Two truths and a lie

Two truths and a lie

What do you do with a pregnant ewe on an Israeli kibbutz?

Charles Rubin is a computer systems engineer with a major media company. He lives in Hoboken.

The lamb at the center of the story.Charles Rubin
The lamb at the center of the story.Charles Rubin

At the beginning of many management training sessions there is a game we are asked to play to introduce ourselves and break down barriers to build trust and excite curiosity. The game is called two truths and a lie. I’ve found it advisable to prepare a compelling narrative beforehand. Winging it produces less-than-exciting stories. I share these truths, and even the lie, because they not only delight the listener but can inspire as well.

1. I carry two passports

2. I’ve solo hiked the Appalachian Trail from Springer Mountain, Georgia, to Mt Katahdin, Maine.

3. I’ve worked as a shepherd.

In our idealistic thirties, my wife and I uprooted our two pre-K daughters to follow a dream of living on an Israeli kibbutz. We embarked on the life of “to each according to his need, from each according to their abilities.” We became dual nationals, and for the next four years we lived the communal life, sharing work, successes, and challenges with 120 other souls in the rolling hills of the lower Galilee.

We’ve returned to the United States, but Israeli law requires us to use our Israeli passports whenever we go back to Israel.

As part of finding out just what my abilities were on the kibbutz, I was assigned to the sheep pen for a week of milking, mucking, feeding, and shepherding. While I didn’t fail miserably, I was not asked back after my six-day trial. I ended up back in information technology at an Israeli hi-tech company where I could bring needed cash back to the kibbutz.

Charles Rubin and his daughter Avrit sit on a huge pile of hay at the kibbutz.

The thing that no one tells you about being a shepherd is that the dogs do all the work. The shepherd is just a timekeeper.

One day, after the morning milking, I was handed a messenger bag with an outdated copy of Time magazine, a portable radio, and a bright red marker. My instructions were to run up the hill behind the milking parlor with two border collies shouting bo’e bo’e (come on, come on in Hebrew because these sheep didn’t understand English) and bring the flock to the field on the other side to watch them eat, piss, and crap for the next four hours. There was one more thing. If any of the sheep acted “weird” I was to mark their head with the Sharpie so they could be checked out later for disease.

Once I got the 300 sheep to the field, the dogs ran around keeping them together. There wasn’t much else to do. I tried the radio but the batteries were dead. It was too windy to read the magazine, so I watched the sheep and considered the world. Dogs being dogs, they would circle back to me for an occasional scratch behind the ears before chasing a wandering sheep back to the fold. I in turn wandered around a bit so my legs wouldn’t cramp and I could fend off insanity. About an hour into the outing, I noticed one of the herd off by herself, lying down. I shooed her back to the others and continued my vigil. A short time later I noticed another sheep (or perhaps the same one) apart from the flock. This time I used the marker to make an X on her head and again prodded her to rejoin the fold. The third time I noticed her, she wasn’t alone. There was a quivering mass of wool lying next to her, and it quickly pierced my dull senses that I had a situation that they hadn’t readied me for back at the sheep pen.

The hours pass very slowly pondering this kind of dilemma, but I knew I had to get back and I had only instinct to rely on. My head told me that I could not leave the mother and her lamb alone, where jackals or who knows what else might menace them before I could return with the cavalry. I did what any city slicker would do, I picked up the bloody placenta-smeared newborn lamb, feeling that the mother would follow, started shouting bo’e bo’e, and ran back over the hill toward the sheep pen with the dogs and the 300 other sheep close on my heels.

The seasoned kibbutzniks were waiting for me when I returned, and at first they were shocked and then they convulsed with laughter when they saw me with blood and gook all over my sweatshirt and a newborn lamb in my arms. They would not have sent a ewe to pasture this close to lambing — but this one apparently had eluded them I had made the right call, and the others quickly identified the lamb’s mother and reunited her with her offspring. For me, they pulled out a clean shirt and sent me off to lunch.

The communal kibbutz dining room at noon is the best attended and most substantial meal of the day. When I stepped into the room that afternoon I was greeted with cheers and whistles. The story had preceded me and it was retold many times over the next few days on the kibbutz. It continues to be part of my family’s lore.

My lie, of course, is that I through-hiked the Appalachian Trail. I’ve hiked segments in Maine, Massachusetts, New York, and New Jersey on day or overnight outings. I think often of attempting the 2,180 mile trek.

My Two Truths and a Lie are a call to adventure for my fellow participants who may see the corporate milieu as anti-adventure. I was a systems engineer before I stood on that windblown hillside and I still am one today. But I am not only that. I have taken a chance on idealism and adventure. I have tended sheep, harvested grapes, and planted grapefruit trees on a communal farm And maybe one day, through-hiking the Appalachian Trail won’t be a lie.

Charles Rubin is a systems engineer, amateur baker, and freelance writer. He lives in Hoboken.

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