The kibbutz movement and the city of Tel Aviv both played vital roles in founding the state of Israel. They also share a curiously complementary relationship, a marriage of opposites held together by the tension of their different personalities, like one of those  old-time comedy duos: Abbott and Costello, Laurel and Hardy.

Both institutions were founded almost at the same time: Tel Aviv in the spring of 1909, Kibbutz Degania in the fall of 1910. Both put a secular face on a land better known for its deeply etched religious history. Both have carried the country’s economy on their shoulders, by lifting more than their own relative weight.

And yet, like rival siblings, they haven’t always gotten along. For the traditional kibbutznik, Tel Aviv represented the bright lights that might lure away (and often does) the “children of the dream” from their collective homes. For the modern Tel Avivnik, the kibbutz is a quaint and out-of-date museum for rural bumpkins and put-to-pasture communists.

When I lived in Israel in the late 80s, I didn’t spend much time in Tel Aviv, except when I arrived (to get assigned to a kibbutz) and when I left (to lie on the beach for a few days with a bad case of post-Egypt “Mummy Tummy”—another volunteer rite of passage). I was always more interested in visiting the endlessly fascinating city of Jerusalem. Who needed Tel Aviv, when you could do plenty of carousing on the kibbutz?
Bauhaus apartment in Tel Aviv

The past two summers, I’ve stayed in Tel Aviv, wandered its busy streets and marvelled at its transformation from a dusty oversized village into a fast-paced global metropolis—with a lively cultural scene, bustling cafes and clubs, and a multicultural mix of citizens and visitors. Along its hip Port District, it even has a club called Kibbutz, where you can get cheap drinks and food (relative to its upscale neighbours) and be served by wait-staff dressed up as kibbutzniks. There’s apparently even a tractor in the bar!

So, it’s interesting to be reminded (in a recent article) that the mayor of Tel Aviv, Ron Huldai, is himself a former kibbutznik, from Kibbutz Hulda, the same community as novelist Amos Oz. If the mayor (and a bar) can bridge the divide between the city and the kibbutz, I ought to try to as well, with a playful game of compare and contrast:

Category Kibbutz Tel Aviv
Founded 1910 1909
Population 106,000 404,000
Slogan From Each According to His Ability, To Each According to His Need The Non-Stop City
Economics (past) Hyper-socialism (the purest form of communism in the Western world) Mild socialism (thanks to labour unions and co-operatives)
Economics (present) Mild capitalism (“privatization” process has maintained a social safety net) Hyper-capitalism (the pulsing heart of Start-Up Nation)
Religion Mostly secular (except for religious kibbutzim in the Dati movement) Mostly secular (except for ultra-Orthodox suburbs like Bnei Brak)
Work-Life Balance Work hard (kibbutzniks), play hard (volunteers) Work hard, play hard (everyone)
Architecture Rural modernism. (Many dining halls and sports halls share a Bauhaus look) Urban modernism. (The White City’s Bauhaus buildings are world-famous)
Transportation Bikes, electric golf carts, car sharing Rush-hour gridlock, 24/7 honking. Take a sherut instead.
Aquatic facilities Menachem Begin called kibbutzniks “millionaires with swimming pools” The best urban beaches this side of the Gold Coast