Sunday, March 28, 2010
The idea of the kibbutz continues to inspire, often in surprising places. On this website, an author makes his case for a system of kibbutzim in Ireland, as part of a country-wide contest called Your Country Your Call to brainstorm new ideas for social enterprises. Beyond its back-to-the-land philosophy, I'm not sure how much his idea aligns with the actual kibbutz; his Irish farms would be designed to attract Irish-Americans for temporary stays and have vaguely religious overtones.
Still, I found it interesting that the author would look to the kibbutz as a successful model. Plus, I liked the notion that each "Irish kibbutz" might be built and marketed around a theme, including Irish literature and creative writing. I'd love to live and work in a kibbutz-style community and be nourished by the works of Yeats, Joyce and Guinness.
Tuesday, March 23, 2010
One thing I’ve learned from my research is that the “end of the kibbutz” has been predicted from practically Day 2 of its founding. Every decade—almost every year—a new threat appeared to pose a crisis for this utopia. In fact, it’s hard to read a book or an article about the kibbutz without encountering both those words: crisis and utopia.
Monday, March 22, 2010
Friday, March 19, 2010
A few ideas:
Most kibbutz chalutzim (pioneers) came from Eastern Europe, smaller numbers from the relative wealth and security of North America. Kfar Menachem, where my parents lived, had quite a few Canadians and Americans. This might be an interesting area to explore--why North Americans left relative comfort and safety to live the tough life on kibbutzim in the early days. (One American couple I knew lost both their sons within a few days in the 1967 war.)
Arab Israeli relations: this is an encyclopedic topic of course but again I think some kibbutz members took leadership in forging better relations, learning Arabic and working with their Arab neighbours. When I visited the Arab village next to KM and asked the men who lived there if the kibbutzniks were their friends, they said "Lo chaverim, achim," Not friends, brothers.
Tuesday, March 16, 2010
Monday, March 15, 2010
A friend and colleague passed along a fascinating news story, from two years ago, about the development of subdivisions on Israel’s kibbutzim. These are new neighbourhoods, with lots or houses sold to non-kibbutzniks, attached to the kibbutz. The owners have access to the kibbutz facilities—the grocery store, the dining hall (if it’s still operating—many have been shut down), the daycare and schools, the gym and swimming pool, etc.—but aren’t part of the collective ownership of the kibbutz’s agricultural and industrial enterprises.
The kibbutzim are developing these subdivisions as a way to survive financially. The kibbutz gets money from the sale of the houses (although not the land—that is still owned by the state) and then for providing municipal services to the new residents. But this trend also causes social friction, as newcomers begin to mingle with kibbutz members, both of whom have differing levels of emotional and financial investment in the community. (Some kibbutzniks, however, see the developments as a chance for kibbutz-born children who are reluctant to be members to return and live on the kibbutz with their extended families.) One scholar told me of how religiously inclined residents at one of these new neighbourhoods demanded that "their" kibbutz—founded by members who were not just non-religious but all-out anti-religious—build them a synagogue.
Last summer, I certainly saw evidence of construction wherever I went. I walked past the bulldozed ground of new lots at Kibbutz Hanita. I saw an attractive Santa Fe style development on Kibbutz Shamir. Like communities near the Gaza Strip, both of these northern kibbutzim (and many others ear the border with Lebanon) have been the target of rocket attacks. Yet that doesn’t seem to bother prospective buyers, who are quickly buying up kibbutz-based properties. As one kibbutz scholar told me, “The kibbutz is a name, a kind of social good. It’s a brand.” Even if kibbutzniks aren’t as respected as they once were in Israel as pioneers, the communities they’ve created—with high-quality daycare and schools, stores and dining rooms, swimming pools and libraries and other amenities within walking distance, all in an often-picturesque rural setting—are seen as enviable locations to live and raise a family.
The benefits of that way of life, despite the turmoil over “privatization” on many kibbutzim over the past decade, was confirmed by a just-released study (based on 2009 surveys) from the University of Haifa that found that 70% of kibbutz members are satisfied with their lives, only 5% are unsatisfied, and that 78% are happy at their jobs. That compares with 58% of members who said they were satisfied in 2002, the last time the survey was conducted and a turning point in the evolution of the “new kibbutz”. As the movement marks its 100th anniversary, with many changes to its original communal ideals, the kibbutz itself still carries a utopian attraction, it seems, for anyone who hopes to escape the lonely crowd of city life and pursue happiness in a more self-consciously integrated community.
Monday, March 8, 2010
Amos Oz is Israel’s best-known literary author, peace spokesman and kibbutznik. (He joined Kibbutz Hulda at age 15 and has often written about kibbutz life.) His autobiography, A Tale of Love and Darkness, is on my to-read list. Now readers in the Arabic world will get a chance to appreciate his storytelling, thanks to the controversial efforts of a Palestinian man whose family has been torn asunder by the strife in the Middle East. The New York Times ran a fascinating story about Elias Khoury, whose family land was expropriated by Israeli authorities shortly after the War of Independence, whose father was killed in a Palestinian terror bombing in downtown Jerusalem two decades later, and whose son, six years ago, was “mistaken” for a Jew while jogging in Jerusalem and shot by terrorists.
“So in memory of George, a charismatic law student and musician, Mr. Khoury did something that shocked many in his community,” writes Ethan Bronner. “He paid for the translation into Arabic of the autobiography of Israel's most prominent author and dove, Amos Oz."
It’s a reminder that if the pen isn’t always mightier than the sword, it is often more resilient, and that literature—the act of imagining the perspective of another person, of seeing ourselves as others see us—may be the only hope of bridging the gulfs that too often divide us.