WHAT IS KIBBUTZ?
Kibbutz means group in Hebrew. It is a modest name for something unique: a voluntary democratic community where people live and work together on a non-competitive basis. Its aim is to generate an economically and socially independent society founded on principles of communal ownership of property, social justice, and equality.
The first kibbutzim (plural of kibbutz) were organized by idealistic young Zionists who came to Palestine in the beginning of the 20th Century. Their dream was not just to settle the land it, but to build a whole new kind of society. Despite many hardships, they succeeded in creating a social system and a way of life which has played a crucial role in the development of the State of Israel both culturally and politically.
Over the years the kibbutzim have multiplied, prospered, and adapted themselves to changing realities. Today some 270 kibbutzim, varying in size from 80 to over 2,000 people, are scattered throughout Israel. With a total populace of around 120,000 they represent about 2.8 percent of Israel’s population.
In the early days of the kibbutz movement, all kibbutzim were based on a foundation of agriculture. These days, however, the economies of kibbutzim cannot be sustained by agriculture alone. Most kibbutzim have branched out into industry to increase their productivity. Kibbutz factories manufacture a wide variety of products from electronics, furniture, household appliances and plastics to farm machinery and irrigation systems.
Most kibbutz members work in some section of the kibbutz economy: orchards, factory, dairy, fishponds, or in one of its maintenance units. Routine jobs such as dining room duties are rotated among members. When too few members are available for a particular job, outside workers may be hired and paid wages or receive room and board on the kibbutz.
WHO LIVES ON KIBBUTZ?
Kibbutzim, like any other society, are made of individuals who are all different from one another. Some members of kibbutz identify strongly with the pioneer spirit that founded the kibbutz. Many others, if not pioneers themselves, are the children of those pioneers, and are now grown up and have families of their own on the kibbutz. They are called “sabras,” or people who were born in Israel. (An interesting etymology that will give you a sense of Israeli character: “sabra” literally refers to a type of cactus fruit, which is hard and prickly on the outside, yet sweet and tender on the inside).
Many kibbutz members, however, will not fit this stereotypical image. Lots of kibbutzniks will look more or less like people from your hometown and in fact may even come from a place like your hometown. Many members of kibbutz are “olim” (immigrants) from foreign countries such as the United States, Australia, South Africa, Ethiopia, Russia or around Europe. Hebrew may not be their native language, but they all speak Hebrew, as it is the primary language spoken in Israel.
Some members of kibbutz are very old. Some of them were true pioneers in the early days of the founding of the state. Try to meet someone who was a founding member of the kibbutz where you are staying, and ask them to tell you stories about the early days of the kibbutz. It?s a great way to practice your Hebrew and learn some Israeli history at the same time!
Another significant group living on the kibbutz are the participants. What distinguishes a participant from a “chaver” (full member) of the kibbutz? First, the participant lives on the kibbutz temporarily, while members stay for the long haul. Second, members have voting privileges which give them say in the issues of the kibbutz life; participants do not take part in that. Finally, members are eligible for a full use of all facilities on the kibbutz, while participants may not have access to certain facilities such as a ceramics studio or member’s moadon (clubhouse).
As a participant, remember that you are a guest in the home of the kibbutzniks. Because we come from a different culture, we view the grounds and facilities of the kibbutz differently than do members. For kibbutz members, the entire kibbutz is home, rather than a house with four walls. Take the kibbutz dining hall, for example. To the participant it looks like a cafeteria, which is public space. However, kibbutzniks see it as a dining room, which is private. Participants are essentially guests in the home of the kibbutzniks, and you should be respectful of that fact just as you would if you were visiting a friend in his or her house.
ADJUSTING TO KIBBUTZ LIFE:
In the beginning, newcomers may find it difficult adapting to the new language, the physical labor and the collective way of life. In order to prevent unnecessary difficulties and misunderstandings, here are a few important things to remember. First, you come to the program as a student to learn the Hebrew language. All studies, especially those of a new language, require considerable effort. Assistance will be offered to you and you are expected to observe the rules of the Ulpan.
Second, your living expenses and studies are financed by work. It is required that a serious and responsible attitude toward all work be maintained. No work is more or less important than any other; you are respected according to how you work as opposed to what you work at. Being new and temporary, you may be asked to do more general service work rather than skilled labor. Try to understand that, while the work coordinator will sometimes try to vary everyone’s work placement, you may not get the job that you want most.
Third, the schedule on most kibbutzim will have you working or studying the first half of the day, so generally you will be done with your class and work responsibilities in the afternoon. You can take this opportunity to study, explore the kibbutz, get to know the members, read, write, etc. Please be aware that Ulpan is not a program in which every hour of your day is scheduled for you. One of the many benefits of this program is that it offers you the experience of actually living in Israel. Therefore, you can look forward to the flexibility in schedule that will allow you to develop a routine that is right for you.
Finally, the way of life on the kibbutz is both liberal and tolerant, but there are certain customs, regulations and rules which may not be immediately apparent or comprehensible to a newcomer. You should approach the kibbutz with respect and in time you will gain a deeper knowledge of the content and style of life there. Hopefully, you will come to value the manner of life on kibbutz.