In her memoir We Were the Future, Yael Neeman describes her childhood in Kibbutz Yehiam in the 1960s and 70s, when children lived separately from their parents in what was called the “children’s house,” and the hope of a socialist future still had purchase. Rachel Biale, herself a product of such an upbringing, points out what the book successfully captures, and where it fails:
At their inception, the children’s house and collective education were to shape a new kind of emotionally healthy person unfettered by the crippling bonds of the traditional or bourgeois Jewish family. Over the last two decades or so, a cultural backlash has set in among some of those raised in children’s houses. In a small avalanche of art and writing, both memoir and fiction, graduates of the utopian educational system opened up a public reckoning with an upbringing they often depicted as traumatic. Yael Neeman’s We Were the Future is one of the very few of these testimonies to appear in English. As such, it offers a window into a vigorous debate taking place in Israel over an important chapter in Zionist history. . . .
Neeman’s book chronicles, in meandering yet at times beautifully evocative prose her life from kibbutz childhood to young adulthood. After her army service and another year of work on the kibbutz, she left, disillusioned with the collective’s promise and disappointed in herself. . . .
As a product of this collective education [system] myself, I found much of Neeman’s account of childhood on the kibbutz vivid and authentic. . . . Adopting the narrative voice of young children, almost always using “we,” rather than “I,” allows Neeman to capture this collective identity. “We were so close to each other, all day and all night,” she writes. “Yet we knew nothing of ourselves.” This is deeply sad and it rings true of at least some kibbutz children. . . .
[Yet] Neeman’s decision to write from a child’s perspective in the first-person plural also has significant drawbacks. One often wonders whether she is truly capturing the collective consciousness of her children’s house in the 1960s or reading later attitudes into it.