The first kibbutz, a cooperative communal farming settlement called Degonia, was established in 1909 near the Sea of Galilee. It was followed in the 1920s by a number of variations on the basic model, and today there are more than 200 kibbutzim featuring a host of political and organizational characteristics and producing an array of goods, including toys, shoes, pharmaceuticals, and produce. Although there now exist a range of governmental organizations, there remains an effort to rule by committees, which oversee finance, education, child care, and other aspects of kibbutzim life. Nevertheless, the utopian socialist approach that underwrote the earliest kibbutzim has been largely diluted, leaving mixed forms of government, new labor practices including the use of hired laborers from outside of the kibbutz, and a host of new products bringing profits to kibbutz industries in ways that resemble conventional market dealings.
The original communal organization aimed to establish shared responsibility for administrative and labor tasks by promoting the idea that partnership and shared responsibility provide balance between the individual and the whole and between the whole and the individual. This was effected in part by equal sharing of all responsibilities and an obligation to take an active role in the life of the community under the credo of each man according to his ability and giving to a man according to his needs. The more utopian of the kibbutzim were established as Kibbutz Artzi by Hashomer Hatzair; these had their own individual and separate settlements but in 1927 joined the kibbutz movement to promote greater mutual aid and to provide a focus for the world organization. At its inception, the Kibbutz Artzi numbered four kibbutzim and 200 members, but as Hashomer Hatzair spread throughout the Jewish world, its impact began to be felt in Jewish communities everywhere, and new adult members emigrated to Palestine to join up. In 1937, the very first kibbutz of Americans was settled at Ein Hashofet, named in honor of Justice Louis Brandeis, a strong supporter of Hashomer Hatzair’s objectives. On the eve of the Second World War, the Hashomer Hatzair youth movement numbered 70,000 members worldwide, and their kibbutzim promoted a vanguard of socialist ideals.
From a progressive social standpoint, the early kibbutzim sought to minimize arbitrary direction and release fundamental motives for individual expression, the latter releasing the motive of the intellectual curiosity and the former the motive of economic cooperation. This emphasis on freedom and creativity, along with the ways in which the kibbutzim were isolated from mainstream culture, distinguishes this movement from others in existence during this period. The work carried out by those on Mishmar Ha’emek, one of the more representative of the utopian socialist kibbutzim, is indicative of the type of agrarian-based, socialist-style kibbutzim that was considered the ideal for that time. Indeed, the Kibbutzim Artzis were founded on a belief in the kibbutz as an instrument for fulfilling the Zionist ideal, furthering the class struggle, and building a socialist society. The objective was to promote the fullest possible development of all members of the group in order to advance the causes of rational planning, shared decision making, and the growth of individual well-being. The “maximum social effectiveness” of this type of organization was best demonstrated by the important successes it had for family life, the status of women, and the education of children. Concretely, these kibbutzim offered women an equal role in the administration and planning of the community, whereas children were provided the best available housing, hygiene, and health care, along with a progressive education.
For people from all over the world to get to know Israel, to learn Hebrew, and to get an understanding of kibbutz life, there exists the “Ulpan,” a 5-month period in which members study half the week and work in a branch of the kibbutz for the other half. Kibbutzim also welcome “volunteers” who come from many different countries for varying periods of time to learn about the kibbutz by taking an active part in the social and work life of the kibbutz. To be part of the kibbutzim is also a way of life, captured by the idea of “to build and be built.”
- Kibbutz, http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Society&Culture/kibbhtml
- Kibbutzim, http://www.kibbutz.org.il/eng/welcome.htm