Tag Archives: Kibbutz

The New “New Jew”

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 Labouring in the fields has been replaced by labouring in the classroom.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.’

The Fallen Kibbutz: A Microcosm of Israeli Society

By Lily Hoffman Simon

This year marked the centennial birthday of the Kibbutz. However, the structure of these unique societal experiments has changed so dramatically that, today, their original founders would barely recognize them.  The values of a Jewish and Zionist social revolution, which birthed the kibbutz movement, don’t exist in the modern kibbutz. With all of these shifts, are the kibbutzim still a relevant force for Israeli and Jewish life?

A kibbutz is a collective settlement in Israel, traditionally based on communal life, agriculture, and an emphasis on physical labour.  This ideology emerged in Eastern Europe in the 1900s, when Jewish youth began to question the value in a self-victimized, oppressed, and religiously observant Jewish lifestyle, a lifestyle which dominated the Jewish narrative and experience throughout Europe. These idealists, frustrated by the lack of Jewish autonomy, latched on to the growing Zionist momentum to develop their own ideology—that of labour Zionism, which fused the ideas of a Zionist revolution with socialist principles.

Alongside the development of this unique Zionist perspective through the works of A. D. Gordon and Nachman Syrkin, to name a few, masses of Jews began to immigrate to Palestine to form collective, agricultural kvutsot, the precursor to kibbutzim. These communities dominated the Jewish attraction to Israel up until the end of World War II, and helped build Israel’s physical and social infrastructure. The underlying goal was to create a Jewish state based on the principles of Jewish liberation and autonomy, as well as egalitarianism, a return a nature, and the importance of interpersonal relationships.  Traditional kibbutzim forwent paying wages, instead giving everyone a specific job to maintain the collective kibbutz lifestyle. All money and property was shared.

So where are these utopian communities today?  Facing a booming Israeli population, structural changes in the Israeli economy and growing religious influence in national politics, many kibbutzim started to dramatically shift their focus in the 1980s. They underwent a process of privatization, introducing private wages and private property and contracting manual labour from outside the community. The kibbutzim’s initial economic success and vast influence on Israeli politics–the kibbutz-affiliated Labour party was in power until 1977–also contributed to these structural changes. Increased living standards undermined the simple, naturalistic lifestyle they originally promoted, and technological development encouraged them to hire outside labour to work the fields instead of the members themselves. All of these changes represented not only a changing Israel, but a dramatic ideological shift in the kibbutzim. Today about 70% of kibbutzim run on a privatized model, and the kibbutz movement is little more than another lobby group, with loose affiliation to the dwindling Labour Party.

While acknowledging the legacy of the kibbutzim during their prime, it is important to ask whether these societies accomplished their utopian Zionist goals. Was the new Jew created? Were the Jewish people liberated?  Open up any newspaper about Israel, or the Jewish people, and it becomes clear the answer is no.  Israel today is rampant with problems like racism, environmental issues, and religious political dominance. All of these are in direct contradiction to the original kibbutz values. The same can be found in the greater Jewish community, which still tends to focus on its past persecutions as a dominant defining feature of Jewish identity, especially the Holocaust (check out Netanyahu’s speech at Yad Vashem). Despite years of influence on Jewish life towards egalitarian and emancipated ideals, the fall of the kibbutz today seems instead to reflect the stagnation of Israeli and Jewish life.