A kibbutz is a type of settlement which is unique to Israel. A collective community, traditionally based on agriculture, the first kibbutz was called Deganya and was founded by pioneers in 1910. Today, there are over 270 kibbutzim in Israel and they have diversified greatly since their agricultural beginnings with many now privatized. Regardless of their status, the kibbutz offers a unique insight into Israeli society, and are fascinating places to visit.
History of the Kibbutz
Kibbutz Hanaton via Brian Negin on Flickr
The word kibbutz means ‘gathering’, however the first kibbutzim were called ‘kvutzat’ which means group. The first kibbutz was Kibbutz Degania which is located just south of the Sea of Galilee. It was formed by a group of young Jews who had previously worked draining nearby swamp-land for the purpose of agriculture and human inhabitable who now wanted to build a community for themselves. The land was purchased by the Jewish National Fund, and following harsh labor to make the land fertile, the pioneers created a community founded upon agriculture. Following the establishment of Degania, a number of other kibbutzim were founded in Israel, many nearby around the Sea of Galilee and in the Jezreel Valley.
Old style kibbutz housing by maxnathans, on Flickr
During the pre-State years, and subsequently after the declaration of Independence, many more kibbutzim were established, 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, when times were tough, everything was shared and life was hard. Kibbutz members all had different jobs in the community, whether it be in agriculture or elsewhere – in the kitchen, in the kindergarten, or in the childrens house. Members lived in modest accommodation, and children lived in ‘childrens houses’ along with their peers, seeing their parents only for a few hours each day. All meals were eaten in the kibbutz dining hall and the sense of community was great.
New style kibbutz housing by maxnathans, on Flickr
The influence of the kibbutz in the establishment of Israel is unquestionably great. In the 1960’s only 4% of Israelis lived in kibbutzim, yet kibbutzniks made 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 following his stunned admiration for the work the pioneers were doing to develop the Negev Desert.
Kibbutz Life Today
Since the 1970’s and 80’s a growing trend has been privatization of the kibbutzim. This has come alongside economic development in Israel and the establishment of kibbutz members as people who are well educated and undertake good jobs in the wider economy. Today, many of Israel’s kibbutzim are privatized, however still maintain their communal roots as places with strong community cooperation and activities.
Many kibbutzim have over the years diversified far away from their agricultural roots, largely into manufacturing and 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, whilst Kibbutz Hatzerim’s company Netafim was the global pioneer in drip irrigation equipment with a factory in the kibbutz and many more around the world.
Other kibbutzim have diversified into tourism with kibbutz hotels popular places to stay.
Visiting a Kibbutz
Anybody can drive through most kibbutzim, or stay in a kibbutz hotel, however these don’t give you the real glimpse into kibbutz life that is fascinating and unique. To get this you need to tour a kibbutz, but this isn’t as easy to do as you might think, with few kibbutzim running regular and easy to access tours. Read more about a private kibbutz tour here.
We have featured a number of kibbutzim on Tourist Israel: