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. Many are now private. Regardless of their status, the kibbutz offers a unique insight into Israeli society. Additionally, they are fascinating 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 built 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. These were in agriculture and elsewhere. Some were in the kitchen, the kindergarten, or in the children’s house. Members lived in modest accommodation,. Children lived in ‘children’s houses’ along with their peers, seeing their parents only for a few hours each day. 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 great. In the 1960’s, only 4% of Israelis lived in kibbutzim. Today, kibbutzniks made up 15% of the members of Israel’s parliament, the Knesset. Following his retirement, Israel’s first Prime Minister, moved to Kibbutz Sde Boker. David Ben Gurion did this to express his admiration for the work the pioneers were doing 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. Today, many of Israel’s kibbutzim are private. However, they maintain their communal roots. There are still places with strong community cooperation and activities.
Many over the years diversified far away from their agricultural roots, largely into manufacturing. Today, kibbutz companies account for about 10% of the country’s agricultural output. 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. This won’t give you a glimpse into real kibbutz life. It is fascinating and unique. To get this you need to take a tour. This isn’t as easy to do as you might think. Few kibbutzim run regular and easy to access tours. The Caesarea, Wine Country, and Kibbutz Experience Tour is a great option. It allows you to explore this unique form of collaborative community.
We feature a number of kibbutzim on Tourist Israel: