Last weekend, I went with 10 other people from my program up north to spend the weekend on a kibbutz.
Noa, third from the left in the photo above, was born on Kibbutz Bar’am, a kibbutz that her grandparents founded and still live on today. She and her immediate family left when she was three, but her mother grew up there and they are still very attached to the place. She pulled some strings and was nice enough to get us two days of accommodation and tours of the community and the area.
Kibbutzim (the plural of kibbutz), started as collective or socialist living communities. They are a uniquely Israeli operation, and while many still exist today, they are fewer and fewer in number and less and less like their original visions. Originally, kibbutzim organized work based on need rather than skill, so one day you might be working in the kitchen, then the next 3 days in the field helping plant a crop, and then again back in the kitchen before going out to work in the cow shed.
They were heavily subsidized by the government as a way to encourage development of otherwise unappealing land (Kibbutz Bar’am was apparently a barren, rocky hillside when Noa’s grandparents arrived 60+ years ago). Most work in the early years was subsistence farming, so the question of money was less of a concern. Members received free housing and food in exchange for work, and any money made by the kibbutz was put back into the community, with a small amount distributed equally among members for discretionary spending.
Since then, many kibbutz have developed highly successful industrial or agricultural products or programs, bringing a significant amount of wealth to their communities. Some, like Bar’am, now use that money to employee staff who do the less desirable jobs on the kibbutz – kitchen work, farm labor, etc – which allows for the members to have jobs outside of the community. Bar’am still holds to its collectivist ideology, however, and any money earned is turned over to the kibbutz which then distributes funds equally to all members – regardless of the salary they contribute. Cars, of which they have about 100, are communal. The dining hall serves 3 meals a day, buffet style, and there is a coffee shop on the kibbutz that takes no money – you simply ask for and receive whatever it is you want.
Some kibbutzim, however, have privatized their communities, meaning members earn and keep their own money, and some own their own homes on the kibbutz. They have become, in effect, private gated communities with significant democratic voting and community decision-making, but with an unequal distribution of wealth.
In addition to a dining hall, Bar’am has a petting zoo, theatre for movies and plays, sports complex, pub, dance club, spiritual hall, museum, and various other facilities on the complex for its 300+ members. We got to see most of these, as well as take a tour of nearby archaeological sites and the medical-grade plastics manufacturing plant Elcam Medical that they started and run. I also drove a car for the first time in Israel, and the first time in something like 8 months in general. 2.5 hours up north into the Golan, and then closer to 3 hours home due to traffic and rain.
Some of us also accidentally stumbled upon an Israeli military installation while geo-caching, which Noa was very not pleased by.
(click a photo to open the fullscreen slideshow)