Pomegranate dreams

Pomegranate dreams

While health-conscious people are chug-a-lugging pomegranate juice in an attempt to reduce their blood pressure, I cannot help feeling a rise in mine every time I pass the refrigerator case where the blood-red bottles stand.

And just as there are other benefits to pomegranate juice, like antioxidants, there are other feelings that overtake me when I think of it: sentimentality, betrayal, issues of abandonment, worry that I’m getting old and, perhaps, hallucinating.

Sentimentality: Remembrance of a sweet scent wafting from cornfields at 4 a.m. in a agricultural kibbutz in the Galilee. About ‘0 young people, dressed in khaki shorts and short-sleeved shirts, clamber onto the back of a truck, On each head, perching jauntily, is an Israeli kovat tembel, the sun hat worn by pioneer farmers.

The sun already is beginning to proclaim its might; nevertheless, the songs of the workers rise to accept its challenge: "We will plow till night! Our song has not ended; it has just begun!"

The spirit is there, and so are the accents, for we are American kids on a summer-in-Israel experience. This is Kibbutz Week.

Betrayal: "When we get to ze grove, I weel show you how to prune ze pomegranate trees. You have to be done in three hours, when ze sun weel get too hot. In one hour, I weel bring you water. Remember: Do not drink ze water from ze irrigation sprays. Or else you weel get ze shil-shul" (Israeli Montezuma’s revenge).

Thus spake our driver, David, nicknamed Dudu.

Issues of abandonment: 5 a.m. arrives. Dudu does not.

We keep working, pruning the nourishment-draining suckers from the trees. We’re city kids; this is fun. And we’re helping Israel. Lack of a little water won’t stop us.

After all, we’ve grown up on Life magazine. Every week it has come in the mail, delivering photos that shattered our privileged existence of movies and trying to style our hair like the stars who acted in them — Tony Curtis or Veronica Lake; the Yankees, the Dodgers and the Giants; senior hops and proms; and the Top Ten songs on the "Your Lucky Strike Hit Parade." Now the cameras of Life photographers invaded our eyes with Jewish near-skeletons being carried out of death camps, Jews on rickety ships trying to sneak into Palestine despite the British embargo; British soldiers pulling those Jews off the ships by the hair.

And then photos of those who’d made it — beautiful, healthy children in kibbutz nurseries, all wearing the kovat tembel, and their parents, rugged-looking and smiling — also wearing the kovat tembel — plowing, reaping, and dancing the hora. And, above all, the shomrim — dashing Jewish young men, wearing high-necked, embroidered shirts and Arab-style scarves, mounted on white chargers and carrying rifles as they guarded the land. Their lives had purpose.

So when Zionist youth groups began to offer summers in Israel to American teens, it was no wonder that we had to sign up. Here was an opportunity to help build a nation.

6 a.m. arrives. Dudu does not.

We are getting hotter and thirstier. Our jokes and songs are many decibels lower. But the irrigation sprays are spouting higher, and more merrily, splashing, cascading, gushing, sweetly calling us.

7 a.m. We are taking turns — literally taking turns — around the irrigation sprays, like inner-city kids on a hot day in front of an open hydrant. At 7:30, when the promised water does not arrive, and the promised pick-up truck does not either, we open our mouths and drink.

Worry that I’m getting old: Passing the refrigerator case at my supermarket now, I think of those days and the pomegranate trees, and say to myself, "That was a long time ago — a very long time ago."

Long ago, I was marching round and round and doing the hora in a silo (tamping down the outer corn leaves to make winter fodder for the cattle), performing an en pointe ballet while taking a shortcut through the cow barn, holding my breath while gathering eggs in the chicken house, and forming matzoh balls in the kibbutz kitchen, to be covered with cinnamon and sugar and eaten cold. My friend Ettie and I quickly learned that if we flirted with the gorgeous sabra (native) guys, they could arrange to get us off duty. Then we could take off together for a refreshing dip in that startlingly beautiful, sapphire lake that is shaped like and named for a harp — Kinneret (Sea of Galilee).

At this age, now, flirting? Would it do me any good?

Hallucinations: Was it all real? Perhaps the wonder is expressed best in the poem and song of the Hebrew poet, Rahel:

V’oo-lye (Perhaps)

Perhaps these things never happened.

Perhaps I never arose at dawn

To work in the garden

By the sweat of my brow.

Never, in the burning days of harvest,

Did my voice rise in song

From a cart full of sheaves.

Never did I bathe in the blue, still depth

Of my Kinneret.

Oh, my Kinneret!

Were you real?

Or was it all a dream?

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