, and he’d been unable to stop desiring her for a single instant.  Afraid Avi was able to read his thoughts, he quickly assembled the gun and dashed toward the parking lot.

Across from the elementary school quarters lay a deflated basketball.   Now, he could pick it up and dunk it in the miniature basket by merely extending an arm, but for years, pretending to be like those Negro giants he'd seen on T.V., he’d charge the rim, failing time and again.  Today, however, David didn’t feel like dunking it, but rather kicked the ball into the bushes.

He reached the parking lot and went over to the avocado crew's tractor and wagon. The first rays of morning light pierced the clouds over the plateau to the east, beyond which Jerusalem lay.  The valley at the base of the kibbutz was dark, but the foothills were distinguishable as the sky was a shade lighter.  David took in the peace and quiet, wondering why people so irritated him while nature gave him such happiness.  If this is what awaited him in life, he thought, why not grab a sleeping bag and some vegetable seeds, move to the hills and become a hermit?  Who needed idiots like Michael?

He removed a flashlight from the tool-box, then checked the tractor for liquids, a daily inspection most kibbutz members didn’t perform, despite that last year alone, a tractor and new car had been destroyed after being driven without oil.  David’s hopes that the members had learned a lesson were dashed by the cotton-picking machine scandal.

A neighboring kibbutz had contracted to rent the machine to harvest its cotton.  Ben’s mother's first husband who was picked to deliver the vehicle drove through the parking lot past the cheering crowd.  Minutes later, a deafening sound echoed from below.  People ran down the hill and in the riverbed below saw the black wheels of the big red machine spinning in the air.  The driver who was found lying in the bushes just meters before the cliff was at first thought dead -  a fate he might have preferred once the mechanics determined the cause of the accident.  Not only was the radiator dry, but he'd drove up from the garage through the parking lot and down the hill without bothering to look at the gauges.  The monetary settlement had cost the kibbutz a fortune, and the identity of the person who chopped down the driver’s apple tree remained a mystery to this day.

The incident had persuaded David’s father Yehezkel, who everyone called Izzy, that the reformers were right, that a drastic change was necessary, and that unless incentives and bonuses were introduced, the kibbutz would collapse.  The term “incentive” confused David, but Izzy explained that it simply meant that ideals alone were insufficient to encourage people to work hard, a concept David refused to accept.  If he could come to work an hour early, everyone could. 

David jumped onto the wagon and stacked the harvesting buckets, sorted out the sprinklers and put the coffee gear in the corner.  Looking into the cardboard box, he counted eight red clippers. "Where are the others?" he hissed. 

David looked at his watch and turned on the radio. "Beep! Beep! Beep! Beep! Beep! Beep! Beep!.  "Good morning, this is the Voice of Israel.  The time is six a.m., March third, nineteen eighty one, and here is the news read by Dan Caspi.  In an ambush along the Lebanese border, Israeli forces eliminated two terrorists attempting to infiltrate.  Our soldiers suffered no casualties."

David heard boots dragging, but continued to work, pretending he hadn’t heard a thing. 

"Good morning," Naomi grunted. 

David glanced up and nodded.  Naomi’s tangled hair had streaks of gray, and the skin on her face and neck was wrinkled and rough. She looked about seventy, thirty years older than she actually was, and her stained jacket and creased clothes did little to add to her appeal.  Naomi, was once married to Joel, the high school coordinator, until she discovered that he was the father of her best friend's child - whom he subsequently married, and divorced.

At 6:07 a.m., David spotted three volunteers appear, two of whom he recognized, though not by name: one was a Jewish guy from a place called Boston who kept talking about Harvard, some university he’d graduated from; and the other was a Frenchman who David had already reprimanded twice after catching him taking cigarette breaks.  An attractive girl wearing an yellow jacket walked between them. 

David pointed to his watch.  "You’re eight minutes late," he said in English.

"Shit, I forget it's Tuesday," said the Frenchmen, giving David the finger.  "I hate Tuesdays!" 

David smiled, pleased that he’d upset the volunteer, then seated himself on one of the two plastic chairs welded to the front of the wagon. 

"He's like little boy, spying on us like our teacher," said the Frenchman.

