By Nicole Sivan
Kibbutz: a communal farm or settlement in Israel on which a group of people live and work together [collectively]. (Merriam-Webster Dictionary-web)
The first kibbutz was founded in 1909 on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. Today there are more than 270 kibbutzim in Israel. Early kibbutz pioneers hailed mostly from Eastern Europe and arrived with the dream to reclaim their ancient homeland and forge a new way of life away from the ghettos of Europe. These young Zionists hoped to establish a unique style of community and create a different type of Jew, one unrecognizable from the religiously observant and socially oppressed Jew of Eastern Europe. They envisioned this new Jew as strong, religiously unobservant and rooted in the land. Returning to their agricultural heritage was an important part of the pioneers’ ideology. Farming was the dominant profession in ancient Israel and the agricultural year, both then and today, dictates the Jewish calendar. Agricultural professions were denied to Jews in Europe: they were not allowed to own land or work land, forced instead into professions related to banking and money lending.
As early Kibbutznik and Zionist ideologue A.D Gordon wrote,
The Jewish people has been completely cut off from nature and imprisoned within city walls for two thousand years. We have been accustomed to every form of life, except a life of labor- of labor done at our behalf and for its own sake. It will require the greatest effort of will for such a people to become normal again. We lack the principal ingredient for national life. We lack the habit of labor… for it is labor which binds a people to its soil and to its national culture, which in its turn is an outgrowth of the people’s toil and the people’s labor. … We, the Jews, were the first in history to say: “For all the nations shall go each in the name of its God” and “Nations shall not lift up sword against nation” – and then we proceed to cease being a nation ourselves.
As we now come to re-establish our path among the ways of living nations of the earth, we must make sure that we find the right path. We must create a new people, a human people whose attitude toward other peoples is informed with the sense of human brotherhood and whose attitude toward nature and all within it is inspired by noble urges of life-loving creativity. All the forces of our history, all the pain that has accumulated in our national soul, seem to impel us in that direction… we are engaged in a creative endeavor the like of which is itself not to be found in the whole history of mankind: the rebirth and rehabilitation of a people that has been uprooted and scattered to the winds… (A.D. Gordon, “Our Tasks Ahead” 1920)
Early kibbutzim were also greatly influenced by the revolutionary ideas of socialism and communism emerging throughout Russia and Poland at the turn of the century. The pioneers brought with them the Marxist principle, “from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.” This principle became the driving force behind the establishment of kibbutzim around Israel and the lifestyle that emerged dictated the lives of kibbutzniks well into the 1980s.
Following these Marxist beliefs, all money and assets in the kibbutz were managed collectively: members did not have private incomes or any individual possessions. Total economic equality was the ideal of the kibbutz and to achieve this goal members worked for the greater good of the community. In the kibbutz, work was a value unto itself and there was a dignity in labor, even menial labor. Work was a badge of honor and not to work was one of the worst things that could befall a kibbutznik. Retirement was not an end goal. Everyone contributed as much as he or she could and no matter how much one gave to the kibbutz, each member received in return money, food, clothing and housing, according only to his need.
Every member was assigned a job on the kibbutz: some to make the kibbutz financially viable, and others to help with the day to day running of the kibbutz. As the kibbutz evolved, issues arose over what extent the community should be collective and many community meetings witnessed debates about whether a scarf or some other trinket mailed to a specific kibbutz member from a relative back in Europe should be viewed as the sole possession of that kibbutz member or as part of the kibbutz’s communal property, available for anyone to enjoy.
Despite its socialist roots, the kibbutz was, and still is, a direct democracy with elected officials. The kibbutz secretary is the top position and serves as the President/CEO of the kibbutz. All issues in the kibbutz are voted upon, from community budgets and the admission of new members to whether or not to paint a building blue. In this open forum, community meetings are held weekly and members can express their views, or grievances. Daily issues in the kibbutz are handled by elected committees, and except for a few top positions, almost all committee members hold other jobs in addition to their roles in kibbutz administration.
During Israel’s early years, kibbutzim played a strong role in the State’s defense and in its political leadership. Many kibbutzim were founded strategically along the country’s vulnerable borders and these communities were designed to serve as a first line of defense against infiltrators, terrorists and other attackers. Also, because of the collective way of life and growing up with the concept of “the greater good,” an abnormally high percentage of political and military leaders in the 1940s-70s hailed from kibbutzim. They knew how to take responsibility, to consider the big picture and sacrifice their own individual needs for the well-being of others.
Stay tuned for part 2 of this article which explores communal child-rearing on kibbutzim. Can you imagine growing up in a children’s house?Share this page with your friends
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