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Middle East Abeja Dispatch

Life on a Kibbutz
January 19, 2000

Thirteen year-old Nimrod rides on his bike to the bus at 7:30 in the morning. A yellow and black luxury tour-bus roars up to take him to school. I can't believe that THAT is a school bus! Nimrod goes to the best school in the area, I've heard. Not only that, but his family owns a huge swimming pool, a small zoo, a corral of horses, acres of land, a retirement home, a dairy farm, a turkey farm, several schools, orange orchards, an orange juice factory, and dozens of buildings and houses!

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Just another day on the Kibbutz for Nimrod
You probably think that Nimrod's family has lots of money, but they don't. As a matter of fact, his parents don't ever get paychecks! You see, Nimrod and his family live on what is known as a Kibbutz, one of many here in Israel. Kibbutzim (the plural of Kibbutz) are like small villages with communally owned land and property. Jewish settlers from Europe, many of whom were escaping the anti-Jewish pogroms, first formed Kibbutzim early in the twentieth century.

Anat and Christopher, Nimrod's mother and father, both work as teachers in the schools run collectively by several Kibbutzim in the area. Instead of getting a paycheck, their earnings go back into the community, this helps pay for things like the horses and the swimming pool; things that any one of the hundreds of families that live here could never afford on their own. So they share all these things with 1000 other people, and if they leave the Kibbutz, they essentially give their 1/1000th to the rest of the members. Their paychecks also pay for necessary things like health care, schools, housing, and food. What a cool system!

Naama is Nimrod's 15-year old sister. She's in the tenth grade at the same school as Nimrod, (where her father works as well). She only goes to school five days a week, instead of six like most Israeli students. On the sixth day, she works at the horse stables, where she learns all about how to care for horses. The day I went to visit, she was helping hold the head of a very sick three-day-old foal, while the manager of the stables put an IV in his neck. My biology class never learned anything like that.

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Hey! It's eating my hand!
Christopher, their father, is a high school English teacher. He found the Odyssey on the Internet, and invited us to come visit and meet his classes. I was really excited! Twin Oaks, the community where I used to live in the United States, is loosely based on the Kibbutz model! I've always wanted to see how this system works on a larger scale, and over a longer time period.

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No one is lonely at dinner time
This Kibbutz is named Givat Hayyim Ichud, (Givat means hill, Ichud means Unity, and Hayyim is the name of a person). It's one of three Kibbutzim in the immediate area. One of the things that amazed me when Christopher took me on a tour, is how the Kibbutz cares for its members from birth until death. They have a doctor and dentist, a dining hall, early childhood education, schools up through high school, housing for young single people, houses for married people and for families, and a retirement home. On one end of the residential part of the Kibbutz, there is even a cemetery.

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On the Kibbutz, even in the afterworld
At the age of 15, most Kibbutzniks (people who live on the Kibbutz) move out of their family house and into a room in a building nearby, with other teens. Naama will be moving out of her parents' house soon, and sharing a room with one of her friends. She'll still eat dinner with her parents and see them all the time, especially since her dad teaches at her school, but she'll have her own room that is separate from the family home. I wish I'd had that when I was 15! She'll live there until she graduates and goes into the IDF (the Israeli Defense Force), which is mandatory for all Israeli Jews at the age of 18.


pogroms - an organized massacre
ideology - the body of ideas formed by a group or social movement
pragmatism - conduct that emphasizes a common sense, practical way of thought
privatizing - to change from public or government held, to private ownership
utopian - the concept of a perfect society
"white-collar"jobs - jobs which do not involve manual labor

The high school, Ma'ayan Shahar (which means spring sunrise), is located on one of the other Kibbutzim, and has Kibbutzniks as well as students from other nearby villages. It is a very modern school, with computer and science labs that look nicer than what I had in college!

Kevin, Kavitha and I went to several English classes to tell them about the Odyssey. I was really impressed with how well everyone spoke English. Christopher is a good teacher! After letting them in on all the juicy World Trekker gossip, we got to ask them some questions of our own.

"How many of you are Kibbutzniks?" I asked one 10th grade class. About half of them raised their hands. "So, how many of you think you'll live in a Kibbutz when you finish the army?" Only two of them raised their hands to that question.

"There won't be any Kibbutzim by then!" a girl in the front row told me. Many others nodded their heads in agreement.

Christopher explained to me later what they meant, "The Kibbutzim were founded on pure Socialist ideology. But now things have changed, and pragmatism dominates."

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Family life on the Kibbutz is pretty good
Money is a big problem these days. (Big surprise! Where is money not a problem these days?) Many Kibbutzim are privatizing their land, their homes, and their businesses. This means that things once owned by the whole community will be sold to individuals. One of the reasons for this is that the communal groups often can't agree on what they should buy with their money. For example, should they put more money into the schools, or buy more community-owned cars?

Christopher drove us out to the highest point on the Kibbutz, in the middle of the orange fields. To the west, we could see a small Israeli town at the Mediterranean, eight kilometers away. To the east, we could see a small Palestinian town in the West Bank, also eight kilometers away. Israelis talk a lot about security concerns. Standing on this hill, with orange trees in every direction, between Palestinian territory and the Mediterranean Sea, I can understand why.

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Orange anyone? One, two, or three?

When the state was forming, Syria and Jordan, which border the West Bank, were often given to Kibbutzim. Young families were encouraged to move there, and to protect the borders. Every night, someone from the Kibbutzim could patrol the borders, relieving some of the work of the IDF (Israeli Defense Force). The Kibbutzniks could rotate the job, so no one would have to be up all night, every night.

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Not a bad day job, eh?

Degania, the first Kibbutz ever, was formed in 1909 by Russian immigrants escaping the anti-Jewish pogroms in Russia. It is where Syria, Jordan, and Israel all meet near the Sea of Tiberias (also known as Galilee or Lake Kinneret). Today, I'm told, an old tank sits, abandoned, in front of their Kibbutz. It is a Syrian tank that attacked the small Kibbutz in 1948, when Israel declared itself an independent state. They say that the Syrian army was held back by the Kibbutzniks with a few guns and molotov cocktails!

Nimrod explained another change. "In the past, it was like you all go work in the fields. Now everything is more technological. Now people don't work in the fields, and that is what held people together."

Early Zionist ideology encouraged a Jewish nation built by Jewish labor. Boatloads of Jewish immigrants arrived, hopeful and idealistic. They toiled in the hot Levant sun to forge this new nation, in their new, utopian communities. These days, most Kibbutzniks have a higher level of education, and now hold "outside," white-collar jobs, though their paychecks still go to the Kibbutz. Hired people, often non-Jews from other countries, come and work their fields for them.

Unlike most of the kids we met, both Nimrod and Naama want to live on a Kibbutz after the army.

"If they still exist," Nimrod reminds me.

"It's such a great place to raise children," Anat, their mother, told me. "The young people all say they don't want to live here, but after living outside for a while, a lot of them return."

What do you think? Would you want to live on a Kibbutz? What are the pros and cons of living a communal lifestyle?

Visit another site about Israeli culture.


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