By Lily Hoffman Simon
A new kibbutz movement is sweeping Israel. Most often, it is comprised of irbutzim (city kibbutz), which are collectivist structures based on the original ideas of the agricultural kibbutz. Instead of creating an alternative community on the fringes of everyday Israeli life, however, these communities are placing themselves in the heart of Israeli cities, from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Just as the kibbutzim were centred on the idea of creating an ideal society to influence the greater Israeli society, so do irbutzim, which like their predecessors share communal bank accounts and emphasize youth leadership. This adaptation represents a hopeful future for the kibbutz movement and Israel itself.
The traditional agricultural kibbutzim were based on socialism, egalitarianism, environmentalism, hard work, interpersonal relationships and the liberation of the Jewish people through a Zionist revolution. The overarching goal was to create a ‘new Jew,’ distinct from its marginalized ancestor. As times changed however, so did the utopian vision of the kibbutzim, which faltered over time. As kibbutz ideology and prominence diminished, their future looked bleak; until now.
In addition to traditional Kibbutz values, The irbutzim are based on the same socialist principles that founded traditional kibbutzim, such as “from each according to his ability; for each according to his need.” Where these two social organizations differ, however, is in the ways they are committed to their visions of a Zionism and the evolution of the Jewish people. Traditional kibbutzim focused on physical labour and agriculture as a means to physically build the state of Israel, as well as physically transform the Jewish individual, because those were the needs of the time. Today, the irbutzim encourage responsibility over the social aspect of Israel – its people, schools, cultural and environmental practices – as a means to rebuild the state socially. Labouring in the fields has been replaced by labouring in the classroom.
The structures of new kibbutzim vary dramatically. Most follow an emerging pattern of kvustah (group, collective) living. Often, these kvutsot join into a network of other kvusot, which support each other and interact on their social projects. These circles have formed urban kibbutzim, such as Kibbutz Naama in Migdal Emek, or Kibbutz Tamuz in Beit Shemesh.
Kvustot can also exist independently, and are found across the country, usually identifying as the t’nuat bogrim (movement graduates) of various youth movements. It is interesting to note that similar kvutsot were the precursor to kibbutzim themselves. They are overwhelming dedicated to renewing the Jewish, egalitarian, democratic, and progressive spirit in Israel through an organized structure. Most accomplish this work through facilitating informal education for youth in classrooms (even establishing whole schools), establishing youth centres, working in joint Arab-Jewish initiatives, working with recent immigrants, or supporting at-risk or working youth. The list goes on (check out this video for more information).
Others are still based on agricultural ideas, such as Kibbutz Lotan, which has developed sustainable and recycling initiatives, or Nir Moshe, which is an agricultural commune based on permaculture, an agricultural principle based on sustainable emulation of natural ecological relationships. These tend to follow the new Green Kibbutz model, dedicated to ecological socialism. Some new kibbutzim are religious, while others are centred around coexistence projects, such as the Sadaka Jewish-Arab Youth Partnership, based on the Sadak Reut Israeli-Palestinian partnership.
Despite the decline of traditional kibbutzim, there seems to be hope for those seeking a democratic, utopian Israel. These chalutzim (pioneers), are part of a greater movement of Israelis who are renewing the revolutionist and youthful spirit of the kibbutzim, and actively taking responsibility for the Jewish nation, thus reigniting the unique spark of kibbutz ideology and creating a more modern ‘new Jew.’