The whole idea of kibbutz was born in the times of Jewish collective settlements in Palestine, a while before the State of Israel was created. It was based on the social, economical and sex equality in the social community where there is no private property and all the members live, work and raise children together. The kibbutz movement had a solid background in socialism and Zionism, with the utopian dream of the perfect world. At first they were based on agriculture but with time this has changed and now other economic branches provide an income to these settlements.
First kibbutz was established in 1909 in Galilee and it is operating until now. In the 1980s there was a big crisis of this utopian community that lead to the changes in the kibbutz basis. In 2010 there were 270 kibbutzes in Israel with 200-700 inhabitants in each of them. They produced 9% of country’s industrial output and 40% of agricultural output.
The kibbutz I was lucky to visit, Maagan Michael, is one of the richest in Israel. It was established in 1949 and at first its main income was supposed to be fishing. Since it was created shortly after Israel proclaimed its independence many young immigrants came to kibbutz to learn Hebrew language while working hard. These days Maagan Michael focuses mostly on agriculture and plastic components factory.As soon as we crossed the gate to Maagan Michael we had to leave the car at the parking lot. There’s no traffic, people don’t even own cars – if they need to go outside of kibbutz they just rent one from the common collection. To move around the property they either walk or ride a bike – the number of these is overwhelming as it’s the main mean of transport in the kibbutz. There’re also couple of melexes to travel around.
Since we got there in the early afternoon we could see around mostly young parents picking up their kids from kindergartens. While the average number of children in one family in Israel is 3, among people living in kibbutzes it’s one more kid. Maagan Michael has fairly many kindergartens as they tend to be small so every kid would get a special care. We met Neta’s friend in one of them when he was picking up his son and headed to his place where his wife with their second small child were waiting.
Every family in kibbutz gets a flat / home – the size depends on the number of people in the family. Their apartment wasn’t too big but also was enough for the family of four (and the dog). Right now Neta’s friend is staying at home with her children but things weren’t that good for mothers in kibbutzes. She still remembers her childhood when she was living in kind of dormitory with all the other local kids and she could see her parents only for one hour each day. It was believed that kids, as well as everything else in kibbutz, is a common property therefore they need to grow up together, without strong relations with their parents (who weren’t allow to call their kids “my son” or ‘my daughter”). The aim of the kibbutz movement was to forget about all typical gender roles so everyone could be equal. Everyone wore the same clothes, there was no division for female and male jobs, and so everyone was supposed to take care of all kids equally. After years of this kind of kibbutz reality people slowly came back to their original roles and eventually mother were allowed to stay with their kids at home and raise them however they wanted.
Everyone in kibbutz is supposed to work, preferably inside the community (Neta’s friend runs a local pub which is probably the coolest job there!). The salary is the same for each employee, doesn’t matter what exactly he/she does within the company. People don’t use money in kibbutz – everyone has their own account with a number they use when doing shopping or using a common canteen. Of course if a person needs to go outside of kibbutz it’s very easy to withdraw the money to take with him/her. But everything a person needs can be found in kibbutz! If someone happens to have a job outside of kibbutz the earned money still go to the community and the person has on the account the same amount as everyone else.
Maagan Michael is the biggest kibbutz in Israel, with 1400 inhabitants. Due to the very high standard of living it’s a very much desired place to settle down but at the moment it doesn’t accept any new members of the community as the area of kibbutz is fairly limited too. I don’t blame people that they want to live there – it really seemed like a perfect place! The level of education is very high, kibbutz pays for universities as well, pensioners have a dream life there too. Even if after serving in the army a lot of young people prefer to live outside of kibbutz, in big cities, they feel a little bit lost there, at first they have problems with basic things like errands and eventually they return to where they come from.
According to Neta’s friends living in kibbutz isn’t 100% perfect. People tend to be mean, jealousy is very common, so are gossips (aren’t these the issues every small community has to deal with?). On the other hand people have everything they need to and Maagan Michael has the most beautiful location, right at the shore of Mediterranean Sea with a wide sandy beach. On nice summer day kibbutz looks like a Californian beach club. So even with minor issues kibbutz is a wonderful place to live and I could see that people are happy there (they confirmed that).
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This 2 hours I’ve spent in Maagan Michael told me so much about Israeli reality and proved me again how little I really know about this country. It was so interesting to listen and learn about kibbutz, something I had a very vague idea about before. I can’t thank enough Neta and her friends for giving me this valuable lesson about their country. It was an experience that made me even more curious about Israel and the one that made my stay there really unforgettable!
Would you like to visit kibbutz?
I stayed in amazing Juha’s Guesthouse in Jisr az Zarqa – a place with the incredible history that really is making a huge difference to the local community. You can book your stay there here!
If you think of visiting Israel or just want to read more about the country take a look what else I wrote about it!
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