Of course, one solution to the problems at Kibbutz Hanaton would be to follow the wisdom of Solomon and make the split literal by chopping the community in half. That’s what happened during the much more contentious schism—a political divide about which left-wing party to support—that racked the kibbutz movement in the 1952. Some members simply left their homes and moved to communities that supported their preferred political party.
In a couple cases, most famously at Kibbutz Ein Harod, the kibbutz itself was physically and socially split into two, and the separated communities became known by the suffix Meuhad or Ihud, depending on which federation its members aligned with. Kibbutz Ein Harod—Meuhad and Ihud—is famous for more than just this split… which seems, from the distance of history, like political hair-splitting by a pack of socialists but was of the utmost importance to the committed members in the early years of the State of Israel, when everything seemed possible, even a socialist Jewish nation on the shores of the Mediterranean.
Ein Harod is perhaps the most important kibbutz after Degania. It was founded in 1921 as a reaction to the small kvutzot, like Degania, and intended to be a “big kvutzot” or communal society instead—a thousand people, maybe more, something more sustainable than the 20 to 50 individuals that had founded the earlier communities. In this way, Ein Harod was the first kibbutz per se—as the word “kibbutz” became applied to these larger settlements and eventually replaced “kvutza” as the generic term. Ein Harod was also the home of Yitzhak Tabenkin, who turned the kibbutz into the centre of a nationwide movement (eventually called Meuhad) to promote this vision of large, economically robust socialist communities expanding across and hopefully transforming pre-state Israel.
In the end, Ein Harod was changed by Israeli society, rather than vice versa. Political divisions between the weakening movements died down, and the Ihud and Meuhad federations joined to form the United Kibbutz Movement in 1981, although the two Ein Harods remain separate. Last September, Kibbutz Ein Harod Meuhad voted to privatize, an event as significant perhaps as the same decision that was made by Degania Aleph two years earlier. Tabenkin’s socialist utopia is now embracing the capitalist ethos—a change that his 79-year-old son says the founder of the “big kibbutz” movement would not have approved.
That was all just context to our visit to the Art Gallery at the kibbutz, where I spoke with Galia Bar-or, who is co-curating an exhibition about 100 years of kibbutz architecture for the Israeli pavilion at the upcoming Venice Biennale. Our discussion added to my understanding of the built-environment of the kibbutz—what makes it unique and how it has changed—from my earlier interview with the Chyutins in Tel Aviv.
Dr. Bar-or emphasized that the thinking behind the design of the kibbutz is not simply of historical interest, even in the era of the capitalist kibbutz. “It’s still relevant,” she told us. “It’s not a long exhausted idea. It’s very fruitful to think about different kinds of solidarity. This is an alternative form to the generic city or suburbs.”
Kibbutz architects, she explained, were conscious of planning public spaces and building arrangements that encouraged social interaction, especially the all-important dining room, the centre of most kibbutzim, where so much of communal life took place—eating, voting, dancing, you name it. “It’s very nice that the heart of the community is linked to food,” she said. “Now with the changes, with privatization, in many cases the community is not able to maintain that big building because people eat at home.” Israeli filmmaker Amos Gitai is contributing to the Venice exhibition an experimental film focused on the dining room of Kibbutz Kfar Masaryk, especially its sounds.
Dr. Bar-or talked about the pressures being placed on the social spaces of the kibbutz. “We are in a crucial time when, in many cases, the privatization of land has violated the space of the kibbutz. There are also rules of the state that force you to make fences—” We had seen high wire fences that Kibbutz Urim had to erect around its daycare. “—and roads for ambulances to enter.” I had mentioned how I had always appreciated the way many kibbutzim are made for people walking not for cars driving. “There is a need for rethinking and to preserve that common space and to maintain that social space.”
And what about the future?
“I’m not certain that the kibbutz will survive even in the form of the new kibbutz,” Dr. Bar-Or admitted. “I think the idea, the courage to try, that thing that makes you human—that you are looking to make the future better—that’s the main thing. Even if it will disappear, it’s like a ghost. It will come back.”