A kibbutz is a
unique lifestyle that developed in Israel. Egalitarian and communal, the kibbutz
is based on mutual aid and assistance. Kibbutz ideology was created by a
combination of two prominent early twentieth century movements: Zionism and
socialism. Kibbutzim were originally founded as agricultural settlements, and
involved various types of farming.
Both prior to and
following the establishment of the State of Israel, the kibbutzim (plural of
kibbutz) spearheaded Zionist settlement, and promoted the achievement of
national goals. Kibbutz pioneers were considered part of the social elite, and
were regarded in the highest respect thanks to the various roles and
responsibilities they assumed for the benefit of the public. Kibbutzim
engendered many leaders of pre-state Israel, and later Israel leaders, as well
as leaders of the Jewish underground organizations Hagana and Palmach, and later
of the Israel Defense Forces. Their contribution is demonstrated by the
relatively high share of kibbutz recruits who chose to serve in combat units,
and as pilots and commanders relative to their percentage in the population.
The first kibbutz
was founded in 1909 on the banks of the Sea of Galilee (the Kinneret) and was
named “Degania”. Additional kibbutzim were established in the area, as well as
in the nearby Jezreel Valley. To this day, some three hundred kibbutzim have
been established throughout Israel.
The kibbutzim began as utopist and independent
settlements. Property was considered communal, and kibbutzim were based on
equality, both in terms of production and consumption. The guiding principle for
kibbutz life was “From
each according to his ability, to each according to his needs”.
Kibbutzim were based on joint funds, which provided for the needs of all
members. It is noteworthy that the kibbutz way of life was based on the
pioneers’ free choice rather than on coercion or force, such as in various
were strictly adhered to until the 1970s and kibbutz members did not own any
private property, or even articles of clothing. Gifts and money from people
outside the kibbutz were given to the joint fund. All important decisions were
and continue to be made in the framework of democratic meetings, in which any
member – male or female – has an equal right to speak his or her mind and vote
according to his or her will.
adopted an educational approach of communal education.
divided according to age and lived with their peers in children’s houses,
studying, eating and sleeping there. Children spent with several hours every
afternoon with their parents.
Over time, the
kibbutzim organized in joint movements and organizations and became the vanguard
in almost every realm of Israeli society: military, government, economy and
culture. Kibbutz members served in key positions in the state’s leadership, in
the army and in public institutions. Over the past decades, the kibbutzim’s
status has crumbled and many kibbutzim have undergone privatization, and some
have been dismantled. Individual liberties grew more important and as a
consequence, kibbutz members were able to own private property.
Among the young
generation that grew up and was educated on kibbutzim, many refused to adopt the
kibbutz’ rigid socialist perspective, and felt a growing pull to fulfill
themselves as individuals. Mistakes, as well as wasteful mismanagement led many
kibbutzim to experience economic hardship and heavy debt. The social and
political atmosphere in Israel changed and kibbutzim were regarded in a negative
light, further worsening their status.
As a result, most
the kibbutzim are at a critical crossroads. Kibbutz members face vital
decisions: should they maintain their original lifestyle or choose vast changes
which will create a new kind of kibbutz? Though the future is uncertain, the
kibbutz is certainly an exceptional social phenomenon that has made a
significant imprint on history.