I’m generally skeptical of a “news” article on a government website, but the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs has posted an excellent overview of the 100-year history of the kibbutz movement here. The story nails down all the important facts, doesn’t shy away from some of the ups and downs of the kibbutz movement, or how it has changed over the years.
The article establishes its authority by relying on the three most knowledgeable experts on the kibbutz you could talk to: Michal Palgi, Muki Tsur, and Shlomo Getz. (You could add Uriel Leviatan and historian Henry Near for a full-house of kibbutz expertise.) I interviewed Michal and Shlomo in 2009 and met them again last summer. And I’ve read many of Muki’s articles and listened to his inspiring keynote address at the International Communal Studies Association conference last year.
A few excerpts:
Each early kibbutz was an independent community whose members had to start from scratch in finding approaches to culture, politics, economy, immigration and language. “Each was a laboratory where all these questions had to be asked,” says Tsur. “Not necessarily to be resolved, but to be asked. The kibbutz had to be a laboratory on one hand and a place to live on the other.”
Tsur envisions revitalized kibbutzim as taking an even bigger role in building up Israel’s underpopulated peripheral regions – but not necessarily in their present form. “If it’s a free society, then every generation has to reinvent the kibbutz; we don’t have a central authority to mandate what is best. Maybe there will be kibbutzim of educators, for example? Certainly it won’t be only about raising chickens.”
Either way, there is one ingredient essential to any kibbutz, he adds. “As [the philosopher Martin] Buber said, the French Revolution was based on three ideas: freedom, equality and fraternity. Freedom went west and forgot equality; equality went east and forgot freedom. I believe that through the fraternity of the kibbutz, we can arrive at freedom and equality. Without fraternity, we cannot do it.”