"I spoke to him once; he's okay,” said the American.  “In fact, he was born in the U.S. while his father was there as the factory Marketing Director.  Have you ever been to America, Jacqueline?"

"No," said the girl.

"You should go."

"Too expensive for me."

"You wouldn't need any money - you could stay with me.  We’d drive from coast to coast; I have college friends all over.  America’s beautiful."

"Beautiful, hah!," laughed the Frenchmen: "There's nothing to see there but McDonald restaurants and Disneyland.  Come to Paris: now that’s romantic."

"Thank you," the girl said sweetly, "but right now I'm happy here - especially since I’m through working in the coups."

"What's it like working there?" asked the American.

"It's horrible," she said: "They made me collect eggs all alone surrounded by  thousands of chickens.  From the moment I went in, the males…what are they called?


"Yes, the roosters charged at me and rammed into my legs.  I was too scared to work because each time it happened, I thought I was being attacked by a lion of something.  Finally, I adjusted, but yesterday, as I was bending to tie my shoe lace, I noticed something move in the sawdust on the floor.   I stepped back and suddenly a snake slithered out.  I froze.  The moment it disappeared, I dropped my tray of eggs and ran out screaming.  I told the volunteer coordinator that he could kick me off the kibbutz if he wanted to, but I wouldn’t go back there."

The Frenchman sighed empathetically and hugged her.  "Don't worry; I'll protect you."

The American frowned.  "It’s unfair that volunteers, even the veterans, get nothing but the shitty jobs and are treated like menial laborers."

David chuckled silently.  To him, volunteers were inferior and received the treatment they deserved. 

"Why do you think it’s unfair?" Jacqueline asked.

"It's anti-socialist.  Marx preached equality, so you'd expect the kibbutz either not to employ us or to treat us better," replied the American, snuggling closer to her.

"That makes no sense," said the Frenchman: "Why give us the good jobs?"

"Sense or not, that's their ideology.  I guess theories are one thing, reality another, and that people pick their theories based on needs, then they rationalize.”

"Shhh," Jacqueline muttered, leaning toward the Frenchman, "it's too cold for this kind of talk."

"Yes, yes, you’re right" the Frenchman concurred.

I agree, David thought.  Although he hadn’t understood what the American had said, he hated people who talked about things of which they knew nothing.

"What are we waiting for?" asked Jacqueline.

Sasha, the head of the avocado crew, arrived at 6:15.  He looked rugged, as David pictured he himself would be in thirty years: leather-like sun-burnt skin, muscular thighs, and fingers that could bend nails.  He walked like a farmer: knees bent slightly forward and body close to the ground. "Sorry I'm late."

"Officers are delayed, never late," David replied, repeating the army slogan, certain that Sasha had been attending to urgent avocado business.   David wiped the dew off the second chair and gestured for Sasha to sit beside him.

Sasha was the leader of the hard-line faction and favored transferring non-standard private property to the kibbutz.  He considered the economic crisis nonsense and called the reformers “traitors”, “snakes-in-the-grass whose heads should be chopped off”, a solution he’d advocated during particularly hostile general assemblies.  Sasha had a ferocious temper and it was best to keep away when he got angry.  Some years ago, just prior to the harvest season, he’d punched the dairy storage tank and broken his wrist after observing a child pour a glass of milk down the drain.

Naomi climbed into the driver's seat.

"Don't worry about checking the oil because I already have," David said, glancing at Sasha.  Naomi backed the tractor into the lot and drove down the hill, past the bomb shelter,  laundromat and garage, into the misty valley.

"Michael told me he doesn't want to enlist in a combat unit," David said.

Sasha said nothing.

 “At our meeting tonight, we’ll discuss a resolution banning stereos and tape-recorders: what do you think we should decide?”  But Sasha blew into his hands and sat on them.  Dejected, David slumped into the seat; he also blew into his hands and sat on them.

They drove along the dirt road through the orchard, the fog tingling in David’s throat.

"Who are they?" Jacqueline asked.

David turned around and saw she was pointing to three scrawny Arabs squatting in the weeds by the path dressed in white robes and baggy pants. "They look like big mushrooms," she said.

