Nadav Lev on Life in the Children’s House
I was raised on kibbutz in central Israel where I lived, until age 11, in a communal lodging area known as the beit ha’yeladim (children’s house).
We did everything in this house. It was where we played, ate, studied and slept. We spent all our time there except for the four hours a day we would spend with our families. At 4pm we would go visit our parents, and then in the evening they would walk us back to the beit ha’yeladim, where they would put us to bed. After all the goodbyes, hugging and kissing they would go back to their home, which was technically our home too, except that we did not have our own bed, or even a private corner, to call our own there.
While spending the night in the beit ha’yeladim, we would frequently encounter what was in many ways a mythological entity: theshomeret layla, or night-watcher. Each week a different woman from the kibbutz would be in charge of watching over the children. She was stationed in the beit ha’tinokot, or babies’ house, but could hear all of our giggles and cries through an intercom system. We were taught from a young age that when we woke up at night and wanted an adult, we had to walk out of our bed, stand in front of the intercom and say out loud: “shoemret layla, shomeret layla, come to Kvutsat Keshet!”
This woman, whoever she was that week, would act as our temporary nocturnal mother, and come and calm us down. Sometimes I knew her well, and other times she was practically stranger. When leaving my parents at night, I often felt sad and would anticipate waking up in the middle of the night to feelings of fear or loneliness, and being forced to rely on whomever was shomeret layla.
Knowing how vital the early childhood years are to our development, this experience no doubt had a deep impact on me, as an artist and a person. I strongly believe that my attraction to music and the guitar was due to my desire to find my own voice and expression in a society where almost everything was done together.
Through the guitar, I found my own voice and a reliable companion in times when, despite or perhaps because of living in such close proximity with other kids, I often felt lonely and vulnerable. As we all know, kids are not always kind and nice to each other, and spending so much time together increased my exposure to their darker sides.
Despite these painful experiences, and unlike many friends and other kids raised the same way, I do not feel bitter about my childhood. There was a lot of beauty and magic in our lives on the kibbutz, in our proximity to nature, feeling part of a community, and the freedom and independence that being in the kibbutz “bubble” afforded us. I feel also lucky and proud to have grown up in what I see as one of the most daring and inspired social projects of the 20th century.
As we live in the age of the degeneration and fall of the old kibbutz system, it is easy and quite common to demonize it. I do not want to fall into this trap. Because with all of the failures, shortcomings and mistakes that happened on the kibbutz, I do not know that our current alienated, materialistic, growingly unjust and cynical society is much better. Our parents did something bold and beautiful by trying to live, truly, together. Also, I believe that childhood bears wounds for most people anyways, and the experience of sleeping away from my parents is mine.
Recently I have returned to this time and that woman, the shomeret layla, in my work as a musician. I have begun composing a musical piece that explores those nocturnal experiences and the sounds and feelings of the children’s house. I am attempting to figure out what exactly I remember of those nights, a world that is now long gone, but still very alive within me.
Listen to Lev inspired two new songs inspired by nighttime in the children’s house.
Me’ever La’yam (Beyond the Sea)