Artist Interview - Yechiam Gal
Welcome, Yechiam! You are a New Yorker now, but that's far from where you started. Take us back to the beginning?
Yechiam Goldberger (later Gal) was born in Jerusalem, Israel, in 1949 into a semi-orthodox Zionist family. The neighborhood I grew up in was religious, working-class, there was no luxury and, as in many neighborhoods of this kind, there were problems. My elementary school was a boys-only semi-orthodox school. When I was 10, my parents moved to a different, somewhat better, neighborhood with a coeducational school, but I didn't know how to be accepted socially and I made a lot of poor judgments.
My parents didn't know exactly how to deal with the situation, but decided that a kibbutz might be good for me. Initially, it was very difficult. I was a young boy of 13 and it was the first time my parents were not around. It took a lot of effort from me to adjust. Fortunately, kibbutz society was very open and warm, very social, and it didn't take long for me to become an integral part of the group. Kibbutz Gevat was my new home and, ultimately, the impact on me of kibbutz life was very significant.
Most people know the word "kibbutz" but little else. What should we know to understand the transformation you went through?
The kibbutz has been given different conceptual and legal definitions, one of which is “Settlement Association,” meaning it is
an autonomous settlement that maintains a cooperative society of its members, organized on the basis of common ownership of property, and its goals are self-employment, equality, and sharing in all areas of production, consumption, and education. The first founders of the kibbutz movement based ideas about education and social life on ancient Sparta. There were three kibbutz movements at the beginning of the revival in the Land of Israel. Gevat was part of Ahdut HaAvoda or 'Labour Unity’ United Kibbutz Movement which was secular, though members were very devoted to the idea of communal life, social equality, and democracy, often with a zealousness that amounted to cult-like devotion, albeit without worship of God.
From the moment I was accepted as one of the group, life in the kibbutz was full. In the 1960s, living in a kibbutz was living in a closed bubble that provided a safe environment free from the burdens of the hard day-to-day efforts of life; and that was true for all members of the group. For me it was a time of growth and development, culturally, socially, and politically. I can say that the kibbutz led me on a path of realizing the potential that may have been hidden in me, changing every aspect of my life. The influence of this notion of collective existence formed the basis of my thinking throughout my life.
Israel requires national military service for both men and women. You selected a difficult military specialty at a historic moment.
From the beginning, members of the kibbutzim served in key roles in Israel's leadership and defense, providing many recruits for combat units, pilots, and a high percentage of commanders relative to the number of kibbutz members in the population. I became a captain in the Paratrooper Unit. To a youngster from a kibbutz, the responsibility of serving in the army is an integral part of your identity. The entire social structure of the kibbutz – giving, serving, volunteering – leads kibbutzniks to feel that they must do the best they can to serve their country. And I was no different. I will say that the most important change in my vision and ideas actually happened after the Yom Kippur War. My experiences in the war moved me farther left of the political map than I had been before. I became an activist with the Peace Now movement.
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