During my research, I’ve been curious about the impact of the kibbutz as an idea and an institution beyond the borders of Israel.
Living or volunteering on a kibbutz has shaped the lives of tens of thousands of non-kibbutzniks, of course. But the idea of the kibbutz, as a communal settlement, has never really been successfully transplanted — not on a large scale — outside of the nation where it was founded.
I’d heard that it played a role in shaping the early ideas of the Danish co-housing movement. And I’d stumbled across Jewish summer camps and an art colony and a briefly lived intentional co-op in Seattle that all wore the label of “kibbutz”. Even an eco-resort in Costa Rica. All were relatively small scale. None truly reflected the revolutionary communalism of the original kibbutz.
One of the most intriguing kibbutz-inspired communities is the Agahozo Shalom Youth Village—and, alas, I only learned of it from the obituary notices of its founder, Anne Heyman, who died recently in a horse-riding accident. Heyman had founded the youth village, in Rwanda, as a way to help and to help the many orphans, now adults, who had lost their parents in the horrific genocide in 1994.
Heyman, a New York lawyer and Jewish communal activist who was born in South Africa, viewed Israeli kibbutzes that took in Holocaust orphans as a model for coping with the hundreds of thousands of children orphaned by the Rwandan genocide.
She had looked back at history, to the lost generation of the Holocaust, and how the kibbutz movement had welcomed these orphans into their sanctuaries. She had seen the power of the communal ideal to provide the support — nurturing relationships, meaningful education, and purposeful work — to help repair the unfathomable losses suffered by these children, to help them find a path to a hopeful future out of the darkness of the past.
The Agahozo Shalom Youth VIllage is perhaps the best example I’ve found of the kibbutz dream evolving and taking a new yet equally inspired form in soil far beyond that of Israel/Palestine. It’s so tragic that the woman with the vision to make it a reality has died, so young (just 51), before she could truly see what it might grow into. I only hope that it, too, survives her passing.