Kibbutz Experiment is 100 Years Old

06/06/2010 12:04 pm ET | Updated Jun 14, 2011

Israel marked this week 100 years to the founding of one of the grand social experiments in modern times -- the Kibbutz.

The first in a series of celebrations was held at Degania, the first kibbutz, attended by Israel's legendary President, Shimon Peres; who was also a kibbutz member decades ago.

The Kibbutz was created in the early 20th century by Jewish Socialist Zionists from Eastern Europe, who decided to realize both ideologies (Socialism and Zionism) by creating -- in Israel -- collective agricultural communities, in which all means of production and consumption are communally owned; along the Marxist ideal, from each according to his ability to each according to his (and her) needs. The kibbutz was also one of the first feminist movements.

They succeeded in fulfilling both dreams. Israel won its independence in 1948, and for many decades over 200 Kibbutzim (plural) flourished, proving that communal life is not a fantasy.
But the dream, as all dreams, underwent many changes over time. A generation of idealists gave way to more pragmatic thinking sons and daughters. Israeli society underwent dramatic changes, casting their shadow on the kibbutz dream.

Until the 1980s, the Kibbutzim largely lived according to the socialistic values established by the pioneer founders. However, during the past three decades almost all the Kibbutzim suffered from financial crises plaguing the broader society, and had no choice but to adjust their socioeconomic system in order to survive.

Some Kibbutzim have abandoned all economic inter-dependency and cooperation among members and basically became small villages, where every family is on its own. Others have chosen a middle path, a mix between socialism and capitalism, guaranteeing kibbutz members more economic and social security than urban Israelis. Only a handful of Kibbutzim are still functioning as communal collectives in which all consumption and production is shared equally between members.

This video report made for VJM focuses on two Kibbutzim; Hatzor - which chose the middle way, and Be'eri - which has remained communal. Both have strayed away from their founders' ideals.

I was born and raised -- and live today -- in Kibbutz Hatzor. My grandparents (who came from Poland and Bulgaria) were among the pioneer founders of Hatzor. My mom grew up here fully experiencing the Kibbutz way of life. As I was growing up, Hatzor first underwent some of the changes described in the video.

From my experience, shared consumption and production is a nice idea -- which is unrealistic, especially when surrounded by an intensively capitalistic environment (as there is in Israel today).

I think people need to be financially motivated and should be financially rewarded according to their action and abilities, but also believe and feel that living in a community in which there is mutual responsibility by and for all members creates a healthier, less alienated society.

Links:
- Kibbutz Definition - Jewish Virtual Library
- Marking 100 Years to Kibbutz - Ha'aretz Editorial, 01/04/2010
- BBC report - Oldest Kibbutz Changes Its Ways
- Book about Changes in Kibbutz - Our Hearts Invented a Place