By Nicole Sivan
Child-rearing on the kibbutz was a revolutionary departure from the traditional family unit left behind in Europe. For each member to sufficiently work and contribute to the greater good of the kibbutz, no member could be weighed down with child-rearing responsibilities. Therefore, the kibbutz initiated shared child-rearing by placing all community children in children’s houses. This freed parents mentally and physically for work, specifically releasing women from their traditional domestic responsibilities. This method of child-rearing also enforced the ideology of a shared community: the children were the children of the community, not just of the parents, and it was the community’s responsibility to raise them.
Children lived, studied and slept with their peers in these children’s houses and each house was managed by a team of teachers and care givers who were responsible for the children during the day. After hours, the children were independent and they rarely had an adult stay with them during the night. In later decades a walkie-talkie, the precursor to the modern day baby monitor, was placed with the children and an on-call parent was given the other walkie-talkie. This parent was responsible for checking in on the children’s house if any child woke during the night.
My husband grew up in a kibbutz children’s house during the 1970s-80s. He recalls one night when he was nine there was a terrible storm in his kibbutz. The wind was so powerful that by morning not one tree in the whole community was left standing. The children in his house all stood glued to the windows terrified as the wind uprooted the world outside, not one adult there to comfort them until morning. Although he has many fond memories of his childhood, he views the children’s house as a sort of orphanage and felt he never really had a home of his own.
A good friend of mine was also raised in a kibbutz, although not the same one as my husband. Contrary to my husband, she has only positive memories of this unique experience and she loved the independence afforded by growing up in a children’s house. She shared with me several memories she has of growing up in this environment including one amusing tale from when she was only four years old. She was a bit of rebel, and a trouble maker, and one day she came up with a plan that she and all of the other four-year olds in her children’s house should watch the sunrise on the roof of the laundry building. All of the preschoolers climbed up the side of the building and onto the roof, where they fell asleep before the sun appeared. When the adult in charge of her children’s house appeared in the morning to wake all of the children, none were in their beds. A massive search began throughout the kibbutz in an effort to find all of the missing four year olds. They were nowhere to be found. Who could have imagined they were asleep on the roof of the laundry?
While this may not have been the safest or most responsible activity for the children to undertake, they did, at an early age thanks to their unique upbringing, become independent thinkers who could also work and function as a team, or as a collective. These four year olds had minds of their own, but they also stayed together as a group and looked out for each other with parent-like responsibility, each one helping the other.
Children visited with their parents and siblings from 4:00-7:00 PM each evening for quality family time and dinner. Each family had its own table in the community dining hall, where all meals were eaten collectively, and no one in the kibbutz, except those assigned to the rotating shift to serve dinner, worked during these hours. Saturday was also reserved for family time and children visited their parents’ homes on this day or joined their family for outings in and around the kibbutz. Because of the structure of kibbutz life, parents were relaxed and could enjoy this time with their children. Clothes were washed in the communal laundry, food was prepared in the communal dining hall, and everything one could ever need was onsite in the kibbutz: a post office, a market, a cultural hall, a sports center, a swimming pool, children’s playgrounds, etc…. Even cars were communally shared and members just signed out a car for the day and time needed. Saturdays were not spent running errands or shuttling children from activity to activity. Friends and family were just a walk away in this enclosed community where everyone knew one another and children could safely play and roam outside.
The way of life in kibbutzim today differs greatly from the ideals set forth by the original pioneers. Early kibbutzim served the needs of a certain time and place and they helped in the development and creation of the modern State of Israel.
In part three of this article: The Kibbutz Today, we will explore how the kibbutz evolved over the past century and discover what it is like to live in a kibbutz today.Share this page with your friends
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