Welcome to the ‘butz, babes

As a new generation of near Israelis prepare to embark on their journey home, there’s a few things y’all should know about your new home. Having distanced myself physically and mentally and emotionally from what was once mine and will soon be yours, I like to think I have a somewhat helpful perspective.

The first (1) thing you should know is how to get home. The first time it’s going to involve a plane and maybe a train and definitely a bus and a car or two. But after that, it’s up to you to simplify the trek. These days, I take the 501 to the Central Bus Station (CBS) in TLV and then ride the 379 all the way home. Or I make things more complicated and get to the CBS and take a bus to Ashkelon, get off at Tzomet Ashkelon and wait for a 364, 36, 365, 465 etc. and ride back. There’s also the train, but I haven’t tried that yet since moving to the Mercaz back in January.

Once I get to the Erez bus stop, there’s a walk waiting for me. It’s about a kilometer, with a tall wall to your left and fields to your right. At the beginning of the path, the train speeds by overhead. Then it’s 10 minutes until the wall ends and a road begins. The road leads to ק2, the closest base to Gaza. That’s also where the sunflower fields are! After the road, you reach the clementine groves and you’re practically there. It’s the yellow gate, a phone call to open it, or typing the code into the keypad. (If you’re lucky, you can forego the walk and snag a tremp along the way).

You enter past the yellow gate and to your left is the huge expanse of soccer field and the “plastic” factory that I cannot confirm actually produces “plastic”. To your right is a path along the fence, following the clementines. You keep walking forward and to your right is a road. The road inclines upwards and is framed by houses. Eventually on the right is a the kibbutz Clalit. To the left is a path that leads up to picnic tables and grass and the cute tower the kids build one Yom Haaztmaut. Past the tower there’s a bunker and a water tower (please don’t climb it) and another water tower and picnic tables and a new fire pit and an incredible view of our fields and Gaza. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

After the path and the Clalit there’s a colored bomb shelter. It’s nice, but ours is nicer. You keep going and to your right you see trees and an expanse of grass and the community moadon and the heart of the kibbutz. To your left, the Erez museum with renovated cabins from the kibbutz’s founding, filled with artifacts of an Israel that was and ruins and rocket remnants. Then, after the museum is our bomb shelter. We painted it. We were miserable painting it, in the heat, right before we were supposed to leave for an open Shabbat. But it’s beautiful and it was ours.

To your right is a dirt path. I take the path out of laziness and practically run down the small hill to the megurim, to your new home. It’s build in a ח. The first floor is two rooms on each side, parallel, with a brick courtyard. There’s a covered walkway between the two sides that leads to a storage room, a sitting area (kibbutz couches and a glass table that I repainted during my work from home tenure), the boys’ fridge, and the laundry machines. The dryers are by the far room on the right.

If you go back to the middle walkway, you go up stairs. There are three rooms, the girls’ fridge, and a seating area on the balcony with a table that I painted and mosaic’ed during the good old corona days. My room was the first.

(*Note: every room has a bomb shelter, which is a separate room with a door, if you’re into that kind of thing. There is a small kitchenette by the entrance aka a sink and cabinets and a kumkum. Separate toilet and shower. Air conditioning. Build-in closet and a wardrobe, distribute as you see fit. Don’t bring all your clothes – save that for your first meyuchedet. Make your room feel like home, because that’s where you’re going to come crashing down on the weekends after an exhausting week on base. Put up posters. Try not to wreck the walls like I did, whoooooops).

You go down the stairs and head back to the couches, the left side of the rooms. There’s another path. It’s the official path to get home if you don’t want to deal with the dirt. Left is the pool (AMAZING pool with plenty of space to tan and a snack bar – don’t get the boys aka Eric started on the snack bar), straight is our moadon/library/seniors moadon. To the left of our moadon is a small basketball court, some of the kids’ moadons and the bunny/guinea pig enclosure. There’s also kind of a sad mini playground with bars for dips.

Turn around and go back to the established path, but take a left to the pool. You’re on the main road. After the pool there’s an outside gym, like the ones that dot the beaches of Israel. Then the main basketball court and a tennis court. The road curves. After the courts there’s another path that leads to what used to be the kibbutz zoo. The zoo is no more and in its place is relics and the home of the Erez peacocks, who most definitely have Stockholm syndrome from their captivity. But back to the road.

Houses to your right, another path to the left that leads up to the andarta, a memorial site perfect for watching sunsets and fireworks from our neighbors. You keep going down and before you is the New Neighborhood. Gorgeous houses. Amazing people. In the left corner of the New Neighborhood is the blue gate. It leads to the back road and to Erez Crossing and you can only open it with the weight of the car. Disregard.

