“Oi Tudo Bem?” – by Elie Bleier Garin Yizael 200723rd August 2019
"The Brusteins, my adoptive kibbutz family, were one of the greatest gifts Garin Tzabar gave me, and one that keeps on giving until this day."
Twelve years (holy Hell!) have passed since I first landed in a strange new land called Kibbutz Yizrael. I arrived with my Garin Tzabar cadre, full of energy, excitement, and “rabak” that would eventually fuel our service in the IDF. During our time here, the kibbutz was where we would call home.
Yizrael, to my pleasant surprise, was rife with unique characters: our rakaz, David Boitler, who others just called Boitler, was a santa-clause lookalike with a heart as big as his beard; our Madrich, Yoav, was a half-hippie half-religious artist who dealt with our (ahem *my* ahem) nonsense with an impressive level of calm; the team of international cow milkers – some Jewish, others Arab, and a few African – with whom I worked bright and early, side by side, getting my hands dirty like a true kibbutznik; and the Garin itself, within which I made friends as well as enemies, got hugs and got into fights, and built a support network which lasted throughout my service and beyond.
But perhaps the biggest surprise of my time with Garin Yizrael can be summarized by three words: “oi, tudo bem?!” The Brusteins, my adoptive kibbutz family, were one of the greatest gifts Garin Tzabar gave me, and one that keeps on giving until this day.
The Brusteins had made Aliyah from Rio De Janeiro around ten years prior to my arrival. Claudio, the handsome and upstanding patriarch of the family who, with his single gold hoop earring and Havianas plastered to his feet, oozed cool, had immigrated together with his queen Monica, who was always smiling, laughing, dancing, drinking, baking, in long, flowing dresses, beautiful with blonde hair and fair skin somehow always seeming to me to be misplaced, not here near Afula but on the beach somewhere near Copacabana; they had already given birth to Karen, a teenage sweetheart with a blossoming intellect who even while born in Brazil took on the kibbutz tude like a true Tzabar, and Benny they birthed in Israel, a little blond devil who I beat up like my younger brother but who now stands a head taller than I. I still beat him up.
Like me, the Brustein’s family had been driven from Europe; like me, the Brusteins arrived in Israel with neither immediate family nor a grasp of the Hebrew language; and like me, the Brustein’s were always open to connecting with others, to smiling and laughing and, vitally, to poking fun at one another.
From the moment I walked in their door on one of our first weeks on the kibbutz, surrounded by traditional Brazilian art on the walls and the sound of Ana Carolina blasting through the speakers, I, along with ~25 Hebrew words (~20 more than I knew before arriving on Yizrael), started the long road of getting to know the Brusteins. We spent countless evenings eating together, sometimes feijoada, other times churrasco, always with caipirinhas unless (gasp) we decided to dine at the heder ochel (dining hall). These meals gave me the opportunity not only to eat home cooked food, which far away from my parents I missed dearly, but also to grasp the Hebrew language. While Claudio would man the grill (slab of meat, salt only), Monica would chat with Karen over cold beers and Benny and I would wrestle on the grass, intermittently getting yelled at with new terms I pretended not to understand: “di, nu, halas, maspik!” While some of my Garin friends were not taking the time to connect with their adoptive families, I couldn’t imagine a life without being reprimanded by a Jewish mother. I also couldn’t imagine one without eating copious amounts of home cooked meat and promptly falling asleep on the couch in a food coma; like my family back home, the Brusteins failed to miss an opportunity to laugh at me for this.
As I was their first child to enlist, Claudio and Monica did their best to care for me. Monica would send me off with Tupperware filled with her infamous “ugiot bruit”; Benny and Karen would hug me and wish me luck; Claudio would drive me to the bus station at 6am sharp; by the time I was on base the “ugiot bruit” were finished. They were present at each of my ceremonies; a picture from “sof maslul” where they held a sign “Elie, Ata HaGibor Shelanu!” still sits front and center in their living room.
When I was released from the army, I brought my compatriot, Andra, to the kibbutz with me. Despite Claudio being married, and Andra being of a different race, speaking a different language, and even having a different genetic makeup, Claudio fell in love with her, a love I had never seen from him before. He let me know, in all sincerity and without consulting Monica, that if Andra ever needed a place, his home – and heart – was always open. She would just have to sleep outside… in a kennel; Monica was deathly afraid of dogs, not to mention army-trained German Shepherds.
Months after my release, I found myself in New York starting my first degree. It was a different world, and the kibbutz felt distant. I started to forget my Hebrew, Boitler and Yoav, my Garin friends and even the Brusteins. About a year into my studies, I called Monica to check in, asking her what she had always asked me: “Oi, tudo bem?!” “No Elie, no tudo bem.” It turned out that Claudio had fallen ill. A few months later, I went to visit. The situation I encountered, back in the place I had once called home, was tense and difficult. As Claudio was having difficulty speaking, I used the Hebrew he had taught me to speak with him. As I said goodbye, I did not know it would be the last time I would see him, but after a long bout with his illness Claudio passed away. His memory, though, remains, not only with me but within each and every kibbutznik and Garin member: the handsome, cool Brazilian kibbutz gardener, barbequing churrasco in his Havaianas, capirahina in hand and Ana Carolina on the speakers, with Monica, Karen, Benny, and even briefly Andra, by his side. We all miss him dearly.
After my time in New York, I returned to Israel, finding a Brustein family transformed: Monica was dating Itzik, an Israeli from Beit Shean of Turkish background, and had upped her baking game, proving dangerous to my sweet tooth and utter lack of self control; Karen married Ori, an Israeli from Binyamina of Argentinian background, and impressively had progressed to her second degree while also giving birth to the-cutest-thing-ever-created-on-the-face-of-the-planet-and-I-love-him-so-much aka Rafa; Benny started dating Noa, an Israeli from a neighboring moshav and also of Brazilian background, and had enlisted in Nahal and became a medic. And I started dating Hanna, a Brazilian olah who began teaching me Portugese. Nowadays I, the once-soldier, now American uncle, come to the kibbutz not only ready to play with Rafa but equipped with my ~25 Portugese words, eager to relive my language learning process with the Brusteins again.
This rekindling gave me an opportunity to see the Brustein’s blossom, through ups and downs, over the course of twelve years. This was also one of the first and longest independent relationships of my adult life. And it was Garin Tzabar which facilitated this relationship. Unfortunately, many other Tzabarniks didn’t put in the effort with their adoptive families, neither during the first months of the Garin nor today. For me, though, having an adoptive family was not only a crucial part of Garin Tzabar, but the best part. They became more than just an adoptive family: they are family. Visiting them now, I fall back into conversation with Monica about the kibbutz, with Karen about philosophy, and with Benny about whether or not he taps out. I also fall back into my old Garin routine: eating copious amounts of food and promptly falling asleep on the couch in a food coma. And, like old times, they don’t miss the opportunity to laugh at me for it.