One thing I’ve learned from my research is that the “end of the kibbutz” has been predicted from practically Day 2 of its founding. Every decade—almost every year—a new threat appeared to pose a crisis for this utopia. In fact, it’s hard to read a book or an article about the kibbutz without encountering both those words: crisis and utopia.
Most recently, the privatization schemes of various kibbutzim—in particular, different wages for different work and the ability to own your own house or apartment—have prompted observers, inside and outside the movement, to claim that the sky is falling again and that this change marks the end of the kibbutz.
Before that, though, one of the biggest and most controversial changes had been the decision to “decommunalize” the children’s houses—to vote to let kibbutz children stay home at night and be raised by their parents, rather than by a metapelet (aka, the kibbutz’s “super-nanny”) with other children of the same age, from almost the day of birth until they went off to do army service. This communal child-rearing was one of the most original, studied and debated elements of kibbutz life. (Interestingly, I recently learned that it wasn’t party of the mutual arrangement at Kibbutz Degania, the original settlement, although they did debate who should name the first child there: the parents or the kibbutz.)
The decision to move toward family-based child-rearing from communal children’s houses began in the 1970s and accelerated throughout the 1980s, until Kibbutz Bar’am, the last kibbutz to raise children communally, was deciding to give way to this trend in 1995. For many people, that decision marked the end of the kibbutz as a unique social arrangement. Here is a fascinating short documentary from that time, done at Kibbutz Bar’am, that looks at the history of the “children’s society” (as this system was known) and the decision to eliminate it.
As a parent myself, I can appreciate the freedom the metapelet system most have given couples to remain an active part of their community. (My wife and I are lucky if we get out for dinner together three times a year and we have lost touch with too many old friends.) At the same time, I would find it hard to give up the simple pleasure of waking up with my kids, aged four and two, curled up and cozy in our bed. I realize how fast they are growing and how soon I will look back with nostalgia on these often sleep-disturbed nights. It must have been a terribly difficult decision for the parents of the so-called “children of the dream” to make as a community.