My name is Bob T. Epstein, and in 1961 at age of 17, I traveled to Israel to become an ‘Ulpanist’ (live, work and learn Hebrew on a Kibbutz). The plan from the Israeli Government was to allow visitors to come, become fluent in Hebrew and add their lives into the goal of making Israel a strong and healthy country. Part of that goal was hopefully having them become Olim (new immigrants), join the IDF and contribute to the country in every way possible as an Israeli citizen.
After an interview in New York at the Israeli Embassy, I was accepted into the Ulpan Kibbutz program, a 6-month commitment to live and work for stamps to write home with, meals, a roof over our heads, daily two-hour Hebrew language studies in exchange for 4 hours of labor on many of the Kibbutz farming operations, such as planting, irrigation, picking fruits and several other types of farm chores.
Frankly, for a city guy coming from Brooklyn and being in top physical condition when I arrived in Israel, I loved the work, the people, my other 43 ‘Ulpanists’, and even the healthful fresh foods.
Learning the language for me was a generous treat as I always wanted to study languages, sort of a serious hobby that I was good at from an early age (I speak 5 languages today). Other Ulpanists came from so many different backgrounds and religions, too! On our Kibbutz, Ein Hashofet in the Menashe Hills, not very far from the Sea Of Galilee, were 4 members of Monastery in Belgium. The Greek Orthodox Christian Monks were there at the Kibbutz to learn Hebrew so that they could read and understand the Old Testament. The Monastery sent them to Israel for that purpose. We became fast friends! We talked over meals at the communal food house (Beit ha Ochal) about their lives, my life in the US, my Orthodox grandfather and Mama, how they escaped first the Czar, then Hitler, how they made their lives in New York custom making all manner of clothing in their little tailor shop, how my father was in Belgium during the war, how he became permanently disabled by losing his toes in the Battle of the Bulge, the Nazi concentration camps he helped build.
Every Saturday our kibbutz offered us trips around Israel, and we of course went to Jerusalem, and I saw the reverence my 4 Monk friends and a few Seminary students from France took in their experiences walking in the footsteps of where Jesus once walked.
It was very touching for me to see their deep fealty to their beliefs. Today, as a Jew I understand well why true Christians feel so deeply about Israel and support the only democratic nation in the Middle East, as much as the Jewish State supports, shares and protects their deep and strong connection to this land as well.
My epiphanies continued through the many visits back to Israel from my first and true home; America. When I left Israel and traveled to Africa for two years learning languages, fishing, and photographing with my little Brownie Camera, I missed everything about Israel almost as much as my home in the US, but I believe it was more that I missed my family than the land.
I felt then as I do today, those rocks that I moved in the desert still had my sweat deep in their sediment and the fruits now grown there, that I helped plant, began the reversal of the desertification that stood for thousands of years after the Jews were expelled from their lands. Israel today is alive and vibrantly verdant again for all religions of peace!
See AmericanPressTravelNews.com for my travel experiences and visitations. My book ‘Africa on a Pin & a Prayer has the first chapter about my life in Israel on the Kibbutz and beyond.
Written by J-Pilgrim contributor Bob T. Epstein.