Of course, I'm not the only international visitor obsessed with the legendary history, contemporary issues and uncertain future of the kibbutz, in this its centennial year. David Dagan, a Berlin-based American journalist, has started a series of blog posts for the Huffington Post about the five weeks he spent working on Kibbutz Mishmar HaEmek.
I also spent time on Mishmar HaEmek, this year and last (as the guest of member and Givat Haviva instructor Lydia Aisenberg), and enjoyed my own brief time on this large, relatively successful and still resolutely communal kibbutz. The kibbutzniks of Mishmar HaEmek, in the Jezreel Valley near Haifa, have always seen themselves as elite members of the pioneering kibbutz movement—that commitment to socialism and the settlement of Israel (plus, the success of their plastics factory) has allowed them to stand against the winds of change that have swept through 70% of other kibbutzim.
As Dagan's blog post makes clear, members are still debating possible changes—but they have resisted the trend toward different salaries or privately owned homes. One of the issues being discussed while I was there was the cost of the dining room and whether members (and their guests) should be charged a fee, even a highly subsidized one, for their food as a way to cut down on waste. (I'll admit, after learning of this debate. I felt a little guilty chowing down on the kibbutz's dime while we stayed there for four days.)
Of course, many other communities have been forced to privatize or shut down their dining rooms entirely. By contrast, Mishmar HaEmek's large dining hall remains the centre of casual meetings and communal decision making.
I look forward to reading more of Dagan's upcoming posts about his time on this important and fascinating kibbutz.