By Hillel Kuttler
Nine-month old Zoe had just fallen asleep as Len Pader welcomed a guest to the home he shares on Kibbutz Shluhot with his wife, Tanya Fredman, and their two children. At the dining room table, sporting a sparkly St. Louis Cardinals baseball hat, sat Tanya’s mother, Susie, who’d just flown in for a visit.
Six autumns ago, Len and Tanya, then newly married, had come to nearby Kibbutz Sde Eliyahu to begin studying in Ulpan as new Olim. They later moved to Pardes Chana Karkur, along Israel’s Mediterranean coast south of Haifa, where they lived for four years. But in September 2017, they returned to the Beit Shean Valley, drawn by the scenery, the solitude and the kibbutz lifestyle. Shluhot, like Sde Eliyahu and several other kibbutzim in the area, consists primarily of modern Orthodox residents like them.
Len and Tanya embrace the sense of community that prevails in the kibbutz, like running into people whenever they step outside and stopping to schmooze.
“I spoke to our neighbors here more in one week than I did in Pardes Chana in four years,” Len explains.
Says Tanya: “We feel connected to something bigger than ourselves, being here. I feel we have something to contribute.”
Thanks to the train line through the Jezreel Valley that opened in October 2016, Len has an easy commute to Haifa, where he works as the chief financial officer of a start-up company. Tanya leads tours at the Mishkan Museum of Art, at Kibbutz Ein Harod, and teaches art.
Len and Tanya, who grew up in suburban New York City and St. Louis, respectively, had not considered living on a kibbutz. But Len says that he’s “always felt at home in rural and small-town settings,” ever since, as a child, his parents took the family to their weekend home in Massachusetts’ Berkshire Mountains.
The Sde Eliyahu experience was so positive, including being matched with a welcoming kibbutz family, that, even after moving away, Len and Tanya visited every six weeks or so.
On Shluhot, along with the people, “We liked the geographic setting, the landscape, the Gilboa Mountains,” Tanya said.
Len considers Gilboa his “favorite part of the country,” thanks to the views and the history, such as being the site of the battles where King Saul and his son Jonathan were killed. He enjoys sitting under a tree on Shabbat afternoons, taking in what he calls the “beautiful scene.” On Friday afternoons, the family – Len and Tanya also have a three-year-old son, Matan – bicycles over to the kibbutz’s fish ponds. Walking to synagogue services on Shabbat mornings, they feed animals in the petting zoo.
“That’s an amazing experience you can only have on kibbutz,” he says.
In Pardes Chana Karkur, Len and Tanya found that English speakers dominated their social circle. Less so at Shluhot, where they know four English-speaking families but many more native Israelis.
“We’re still figuring it out,” Tanya says, speaking of their kibbutz friends, but, too, whether they’ll make their permanent home here.
As she speaks, Len is trying to make sense of a notice someone in the kibbutz’s administration left for him. It seemed to be assigning him to guard duty for an upcoming Friday night.
“I have no idea what I’m supposed to do with this,” he says, holding the slip of paper. “I’ll ask a neighbor.”