"They’re Arabs,” said the Frenchman.  “The kibbutz hires them for the harvest.”

"Arabs working for Israelis? Aren’t  they enemies?"

"They are," commented the American, "but one side needs work and the other needs cheap labor.  It’s all economics.  Need supersedes everything, even politics."

“That’s the problem with you Americans,” sneered the Frenchman, pulling Jacqueline closer, “everything’s money, money, money.”

“Enough you two,” snapped Jacqueline.   “I’ve never seen the Arabs on the kibbutz before.  Where do they stay?”

"In an unheated shack somewhere down here,” the American said.  “I don’t think they’re allowed up there."

"Poor devils, they must freeze," she said.

Sasha turned to David “Is she stupid?” he said in Hebrew, sneering. “Everyone knows that Arabs have it great here.”

“But why hire them at all?” asked David.  “My grandpa says that they never used Arabs or volunteers in the days of the pioneers.”

Sasha sighed nostalgically.  “Back then, people had ideology and  a sense of mission, but those days are gone.  I have no choice because I can’t depend on the members to do the work.”

Naomi turned the tractor onto a path between two sections of trees and parked.  Sasha handed the volunteers and Arabs buckets and clippers, then led them to several rows on the right; the kibbutzniks entered the rows on the left.  Between the trees it was cold and dark, and as David walked, drops of dew fell from the leafs above, trickling down his neck. The dry leafs underfoot crunched as he stepped on them, and every few paces, he felt a hard elliptical object beneath his boot and cursed: a year's work had been for naught.  Sasha stopped at a tree, David at the next one.  David circled around it to find a spot to slip inside without getting drenched, found an opening, and glided in with skillful movements of hand and torso.  The branches embraced and caressed him from all sides.  Despite the cold, David felt warm, like a baby in a womb.

Too dark to see the fruit, David ran his hand up and down the branches, stopping when something hard clunked against his arm. Gingerly holding the fruit in his fingertips, he clipped it and placed it in his bucket gently.  When the bucket was full, he proceeded to the crate near the tractor and unloaded the avocados.

The sun rose over the foothills and warmed the valley. David could wait no longer and stopped opposite the tree on which Naomi’s jacket hung. "Where are the four clippers we’re missing?"

Naomi didn’t answer so he asked again.

"I don’t know; why ask me?"

David walked over to Sasha’s tree and informed him of the grave situation.

“I’m more concerned about that damn Yehuda than I am about a few clippers,” he replied.

“What did he do?” David feigned eagerness, having already analyzed the issue with Ben, as word of the stormy meeting had traveled like the wind.  But David never tired of hearing Sasha talk.

“He proposed allowing members to use private money and circumvent the waiting list for university.  The nerve of him, of all people, to even suggest the idea.”  For years, Yehuda had been Sasha’s friend and staunch supporter - until Yehuda’s Canadian uncle died leaving him a fortune: nearly twenty thousand dollars. “‘Who cares if members pay for their own education?’ Yehuda told the assembly,” said Sasha. “‘The kibbutz has everything to gain and nothing to lose;  more degrees means a better, more productive work force.’ More scholars, ha!  Just what we need.”

David shamefully bowed his head as only two older members had attended university: his father had a B.A. in literature and managed the factory; Chaim had a degree in Archeology and ran the grocery.

“I’ve thought about it,” Naomi said, moving to the next tree, “and I agree with Yehuda.  If the kibbutz can only afford to send one or two members to university each year and Yehuda’s been on the waiting list for a decade, why prevent him from studying at his own expense?”

“Why?!” shouted Sasha. “Because private funds are forbidden, that’s why.  If we grant rich members special privileges, where will it end?  What kind of society will we become?  Listening to Yehuda made me so mad I wanted to, wanted to -”.

David heard a thud, followed by a sharp shout; Sasha had apparently kicked the tree trunk and moments later came out hobbling.

  “Stop behaving like a child,” Naomi shouted. “or you’ll injure yourself and leave us short-staffed again.” 

Sasha limped over to Naomi’s tree, David close behind.  “I swear that greed lurks behind the calls for reform, and if we don’t stop people like Yehuda now, the kibbutz is finished.”

