The final design…

And one more change. The journey from inspiration to publication for this book has been long and winding. I’d count it at six years of researching and writing — and 27 years of thinking about my experiences as a young, naive kibbutz volunteer.

The path to a final title, subtitle and cover has been equally circuitous, if a bit more accelerated. The marketing folks at ECW Press came back with one more recommended change — this time to the title… I was nervous when I heard the publisher wanted to switch the title again. (I’d changed it three times on my own.) But then I saw the new version, matched to the sunset image from the Hula Valley, and it all just felt right. And then we added “Future” into the sub-title and everything clicked.


Now, I’ve got a pair of Advanced Readers’ Copies to make the book seem even more real — I can lift it up and flip through its pages and begin to worry about reviews! 
mostly, I’m thrilled that this story — and the stories of the many people I met in Israel and the West Bank — will finally get shared with curious readers.

So what do you think?


Insert [Sub-Title] Here

The good—no, great—news: my book has a publisher and a publication date. I’m thrilled to announced that ECW Press has acquired the world rights to my kibbutz book with a publication date of Fall 2016.

The manuscript is with an editor and I am working with the publisher and production staff to hash out the cover design and final title-sub-title combo… 

… which is the bad-ish news: I’m stumped.

I’ll be the first to admit that writing display copy was never my forte as a magazine editor. I was okay at it (“Land of the Lox” for a feature about indigenous fish-farming in BC!), but I also worked with other editors who were masters at the catchy title/subtitle combo. It’s not easy.

My kibbutz book has proven that conundrum. It has evolved through several title variations:

  1. The Shouting Fence: That was the title of a poem I wrote, as a 21-year-old writing student, in the voice of a Druze man. It was briefly the working title of the manuscript and remains as a chapter title about my visit to Majdal Shams. It’s catchy and dramatic—but misleading. It evokes the divisions in Israel but nothing of the utopian enterprise of the kibbutz. Nixed.
  2. Look Back to Galilee: The name of this blog was the working title of this project for years. It comes form a phrase used by one of the founders of Kvutsa Degania, who urged his compatriots to return to the Kinnereth—and the Galilee—to found their commune. But as one kibbutz researcher in Haifa told me on a visit in 2009: “It sounds kind of Christian.” And while it evokes a sense of memoir, it isn’t especially catchy either.
  3. Who Killed the Kibbutz? emerged late in the process as a front-runner when a grad student read a draft and suggested the manuscript needed more narrative drive and tension. What was the throughline? For a while, I thought it was the search for who or what had led to the decline of Israel’s utopian communities. (I’m still kind of fond of this title.)
  4. Love & Rockets: And then a bolt from the blue. I can’t even remember how I came up with this title—perhaps mining all my memories from the late 80s reminded me of the band of the same name (and it’s cover version of “Ball of Confusion”—which seems apropos to the book’s themes). It echoes Erna Paris’s The Garden and the Gun, a wonderful travelogue about Israel that heavily influenced my own decision to write his book. It’s the title under which I finally sold the project—so I think it stays. (Famous last words…)
But I still need a sub-title. Why? Because nonfiction books have sub-titles! And as Jack David, ECW’s publisher, explained to me: book buying (and promotion) is less about browsing physical store shelves these days and more about discovering a book online via key word searches. And a sub-title is the best place for such key words. Utopia was always a key theme and therefore a key word in all my proposed sub-titles

I just reviewed my progression of titles and subtitles and found the following:
  • The Shouting Fence: Slouching Toward Utopia in a Divided Land (2009)
  • Look Back to Galilee: Stumbling Toward Utopia in a Divided Land (2011)
  • Who Killed the Kibbutz: Searching for Hope in a Divided Israel (2014)
  • Love & Rockets: Stumbling Toward Utopia in a Divided Israel (2015)
But the sub-title isn’t quite there—and could use the word “kibbutz” somewhere in its syntax. Another writer also tsk-tsk’ed the use of a gerund in the sub-title, too. So I’ve been on a brainstormy voyage to come up with the perfect partner for Love & Rockets. Here’s a list of ideas (some okay, others simply awful) that have poured out of my imagination:
  • The Broken Dream of Utopia in Israel and the Kibbutz  
  • The Broken Promise of Utopia in Israel and the Kibbutz
  • The Promise of Utopia in Israel and the Kibbutz
  • The Problem of Utopia in Israel and the Kibbutz
  • Stumbling Towards Utopia in Israel and the Kibbutz  
  • Slouching Towards Utopia in Israel and the Kibbutz  
  • Looking for Utopia in Israel and the Kibbutz  
  • The Long Road to Utopia in Israel and the Kibbutz  
  • Cast Out of the Garden of Utopia in Israel and the Kibbutz
  • Cast Out of Utopia in Israel and the Kibbutz
  • Leaving Utopia in Israel and the Kibbutz
  • Losing Utopia in Israel and the Kibbutz

