Sunday, September 21, 2003

Traveling in a convoy
I didn't really explain the Hevr'e thing and a Canadian lady on Michael J. Totten's comments took offense. She also lives in a community, she said. But the Hevr'e is not a community. It's more of a clannishness of people who aren't necessarily related, a sort of sticky group mentality. It's blunt and intrusive and at times vulgar. It's loud and warm and protective. It's an often-overbearing familiarity that automatically makes every Yitzhak an Itzik, and every Avraham an Avi. It's often extremely embarrassing and must seem completely Neanderthal to the outsider. But it functions as a powerful support group when the going gets rough.

Many people here regularly meet up with their Hevr'e from high school, from the youth movement, and above all, of course, from the army unit. Even when everyone has long gone their different ways. Even after twenty, thirty, forty, fifty years. Some meet once a year, some once a month. People will come from all over the country and sometimes from abroad too. Parents, siblings, widows, widowers and children of those of the Hevr'e who were killed are often part of these meetings too.

The Israeli Hevr'e mentality, I'm told, is particularly noticeable to those traveling in the Far East. Israelis, who go there en masse after the army, apparently travel in large, noisy, rather badly behaved groups. These groups are created largely over there. The first thing the kids do when they land is look for other Israelis. A friend of mine told me that he was once spending the night in a remote village in the Himmalayas with four other non-Israeli hikers he had not previously met. "You can't be an Israeli," One of them asserted. "You're on your own." It is no coincidence that, out of the eight tourists kidnapped last week in Colombia, four were Israelis (you'll remember that another two Israelis were released) while the other four were of other nationalities (two Brits, a German and a Spaniard).

Even a natural loner like myself, who often stays at a safe distance from the happy-go-lucky rowdiness of the Hevr'e, finds herself feeling a little lonely in its absence.

A popular Israeli book for pre-schoolers by Lewin Kipnis tells the story of The Three Butterflies (It seems to be out of print. We had our copy passed down to us from Our Sis's boys). A butterfly goes out to play, fluttering about in the meadow. After a while another butterfly appears and they decide to play together. Then another one comes and all three are fluttering about together in the meadow. Suddenly it begins to rain and the three butterflies start looking for cover. They reach a flower and ask to take cover inside it. The flower agrees but says it only has room for one butterfly. The butterflies say indignantly that they are friends and they won't be separated, and they fly away. This happens twice more. Each time they reach a flower, which agrees to give refuge to just one butterfly, and they refuse to be parted. In the end, they manage to survive the rain. The sun comes out and they go back to fluttering happily around the meadow. They have survived the rain and have stuck together, without any one of them taking the opportunity to save itself by deserting its friends.

Notice that the butterflies' acquaintance is fleeting, but when the rain starts, they have a strong feeling of mutual responsibility. This is the essence of the Hevr'e.

There was a time when I was obliged to read this story to my girls on a daily basis. Back then the story's message used to annoy me. I reckoned that if each butterfly had just gone into one of the flowers all three would have been less endangered. Their chances of personal survival would have been greater. I disliked this herd mentality, and what I saw as preparing the kids for the army before they could read. Today I am more reconciled to this thinking. It is probably the survival tactic that has got us this far. Yes, there is sometimes something idiotic and obstinate in putting friendship first. But that is the Hevr'e. And it is an indispensable part of the Israeli way of life, like it or not.