Safekeeping By Jessamyn Hope


072415_mishmash_bookFew social institutions have undergone more radical change than have Israeli kibbutzim during the past 100 years. From utopian socialist enterprises where people came to reclaim the land and livnot u’l’hibanot — build and be rebuilt themselves — many kibbutzim, now deprived of government subsidies, have become privatized and evolved into rural or suburban communities.

A novel may not be the best vehicle to chronicle such a metamorphosis, but this one does so as well as is possible.

Ziva, a veteran of Kibbutz Sadot Hadar (Fields of Splendor), where the action takes place in 1994, tells a volunteer, who is sorting members’ clothes in the communal laundry, about clothing on kibbutzim in an earlier time.

“Not long ago … we didn’t have our own clothes. When the pants you were wearing were dirty, you traded them in for a clean pair. If you were a size 6, you got any size 6 that was available. We had no private property.”

I was a member of a kibbutz in the mid-1970s, and that community had more than its fair share of unusual, even zany, characters. If this book is to be believed, not much had changed 20 years later.

Does the book help readers to understand the revolution that has rocked kibbutzim? Yes. Are the characters worthy of remembrance? Absolutely.

Jessamyn Hope understands well the art of doling out the plot in small doses, reeling in the reader hoping for more revelations. She may be a first-time author, but she’s already a master storyteller.

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