The “and” between “Israel” and “kibbutz”might be confusing, though, even though the book is about the utopian impulse in the kibbutz movement (which helped to found Israel) and in Israel in general (both inspired by and a reaction to the kibbutz). I previewed some options at our Grad @ Home party last Friday and got warm response to the “lost dream” theme in some of the sub-titles, so a few more variations….
  • The Lost Dream of Utopia in Israel’s Kibbutz
  • The Lost Dream of Utopia in the Kibbutz
  • The Lost Dream of Utopia of the Kibbutz
  • The Kibbutz’s Lost Dream of Utopia
  • The Kibbutz’s Lost Dream of Utopia in a Divided Israel
  • The Kibbutz’s Lost Dream of Utopia for a Divided Israel
  • The Kibbutz and the Lost Dream of Utopia in a Divided Israel
  • The Lost Dream of Utopia in the Legendary Kibbutz
  • The Lost Dream of Utopia on the Legendary Kibbutz
  • The Lost Dream of Utopia on Israel’s Legendary Kibbutz
  • The Lost Dream of Utopia in Israel’s Legendary Kibbutz
  • Israel, the Kibbutz, and the Lost Dream of Utopia
  • Who Killed the Kibbutz and its Dream of Utopia?

…at which point I just want to slam down my laptop and run screaming from the room. Nothing yet feels quite right.

Any suggestions? Any favourites? Anything that can save me from the madness of subtitle writing?

Update: I’ll offer a reward—and give a copy of the book when it comes out to anyone who can dream up the perfect sub-title!

Kibbutz controversy on Findhorn

I’ve been shamefully neglecting this blog, while busy with teaching—and also finishing the manuscript whose research this blog was set up to track! In short, the first draft of the book is nearly done. It’s too long—by nearly 100,000 words—but then again, there’s a lot to say about the kibbutz, its 100+year history, and the utopian impulse that continues to spring from this experiment in radical sharing.

Last month, I travelled to the north of Scotland, to the International Communal Studies Association triennial gathering, in the fascinating New Age community of Findhorn—a place that deserves a book entirely of its own. (In fact, it has several.) The last ICSA meeting had been in Israel, to mark the centennial of the kibbutz movement, and it was there that I had met many research contacts and experts in kibbutz studies.


This time, I’d agreed to give a paper on how the lessons of kibbutz architecture and design might be applied to improve the community life and reduce the ecological impact of run-of-the-mill suburbs (like the one I grew up in). It was, to be honest, a reworking of the TEDxVictoria talk I gave in 2011:





I also led a fun workshop / design charrette / hackathon called “Greening the ‘Burbs,” which encouraged participants to brainstorm in groups to generate ideas on how to retrofit suburbia for a greener future. About 20 people took part and came up with wonderful concepts, including neighbourhood “skill-sharing” sessions, “defencing” backyards, edible community gardens, and a “boutique” (like Findhorn’s) where people can drop off unwanted clothes and other goods—and pick up (rather than purchase) “gently used” items. Think of the neighbourliness that develops when you spot someone wearing your old sweater! (Check out all the conference abstracts here.)

In a pique of over-enthusiasm, I’d also agreed to give a literary reading, from my book-in–progress, at an evening event called “The Great Sharing”. The selection I’d brought was a darkly comic excerpt from a chapter about a strange and charismatic German volunteer named Wolf and his raucous birthday party on Kibbutz Shamir—which ended with the night sky lit up by flares, over northern Israel, as the IDF tracked down and killed (as we later read in The Jerusalem Post) several Palestinian insurgents from Lebanon. The chapter was a reminder that for all of our drunken volunteer revels, we were still living in a land forever on the edge of violence. I’d read the excerpt, to good response, at our faculty literary evening last spring. 


