All streams flow into the sea, yet the sea is never full; To the place from which they flow, the streams flow back again. -Ecclesiastes 1:7
Last week we held our semi-annual clothing exchange at Shorashim, a custom that has been observed religiously for at least the 18 years that we have been living here. When we first arrived here, and the community was a commune, it seemed the most natural thing in the world and we took it for granted. Long tables are set out in the social hall, and everyone brings in all the clothing they can't/won't wear any more; the clothes are laid out organized roughly by age/size, and for several days everyone is welcome to come and take home whatever fits/pleases. At the end of the exchange, everything that is not claimed is bundled up and delivered to an institution that can use or distribute the garments. The custom grew, I suppose, out of the experience of former kibbutzniks among us, who grew up with the communal clothes dispensary - on a traditional kibbutz your clothes (at least your work clothes) weren't your private possessions - you picked up clean clothes, as needed, at the laundry, and turned in the dirty ones. Years ago when we were chaperoning a confirmation class group on a summer program with our 9 month old, the two weeks on the kibbutz were a real luxury - being able to pick up clean clothes for the baby every day, who cared about the pattern or the color? In our case, of course, the clothes are private property until they are brought to the exchange. Our own teenage children knew from experience who wore their style - and which clothes to covet in the hope that they would turn up at the next exchange. And it is definitely weird to bump into a neighbor on the path, who is wearing a shirt that you wore just last week; and amusing to see how some items of clothing keep returning year after year on new owners. Now, of course, it turns out that this project is not only economically useful, but very green - a throwback to the good old days when clothes were recycled from child to child in a family - the respected tradition of hand-me-downs. Why throw away and buy new when the same resource can be repeatedly renewed (i.e., the shirt is new to you, even if it is not new).
I assume our clothing exchange is not unique, though I have not encountered a similar custom on any of the middle class communities around us here in the Galilee. On the other hand, what has become quite fashionable in the past few years as a community project is the second-hand shop, parallel to the venerable Goodwill or Salvation Army store in the old country. We now have several in our area. You donate your old stuff; volunteers organize it and the general public is invited to buy it at symbolic prices, with the proceeds going for the rent and/or to tzedakah. Most of those who come to buy tend to be from populations for whom the possibility of nearly-free clothes is far more important than fashion. But one certainly encounters middle class families there as well. For a suburban teenager, coolness is generally a higher value than greenness or economy, and there is a certain middle-class aversion to used clothing - so I wonder if these stores will ever be seen by most people as anything other than a tzedakah project.
But who knows? There has been a rapid awakening of interest in recycling and renewal in Israel. I suspect we are not far behind the US in the ubiquity of bins for recycling paper, cardboard, bottles and cans. And our county recently held a workshop on home solar power generation. Still, glaring inconsistencies are everywhere wouldnt it make a lot more sense to avoid buying bottled water rather than to invest great efforts in recycling the empty bottles? Yet just about every spring in the country is captured, bottled, and trucked, to be sold to consumers who can get water of equal quality from their home faucets. Maybe the rise in oil prices will ultimately wake people up to the irrationality of this choice