A kibbutz is a type of settlement which is unique to Israel. A collective community, traditionally agrarian. The first kibbutz was Deganya Aleph, founded in 1910. Today, there are over 270 kibbutzim in Israel. They have diversified greatly since their agricultural beginnings and many are now private. Regardless of their status, the kibbutz offers a unique insight into Israeli society and make for interesting places to visit.
The word kibbutz means ‘gathering’, however the first were known as ‘kvutzat’, which means group. The first was Kibbutz Degania, just south of the Sea of Galilee. Young Jews who had previously worked draining nearby swamp-land for the purpose of agriculture and human habitation, builing a community for themselves. The land was bought by the Jewish National Fund. They did harsh labor to make the land fertile. These pioneers created a community founded upon agriculture.
Following the establishment of Degania, a number of other kibbutzim were founded. Many center around the Sea of Galilee and in the Jezreel Valley. During the pre-State years, and after the Declaration of Independence, many more kibbutzim came about. They appeared across Israel by pioneering groups.
Kibbutzim were initially almost universally agricultural settlements. Not economically motivated, the residents of the communes shared everything and worked as members of a collective. In the early days, times were tough, everything was shared and life was hard. The members all had different jobs in the community, mostly in agriculture. However, some were in the kitchen, kindergarten, or working in the children’s house, designated environments where children would spend most of their daily hours. All meals were eaten in the dining hall and the sense of community was great.
The influence of the kibbutz in the establishment of Israel is unquestionably unique. In the 1960’s, only 4% of Israelis lived in kibbutzim. Today, kibbutzniks make up 15% of the members of Israel’s parliament, the Knesset. Following his retirement, David Ben Gurion, Israel’s first Prime Minister, moved to Kibbutz Sde Boker. Ben Gurion did this to express his admiration for the pioneers who were working hard to develop the Negev Desert.
Since the 1970’s and 80’s, a growing trend has been privatization of the kibbutzim. This has come alongside economic development in Israel. It established their members as people who contribute to the wider economy. Nowadays, many of Israel’s kibbutzim are private however, they maintain their communal roots. There are still places with strong community cooperation and activities.
Many strayed from their agricultural-only roots and have largely settled into manufacturing. Companies on Kibbutzim account for about 10% of the country’s agricultural output and many of these industrial pursuits have led to great successes. Kibbutz Degania’s diamond cutting factory now grosses several million dollars a year. Kibbutz Hatzerim’s company Netafim was the global pioneer in drip irrigation equipment. They have flagship factory on the kibbutz and many more around the world.
Others have diversified into tourism. Now, kibbutz hotels are popular places to stay.
Visiting a Kibbutz
Anybody can drive through most kibbutzim or stay in their hotels. It’s always good to check of visitation rules in advance and be respectful to this unique way of living once there.
Here are the kibbutzim we suggest visiting: