Culture, Israel, Politics, Religion

Kibbutz revival?

A few days ago, the New York Times ran an article describing the apparent renewal of kibbutzim in Israel. After years of decline, beginning inthe 1980’s, recently, people are again lining up to get into kibbutzim.
The article points out a couple of interesting things, one of which is explicit: that the renewed kibbutzim are not quite (for the most part) run inthe way that traditional kibbutzim were run, but rather as, “a kind of suburbanized version of it.”
The article continues, explaining,

On most kibbutzim, food and laundry services are now privatized; on many, houses may be transferred to individual members, and newcomers can buy in. While the major assets of the kibbutzim are still collectively owned, the communities are now largely run by professional managers rather than by popular vote. And, most important, not everyone is paid the same.

kibbutz life
Now, granted the old, purely socialist system didn’t really work all that well. We all know human nature, and in Israel, as anywhere else that this particular ideology was exercised, all kinds of unfortunate consequences resulted, the mildest of which is the obvious: that many people just didn’t pull their weight. Not to mention all the later reported problems with the communal children’s houses: the bullying and sexual abuse that sometimes resulted.
Nevertheless, I can’t help but wonder about some things that weren’t said: the recent changes in Israeli (following American) society such as the “greed is good” mentality of the 1980’s resulting in the dismantling of Israeli social support systems – and how that process perhaps actually contributed to the current revitaization of the kibbutzim, as people tire of a society in which everyone is completely out for themselves, and the future is economically very uncertain. I also wonder if the suburbanization of the kibbutzim is any kind of success story. Aren’t there other ways of attracting people into a community?
In some ways, it seems to me that this question is the exact same one facing Jews in communal institutions all over the place: how do you entice people into building communities in which people are actually part of a community and not just a fee for service relationship? The sad thing is, that this is indeed what most people are craving, but at the same time, our societies are currently so individualistic that we see any kind of responsibilty to others over the long term as inconvenient. And let’s not even get started on the subject of intergenerational responsibilty. Of all the various shuls and independant minyans out there, how many are genuinely welcoming of people of very different backgrounds and places in their lives?
How have we come to this? -“young professionals” minyans, 20 something minyans, old fart minyans, whatever… where is the sense that we need to sacrifice having things our way some of the time? And I am not targetting any particular group when I say this. In my opinon, there is no one who isn’t a culprit. From wealthy older folks holding onto services which barely anyone attends, to younger groups who are unwilling to make any kind of provisions for people who might not love the all-Carlebach channel. I suppose I could list on forever all the different niches who aren’t talking to one another. And lest I leave it out, that includes the various “movements” as well.
I suppose I have wandered a bit astray from the point of the article, but I often wonder, when we talk about renewal, if the things we are renewing have the value and the solidity to really be communities for the long term, because what I don’t see in many of these renewed communities, is obligation, love, or community.
xp to Kol Ra’ash Gadol

8 thoughts on “Kibbutz revival?

  1. From my understanding these “revitalized” Kibbutzim do not represent the bold ideals upon which the Kibbutz movement was founded upon. Even if a Kibbutz is not privatized it is still a bunch of Ashkenazi upper class Jews who shut themselves off the from the rest of society and all its troubles. Sort of like a gated community. HOwever, the Urban Kibbutzim which started showing up in the 1990s and populated in part by Olim from the Hashomer Hatzair and Habonim Dror youth movements. More must be done to promote these kinds of Kibbutzim.

  2. You did, indeed, wander away from the point of the article, but I’m so glad you did. The point needs to be made, over and over again, that the rampant individualism that has become the dominant ideology in our society is the cancer that will one day kill us all. Every one of us who is interested in building communal organizations, be they shuls, unions, kibbutzim, or even fraternal organizations must contend every day with this sad fact. We now live in a society in which the commercial relationship is king and consumer crap is all we’re told we are supposed to want out of life. Individualism is America’s legacy. Even our laws are almost exclusively structured to protect the individual and his property. We are taught that this is normative; how else, I’m often asked, should we structure our society? Well, there are other ways and historically Jewish society has functioned communally, or at least with a lesser emphasis on individual achievement. Israel’s adoption of the radical individualist philosophy may prove catastrophic. Only when we realize that individualism is at the root of such problems as the environmental crisis, the high divorce rate, economic and social stratification, the decline in trade unions, and many other problems, will we finally be able to deal with them effectively.

  3. “where is the sense that we need to sacrifice having things our way some of the time?”
    Agreed! BUt it’s a natural swing of the pendulum. The independent minyan movement came to life in the young, single professional community, but it’s not staying there. As its members have grown, married, and begun having children, these communities are changing, and facing the challenges of building a cohesive unit out of the disparate needs of its members. And let’s not ignore the suburbs, where the bulk of American Judaism is lived. There was a great need for revitalization, and the independent minyanim have begun that process. As time goes by, more and mroe of their members enter into other communities, where they integrate the special spark of these minyanim into a greater whole.
    Or maybe you just caught me in an optimistic moment…

  4. Has anyone else noticed that the most controversial of subjects are now being treated in a reasonable fashion – and with Mobius absent the entire tone of Jewschool has been elevated. No more diatribes against Israel and Jews just because of their political persuasion, no more nastiness, no more self loathing. What a great thing that Mobius is no longer with us!

  5. KRG – I think you’re misreading reality (as any American might). THe Kibbutzim are not an opposition to “greed is good” – many of them, especially those in affluent areas, are the owners of factories and shopping centers that exploit workers along with the rest of them. The suburban ideal of having a small red roofed house with a plot of land and a dog is not eschewed by the Kibbutzim – its promoted in an effort to get more people there.
    THe Kibbutzim are also not very hospitable to Arabs and other minorities, and most of what’s left of their idealism is pointed in the direction of the military (what many ISraelis do when they run out of convictions).
    The Kibbutzim served a purpose once, but there’s no point in having socialist farming collectives, when they are capitalist manufacturing look-out-for-yourself differential salaried closed communities.

  6. Sam, while I sympathize deeply with that you’ve written about how individualism and consumerism are poisoning our societies, I’ve got to point out that it’s a lot more complicated than “individualism = consumerism = bad”.
    There are many groups of people, especially religious, sexual, and ethnic minorities, who are enfranchised and whose needs are taken more seriously precisely because we live in a individualistic society. Tolerance of individual diversity and tolerance of group diversity tend to go hand-in-hand. Think of all the traditional, collectivistic societies that afford no place to anybody outside the norm.

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