Naomi stepped into the path. “Rumors are the crisis is getting worse, and given the political situation, I’m not sure we have much choice.”

David knew Naomi was referring to the 1977 national elections, in which the pro-kibbutz labor party had been defeated for the first time since independence.  Supported by the previous government, the kibbutz movement had always been considered successful, but the moment power changed hands and the funding stopped, the kibbutzim were discovered to be on the brink of financial ruin.  Seeking repayment of the debt, the government demanded immediate reform and greater efficiency, the meaning of which David couldn’t grasp.  Some of the younger generation proposed radical changes, such as bonus allowances at the grocery store for people occupying managerial positions.

Sasha shook his head. “Those who lack ideals and require bonuses shouldn’t live here.  We need people willing to sacrifice without thinking about themselves.”

“Right,” added David.

Naomi moved ahead to the next tree. “Society’s changing and by burying our heads in the sand we’re hurting ourselves.  My nephew lived on a kibbutz near Tel Aviv.  Before the army, cotton fields and tractors were his life, but after his service he talked about self fulfillment and refused to wait ten years before being sent to university.  Within six months he left.  Our children face a different world than you did, Sasha, and unless we give them challenges, they’ll leave.

David hated such garbage.  Defeatists, that’s what they were.

Sasha went to the tractor and returned with the radio. “Beep! Beep! Beep! Beep! Beep! Beep! Beep! "Good morning.  This is the Voice of Israel, the time is seven a.m., March third, nineteen eighty one, and here is the news read by Dan Caspi.  In an ambush along the Lebanese border, Israeli forces eliminated two terrorists attempting to infiltrate.  Our soldiers suffered no casualties." 

“Those damn Arabs are nothing but trouble,” said Sasha.  “They won’t be satisfied until they toss us into the sea.”

“Not all of them,” said Naomi. “Some want to live in peace like we do.”

“You’re as naive as your father; the problem is that they’re not like us - they’re Arabs.  Didn’t you watch the T.V. show about the Palestinian Liberation Organization initiation ceremony and how they rip live chickens apart and bite into the flesh?  They’re animals, not humans.”

Naomi went on to the next tree. “That’s just propaganda; besides, our command unit does stuff like that with cats.”  Rumors were that to join the squad, one had to rip live kittens apart limb from limb.

How dare she, David thought.  The mere comparison caused him to cringe.

 “Coffee break!” shouted.  At 7:15, the crew gathered around the tractor.  Sasha carried over the portable burner from the wagon, David filled the kettle, and Naomi brought the biscuits, coffee and sugar.  The nine workers sat in three separate clusters. 

Naomi dipped a biscuit into her tea, swallowed it,  then turned to Sasha. “Are you going to watched Dallas tomorrow?”

“Of course.” 

David cringed, angered that his idol watched such trash. 

 “Well?” Naomi asked.

“Well what?” said Sasha.

“Who shot J.R.?”

 “What a stupid question! Sue Ellen, of course! It’s obvious.”

Abruptly, David stood up and paced back and forth.

“I’ve a feeling that Pamela did it,” Naomi said.

“Pamela?” sneered Sasha. “Never; why would she?.”

“J.R. destroyed her marriage to Billy.  Isn’t that reason enough?”

The American turned around and in a mixture of English and broken Hebrew said that Cliff Barnes, J.R.’s number one enemy, did it.  “It’s all about money.  J.R. was plotting to destroy his oil company, which left him no choice.”

Naomi and Sasha disagreed and a lively argument ensued, during which the Arabs took their carpets, spread them out, got down on their knees and prayed.  

 “Seven thirty,” said David.  “Time to get back to work.”

The others ignored him and continued to argue.  Disgusted, David entered the grove alone.

Before breakfast, David sneaked over to spy on the volunteers and the Arabs, catching Jacqueline and the Frenchman smoking and the Arabs and  American working like snails.  They work damn slow, he thought.  Can’t they be like me and take pride in their work?

“Breakfast,” Sasha hollered at the first Beep! of eight.  All but the Arabs climbed on the wagon and drove up to the kibbutz.

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(c) Monte Silver