Thursday, September 30, 2010

Kibbutz Trends and Controversies

I'm finally getting a little free time to sort through some recent (and not so recent) news items about the kibbutz movement and reflect on the ongoing changes there. Here are a few that caught my eye and are worth a second look:
  • West Bank settlers who have decided to move to an abandoned kibbutz in the Negev—a hopeful trend (if you can call it that), if you believe that the expansion of settlements in the Occupied Territories is the major obstacle to peace in the region. Plus, it suggests that the (largely) right-wing settlers can still take a little impetus from the (largely) left-wing kibbutz movement, which has always been more interested in settling the empty regions beyond the Green Line rather than the contested (and densely populated) areas within what many consider the future state of Palestine.
  •  a good little article, on the centenary of Kibbutz Degania, about the Hadera Commune and Umm Juni and the site that would become the first kibbutz (described, in a bit of hyperbole, as an "ideological Taj Mahal"). As the article says, it's not about the architecture that was built there, but the ideas that sprang from the soil. I remember seeing that famous black and white photo of the founders outside the dining hall at Degania, and an old woman's eyes misting over as she pointed out her father to us.
  •  A conflict between the Kibbutz Movement and the Israel Land Authority about what (mostly what not) kibbutzim are allowed to use their lands for, as the nation increasingly privatizes its vast public land holdings. Kibbutzim that are trying to profit (or just survive) by building subdivisions non-members, or sell services like daycare or elder-care to non-outsiders are finding themselves afoul of the ILA's regulations. As the articles says, many kibbutniks "feel the ILA has rebranded them from hard-working farming pioneers into greedy real estate sharks."
  • And then there is another article that looks briefly at just these kinds of expansions and entrepreneurial ventures that different kibbutzim are undertaking in an attempt to maintain their membership and economic viability, as they move away from agriculture and even heavy-industry as their major sources of income, and look to attract new members seeking to escape the hurly-burly of urban life. 

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The President on the Kibbutz

It's dangerous to have heroes who are politicians, as they have a bad habit of disappointing you. But Shimon Peres, the former Labor leader and current president of Israel, has always stood out to me as a politician with more moral integrity and vision than most—a man who has been forced to make difficult decisions and compromises, and yet has done so without losing his sense of justice.

He recently gave an address at the UN Millennium Development Goals summit. Not surprisingly, he ascribes much of that collective sense of purpose to the time he spent as a young man on a kibbutz. (He lived on Kibbutz Geva and was a founder of Kibbutz Alumot.) As he recalled in his UN speech:
In my youth I was a member of a kibbutz, cultivating poor land. I owned, like all members, two shirts and two pairs of pants. There was a third pair of pants: made of flannel reserved for grooms only. I was lucky to wear them for two full days during my wedding. The main dish in the kibbutz was eggplants. Meat was available once a week, but not every week. There was no private money and little collective money. 
We were poor and happy. The sort of happiness felt when a person as is turning desert into garden. Today the kibbutz has a thriving agriculture and a profitable guest house. Food is plentiful. It is in the kibbutz, in scarcity, where I learned to respect pioneers. And developed an affinity to creative minds and laborious hands. Actually, my early dream was to see the world as a great kibbutz. Free, peaceful, productive.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Cartoon Kibbutz Nostalgia

I'm finally back from summer vacation and ready to get back to my kibbutz research. Of course, first I have stacks of class preparation to do before school begins next week. In the meantime, let me share this quirky little video—what appears to be an animation film project—that captures a nostalgic look back at life on a kibbutz.