But then a mini-controversy erupted at Findhorn. And it centered on the kibbutz. And Israel. And the Palestinians.


Even here, in the far north of Scotland, it turned out that this divisive issue could threaten to over-shadow an academic gathering advertised as a way to discuss and promote “communal pathways to sustainable living”….


What happened? 


A group called the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign had got wind of the ICSA conference and noted that a number of Israeli academics and kibbutz members were attending. (In fact, the ICSA has been founded and has its main office based in Israel.) They planned to protest. Those of us in attendance noticed something was up when police cars appeared during the opening day of the conference. At one point, two Scottish cops inspected a bulletin board on which photos of every presenter was pinned. 


“Are they looking for one of us?” we joked. “Is there a criminal in our midst?”


Details of their “investigation” leaked out. First as rumour, then as fact. The police wanted to make sure any protest was peaceful. The visiting Israelis had been briefed about the SPSC and its intentions.


I never saw a protester in the flesh, but I did spot a couple of cars labelled with signs and fact-sheets putting forward the SPSC’s position. Later, a kibbutz-based professor whom I knew complained that the SPSC website had explicitly targeted him under an article titled “Findhorn Community ‘proudly hosts’ supporters of ethnic cleansing”. Tensions were rising, even if most non-Israelis were largely unaware on the online attacks on the conference and Findhorn. Organizers—already stretched with running a major international conference—were meeting with the SPSC, members of the Findhorn community sympathetic to the Palestinian cause and the Israeli attendees to broker a compromise. An anonymous leaflet about the issue, dropped off (and then quickly removed) on dining-room tables before a meal, only sparked more concerns.


In the end, both the Findhorn Foundation and the ICSA board (which I had just joined) hammered out statements about the controversy. Both were read aloud at the conference’s final event.


And my literary reading? Well, I decided to scratch my name from the reading list for the Great Sharing, an hour before the show. People would likely prefer to hear the musicians do their thing anyway, I figured. I didn’t need to throw fuel onto a fire that was already making kibbutz colleagues feel uncomfortable and was distracting from the discussions about intentional communities and sustainability. (The organizers of both the conference and the talent show both agreed.)


Yes, there is a good panel discussion to be had about the kibbutz movement’s checkered relations with the Palestinian people, the role the kibbutz played in both establishing the state of Israel and (to a lesser degree) extending its reach into the West Bank and Gaza. My book research has dealt, in part, with some of the failures of the kibbutz—and some of the efforts of new utopians and kibbutzniks—to bridge that divide. People like Anton Marks, of Kvutsat Yovel, who was at the conference to talk about the urban kibbutz movement and its social-justice efforts—and who went to prison as a conscientious objector rather than serve in the Occupied Territories. However, I don’t think the SPSC was especially interested in having such a nuanced conversation on the issue. 


I’m trying to tackle it in my manuscript, knowing full well that my take on the topic will likely please neither side in a debate in which Black shouts down White and vice versa, while Shades of Grey cower in the corners and try to get a whisper in edgewise.


Perhaps a panel session at the next ICSA conference, in 2016, might tackle the thorny problem of the kibbutz’s relationship with the Palestinian people from a variety of angles, historical and contemporary. It could be a way of moving past the Israeli/Palestinian debate as a litmus test for ideological correctness and instead engaging in a genuine debate about how to build peace by cultivating truly inclusive communities. 


Utopian? I sure hope so. Because that’s what the ICSA—and my book—is all about.



Kibbutz Architecture

Here is an interesting review of a new book about the kibbutz and “utopian architecture” by a pair of Israeli architects (who aren’t kibbutzniks). It also mentions that the Venice Biennale—the world’s most important art show—will include an exhibit on the architecture of the kibbutz at the Israeli pavilion this year. I’m making plans to meet and interview both the authors of the book (who I believe are also designing part of the pavilion) and the curator of the Venice exhibit while I’m in Israel next month. I’ll be fascinated to hear their expert perspectives on how the kibbutz was designed to reflect its progressive ideals and how its design related to earlier visions of utopia.