The path curves again and the New Neighborhood is to your left and on your right is more houses, and where I believe those staying on the kibbutz from my year will be living. Keep going and follow the next curve, with the farm to your left. There are cows and bees and it smells bad and you’re more than welcome to visit, but it might lose its novelty if you go too often. Past the farm is the water tower, where you will one day put the name of your garin (it can’t be Garin Erez – trust me, we tried) so that even when you’re not home, part of you is still there.

If you continue down the road you end up at the yellow gate. It’s a circle. So instead, before the water tower, you turn to the right. It’s a parking lot with the mazkirut (that’s where you get your mail, try not to be too annoying about checking on packages like I was) and the bus stop. The bus that comes into the kibbutz is 27. VERY IMPORTANT. It takes you into Sderot without you having to make the 20 minute walk past the wall and the clementines.

Straight ahead is the center of the kibbutz. Chadar ohel to your left (it’s not often in use because the kibbutz is privatized but it has the BEST bomb shelter on the kibbutz, believe you me), followed by the big moadon. This is a space for community. To the right is the migvan. They only have beer and wine, so stay tuned for my favorite places to get alcohol in Sderot. There’s also food. It’s a mini grocery store. Fresh produce. Ice cream. A dream.

Next to the migvan is a good playground. Keep going past the playground and you’ve hit the pub (there’s a Roman mosaic on the way, but pay no mind). The pub is an ancient building. There’s no air conditioning, only fans (lol). It’s exactly what you would expect a kibbutz pub to look like – quaint and close and comfortable. Bring cash. PAY ON THE SPOT. The kibbutz might be your home, but try to keep it that way by not doing anything as to discomfort the locals. There is alcohol at the pub.

And there concludes a selective overview of the kibbutz. Welcome home.

The second (2) thing you should know is that the kibbutz is SAFE. 800 meters away from Gaza or not, it’s safe. Yes, sometimes there are rockets. Yes, the first and even the eighth can be scary. Yes, your parents are going to worry. But you will be OKAY. I was living in Israel at the end of Protective Edge, so the rockets never really fazed me. You have just a few seconds to run to a shelter, but luckily there’s one in your room. Rockets don’t happen every day. The other thing is because the ‘butz’s proximity, a lot of the time rockets go over us. You can be outside and live and enjoy your kibbutz fantasy without having to live in fear. If you live in fear, then they win. If you are still afraid, it’s okay, we can work on that.

Number three (3) is kibbutz highlights, I suppose: there’s a beer festival featuring artisanal beer made by kibbutz members, hella BBQs, every holiday is a celebration, the people are so kind and want to get to know you – lean into it and meet as many people as you can. The kids will love you. They love the silly American soldiers and they’ll learn your names before you even meet them. Your host families are there to help – don’t be shy. Talya is amazing. Period. Don’t get mad at her for doing her job, she’s there to help you and will go to the ends of Erez and beyond for you. Speak Hebrew. SPEAK HEBREW. SPEAK HEBREW!!! You’re going to get annoyed with your garin and that’s okay. You’re going to get annoyed with my garin, which is also okay (tell them to ‘uck off when they need to – they can handle it). Sderot is 10 minutes away. Nir Am is a neighboring kibbutz with a bigger pub that I hear is nice but have yet to experience for myself. Beer Sheva is 40 minutes away. Tel Aviv is an hour or more, but your access to transportation is an asset and be thankful for it. Hot lifeguard? Dogs.

Sderot (4). Before coming to Erez, Sderot was always a spectacle. Like oh wow so sad rockets hummus bathroom break. Now, Sderot is about to become your city. At the entrance of Sderot is the train and Mall7. There’s subpar sushi that delivers to the ‘butz (for 40 shek) and other food and stores and Big (random house things, where I got most of my gems), grocery store with a nice deal on Ben & Jerry’s. There’s also the alcohol store. It’s nice.

Past Mall7 you get to Peres Center, where there’s Clalit and Shufersal and some bureaucratic offices and other stores. Take a left and you’re in the perfect spot for food. Hummus Shel Tachina is regionally renowned. Zeh Burger has a dank impossible burger. There’s another grocery store. A scary Mexican restaurant that I can’t recall anyone ever visiting. Huri Bakery that was hit by a rocket once and rebuilt. Bank Hapoalim. Phone kiosks, one where the owner replaced my battery on Saturday night even though he was officially closed. Saba Simcha – veggie/vegan BLISS. And my favorite store: the Russian grocery store. This was where I purchased the majority of my alcohol, that was of course not consumed during the program or anywhere near my room because that isn’t allowed. 90%. 95%. Israeli Diesel/Everclear they gotchu. That’s Sderot.

This is my introduction for you. I’ll add more, write some other things for you along the way. I hope this helps you visualize home. Can’t wait to see y’all soon.

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