The whole notion of the kibbutz sprang to life over a century ago in what was then Palestine with the idea of creating a workplace that can foster togetherness and a work ethic, while producing what could be useful for the broader economy. Being a kibbutz worker can open doors and future work opportunities elsewhere in Israel, with that work ethic being admired, but this has led to controversy and some inequality in itself.
Kibbutzes (deriving from the Hebrew word kvutza, which means group) go back more than 100 years since the first one was established. At the time, it was quite a novel idea for a voluntary society in which the inhabitants reside in accordance with a particular social contract, based on principles of egalitarianism and communal ideas within a social and economic framework. The most important characteristics of life in a Kibbutz were established in accordance with a collectivism in property in conjunction with a cooperative nature in the areas of education, culture and social life. Upon the establishment came the understanding that the Kibbutz member is a unit of a whole that is bigger even then his own family.
The Kibbutz in itself is run on the basis that all the money created by the Kibbutz and its members is put into a common kitty. This money is then used to run the Kibbutz, to be put into investments, and ensure mutual and reciprocal help and responsibility between its members. The members get the same budget (in relation to the size of their family), regardless of their job or position. With regards to education, all children start at the same level and are treated equally. The Kibbutz is run by a system of direct participatory democracy, where the member can directly have an influence on matters and events in the community as a whole. In this largely self sufficient environment, the group as well as the work ethic itself play a main role.
The first kibbutz was established in Degania (deriving from the Hebrew ‘dagan,’ meaning grain), located to the south of Lake Kinneret, in 1909 by a group of pioneers on land which had been got by the Jewish National Fund. Their founders were young Jewish pioneers, for the most part having come from Eastern Europe, and who arrived not only to stake a claim to the land of their ancient homeland, but also to carve out a new way of life for themselves. It was not an easy road for them: a hostile environment, lack of experience with hard, physical labour, a lack of know-how in the field of agriculture, desolate land which had been forgotten for centuries, a lack of water and a shortage of cash were amongst the difficulties which faced them. Despite these many trials, they managed to develop thriving communities which have since played a major role in the founding and building of the country. Where Israelis are born and brought up, whether on a kibbutz or in a village or a town, can do a lot to forecast what the remainder of their lives might look like. The workers at a Kibbutz are in the receiving end of many a benefit that residents of cities do not have, the likes of deep discounts on household bills, or land for building which comes very cheap.
The way the Israeli state has treated people who have worked on a Kibbutz has led to allegations of favouritsim from some quarters. It is widely thought in Israel that the state legitimises the culture of the kibbutz and promotes it to be the preferred, elitist and iconic one everyone should look up to. Kibbutz members go on to serve in elite units in the army and become pilots or intelligence officers on the basis that they are from a kibbutz. 90 percent of people who grew up in a kibbutz are likely to mention that in their Cvs. It doesn’t mean that people from the city dont have strong work ethics, but normally a kibbutznik is a safer choice for a lot of prospective employers. It means that they are picking a candidate who knows how to work hard.
At present, fewer than 150,000 people are members of kibbutzim, only a small amount of which are still communal. They produce 40 percent of the state’s agricultural output, but their workers make up less than 2 percent of the entire population. Although their popularity is on the wane at home, kibbutzim still serve as a focal point for foreign guests who want to experience this ever vanishing mode of life.
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Ronan Quinn is an editor, writer, poet, blogger and translator. He studied for an undergraduate in Russian and European History in Bangor University and went on to study for a Masters in Russian Literary Translation in Trinity College Dublin. Originally a journalist for various publications in Ireland, including The Irish Times, Ronan went on to translate many books. As a translator he has worked on books such as ‘Prisoner’ by Anna Nemzer, detective stories for the writer Emil Costa and works by Vladimir Kernerman entitled ‘Daniel Stein, a translation without a translator.’ Ronan has translated both poetry, including a series of Ida Nappelbaum’s verse called ‘My House,’ and prose and has worked on political and economic books by the author Boris Guberman.