The Kibbutz Sheds Socialism and Gains Popularity

Posted by Kendall Harmon

For much of Israel’s existence, the kibbutz embodied its highest ideals: collective labor, love of the land and a no-frills egalitarianism.

But starting in the 1980s, when socialism was on a global downward spiral and the country was mired in hyperinflation, Israel’s 250 or so kibbutzim seemed doomed. Their debt mounted and their group dining halls grew empty as the young moved away.

Now, in a surprising third act, the kibbutzim are again thriving. Only in 2007 they are less about pure socialism than a kind of suburbanized version of it.

On most kibbutzim, food and laundry services are now privatized; on many, houses may be transferred to individual members, and newcomers can buy in. While the major assets of the kibbutzim are still collectively owned, the communities are now largely run by professional managers rather than by popular vote. And, most important, not everyone is paid the same.

Once again, people are lining up to get in.

“What we love here is the simplicity,” said Boaz Varol, 38, who rides his bike along wooded pathways to work at the swimming pool, once for communal use, that he rents and runs as a private business at Kibbutz Yasur, in the rolling hills of the Western Galilee, northeast of Haifa. “Everyone does what they want, we have our independence, but without the kind of competition you find outside.”

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Filed under: * Culture-Watch* International News & CommentaryMiddle East

Posted August 27, 2007 at 3:58 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

1. Peter A. Mitchell wrote:

20 years ago this month I flew to Israel to work and study on Kibbutz Ein Shemer (near Hadera) and Kibbutz Yotvatah (in the Aravah, Israel’s desertous Rift Valley). I studied in the ulpan (Hebrew emersion school) at Ein Shemer, picking up where I’d left off with my minor in Modern Hebrew. The kibbutz experience was amazing. Very tough people with huge hearts. When I got homesick I’d hike to the cemetery to wander among the stones and massive eucalytus trees that the founders (many of them Polish Holocaust survivors) had planted for swamp draining. I’ll never forget my first meal in the heder ohel, sitting there wondering, “So where are all the people my age?” Turns out there were other young folk—but they were all like me, visiting from outside the country. I was 21. My six months on two kibbutzim strangley and profoundly shaped my adulthood. One day I’ll take my family back—and we won’t stay in a hotel.

August 28, 12:07 am | [comment link]
2. Alice Linsley wrote:

Thanks for sharing this lovely story, Peter.  I’ve never been to Israel, but you made it seem close.  I’ve lived in places where there were huge eucalytus trees and for a moment I could smell their unique fragrance released by the hot sun.

August 28, 2:15 am | [comment link]
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