Thoughts of a Traveler: Kibbutz Life

Posted by Lauren Yagoda

Dec 1, 2014 3:50:08 PM

This is part of our Travel Diary series where our travelers write about their experiences abroad and share it with our readers.

Thank you very much Stacey, for sharing and allowing us to share with all of our readers! 

Click here to read Part I - Thoughts of a Traveler: Settling in to Tel Aviv

Click here to read Part II – Thoughts of a Traveler: Israel Vacation


We have visited a number of kibbutzim (i.e., plural of kibbitz) during our stay in Israel, and have been curious about the different “flavors” of communal living available today.

, via flickr

Our most recent guide, who led us through the Negev to Jordan, lives on one of the “newer” kibbutz, where he contributes 30% of his income in return for which he and his family live in a safe “gated” community and have access to excellent schools, childcare and healthcare. He does not eat communal meals with the other residents nor do he and his neighbors actually work on the kibbutz.

The word kibbutz means “gathering” or “clustering” and is a collective community originally tied to agriculture. Kibbutzniks (i.e., members of a kibbutz) founded the first one in 1909 based on the ideals of a utopian society, socialism, and Zionism. Today, Israel has 275 kibbutzim with a population of approximately 143,000 (less than 3% of Israel’s population).  Kibbutz life had been in decline for years until the last decade when increasing numbers of families (like our guide) became attracted to the increased space and security offered by kibbutz living.

Kibbutz life today appears to bear little resemblance to its utopian beginnings. Less than a quarter of the kibbutzim follow the

Exploring a kibbutz Exploring a kibbutz

While the original Kibbutzim were primarily agricultural, many have added non-agricultural businesses. This is largely because agriculture in Israel today requires many fewer workers so they need to create additional jobs for their members.original construct of taking care of every members’ needs regardless of how much or how hard the member works.  Many of the others have introduced wage differentials for those employed by the kibbutz–meaning one is paid based on one’s measured productivity. At the vast majority today, members work outside the kibbutz and contribute a portion of their salaries to the collective.  And communal child rearing has disappeared entirely from kibbutz life even at the more traditional ones.

We visited one such example–Kibbutz Ketura located deep in the Arava Rift Valley in the middle of the desert. Kibbutz Ketura was founded in 1973 by young American immigrants, and continues to operate under a modified version of the traditional collective model.

At Katura, the members recently eliminated its long- standing cattle and poultry operations, and started two serious and sizable businesses: a solar panel electric generating business, and an algae growing and harvesting business (for powerful antioxidants).

Their model is to create these businesses and then bring in key strategic investors to grow the businesses. The members only own 20% of these new ventures while outside professional investors own the rest.

Exploring a kibbutzBy Stacey S. via Gil Travel Exploring a kibbutz

A major difference in the way almost all kibbutzim are now run is the emergence of professional management. Sometimes (as at Katura), the manager is a kibbutz member. At others, they hire outsiders, and delegate and incentivize the manager to succeed.

Katura’s residents receive the same salary regardless of whether they work on or off site and regardless of productivity.  However, the kibbutz is very selective in accepting new members. All new applicants (including children raised at Katura who want to stay on as adults) have to go through a five year probationary period to see if they are a good fit.

We are off to Jerusalem for several days next week.

Sending you much love,
Stacey

Topics: Arts and Culture in Israel, guest posting & travel experience, Israel Travel