On February 25, 1977 I was given Small Leave in anticipation of Long Leave. That meant my service was over. I had handed in my gas mask and my weapon, an Uzi, and was free to come and go as I pleased. On April 4 of that year, I flew with a Boeing 747 to Israel. I can still remember the warmth, the love and the sweet smell of Ben Gurion airport. It was a dream I got into.
With a rattling van, Michael and Israel, two boys from our kibbutz, tore the Dutch volunteers out of the city, across the country, into the southern desert. Near the border with the Occupied Territories was our destination, Kibbutz Lahav, right next to the archaeological site of Lahav Digit, near Dvira and slightly north of the major city of Beer Sheva, 3358 km away from the Netherlands, but I didn’t know all of that at the moment.
We drove into the kibbutz, got out of the van, were received in the dining room and given work clothes, shoes, a tour, and a bed in a shared room in the cabins for the volunteers. I met my roommate Jon from London and Stine from Copenhagen and the other Dutch people. We were uncomfortable talking in the heat and eventually went together to the pool, the swimming pool. At that time, everything got an English name: the pool, the bomb shelter, parties, the dining room, the volunteers, the kibbutzniks, the sabbath evening, the war and Peace Now. And we greeted each other in Hebrew: booker tov, erev tov, sabbath shalom, manishma, besedder, toda raba.
It was a great time, a watershed between my time as a student and soldier and my time as an independent student and working Dutchman. Everything was suddenly in a different light. After four months they asked if I wanted to stay in the kibbutz, for a year or forever, but I didn’t dare. I had never been so happy and in my place as here in the kibbutz, but my psychology studies and my room in Leiden were waiting and I simply did not have the courage to change course, to get circumcised and to choose Israel and I did not dare to choose a great love in Denmark.
In August of that year, I flew hot and spirited back to a country that I had never seen so green before, to what I thought was my own life, not yet having a clue that my own life is not clear and ready but exactly that it is what I make of it myself. It took me years to discover and allow that and I still too often live a life that others like to see instead of consistently, what a shitty word, choose what opens my heart.
Ate Vegter, November 23, 2020