I seem to have jumped the gun with my recent visit to Israel. The Kibbutz Movement is just now inviting former volunteers to return to the country to help mark the centenary of Degania, the first kibbutz. They plan to organize an event, for this fall, to attract a thousand or more former volunteers.
Sadly, most kibbutzim no longer employ international volunteers. The agricultural jobs that were the staple of the volunteer experience—I did everything from picking avocados to removing rocks form the cotton fields—and that were part of the attraction for the often city-raised visitors from abroad are now largely mechanized or done by cheap Thai labourers who drink less and work harder.
Depending on who you ask, the influx of international volunteers during the 1970s and 1980s either had a positive influence (new multicultural perspectives, youthful enthusiasm, etc.) or a negative one (sex, drugs and rock and roll, corruption of kibbutz youth!). One thing is certain, as the coordinator of the Volunteer Office told me last year: volunteers often returned home and became unofficial diplomats for the State of Israel, because their experience living and working with Israelis (and particularly some of the most educated and liberal citizens of the state) gave them a more intimate and complex view of the country than what is depicted in the international media.
Israel could use some of that good P.R. again. Perhaps a nostalgic return to the country for some of the 350,000 volunteers who worked on a kibbutz might help.