Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.

Reclaiming the Values of the Kibbutz Movement

January 8, 2013 4:55 pm 0 comments

The first house of the first settlement in Israel in Um Juni, later to become kibbutz Degania. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

On Oct. 29, 1910, a group of 10 men and two women founded the first kibbutz in Israel: Kibbutz Degania, not far from the Kinneret. Joseph Baratz, who had the first child to ever be born on kibbutz, was one of the 10 men, and in 1960, he wrote his memoirs of half a century of kibbutz life.

Eleanor Roosevelt, who visited Deanna, wrote an introduction to the book. The social experiment fascinated her, and she observed that the “desire to live in common and share in common” represents “high thinking and unselfishness of action.”

I recently saw the kibbutz and found an English translation of Baratz’s book, and could not put it down. Looking around the green fields and early kibbutz stone buildings, it is hard to imagine what it was like to come to a desolate expanse of swampland, unprotected and rife with malaria. Baratz left his family in the Ukraine with the passion of a young Zionist at age 16 to become a peasant of the soil of British Palestine. He writes of reacting against his upbringing and the surrounding culture, believing that “in order to construct our country we had to first reconstruct ourselves.”

He was afraid to tell his parents. When he finally confessed his desire to go to Palestine, his father went straight to the rabbi who offered an emphatic “no.” A boy of 16 should not undertake such a journey; he might “fall among free-thinkers” and drift into irreligious ways. But his parents eventually broke down and gave him the money for the journey. His mother called out as the train left the station: “Joseph, my child, be a good Jew,” and Joseph was off to a new life.

Joseph found a group of like-minded new friends who wanted to work the land. All the theory that they had discussed about nature and human nature was then put to the test. Growing food was not about supporting people, as necessary as this was to a country that was not yet a country. It was a philosophical statement for these fledgling Zionists about “the wholeness” they lacked in exile.

The group was totally committed to its goal of living collectively and tending the land and had a heated discussion about putting off marriage and children for at least five years until the kibbutz had initial success. One of the chief debaters against marriage at the time fell in love a month later, married and had the second child born on the kibbutz: Moshe Dayan.

The idea, radical as it was at the time, was that people would lack nothing because they possessed nothing; strength would come from the community and go back into the community. “Nobody would have to be ambitious or to worry for himself.”

Degania, which means cornflower in Hebrew, would, over the next decades, attract some of the most famous Zionists and politicians, including A.D. Gordon, Joseph Trumpeldor, and the poet Rachel. It became a flagship kibbutz, spawning other kibbutzim and collective projects. In Baratz’s words, it fulfilled a dream of what the Jewish nation could become on its own terms: “The land had lost its fertility, and it seemed to us that we ourselves, divorced from it, had become barren in spirit. Now we must give it our strength, and it would give us back our creativeness.”

The heyday of the kibbutz movement is long past. Much of the social experiment failed, but we also failed it. We have traded group laundry for the iPod, shared dining for Facebook networking. But we cannot forget Baratz’s youthful enthusiasm, which turned into a mature philosophy of obligation to land and country. In its largely secular flavor, the kibbutz movement imprinted Israel with values that twinned the deepest biblical connection to the earth with the Talmudic sensibilities of collective responsibility.

What will our modern ideologies build to replace what we have lost?

Dr. Erica Brown is a writer and educator who works as the scholar-in-residence for the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington and consults for the Jewish Agency and other Jewish non-profits. She is the author of In the Narrow Places (OU Press/Maggid); Inspired Jewish Leadership, a National Jewish Book Award finalist; Spiritual Boredom; and Confronting Scandal.

Leave a Reply

Please note: comments may be published in the Algemeiner print edition.


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Blogs Book Reviews Can ‘Islamic Reformation’ Work? (REVIEW)

    Can ‘Islamic Reformation’ Work? (REVIEW)

    It is cocktail hour on an April afternoon in 2004. The sun is hot on Amsterdam’s canals, and I am sitting at Café den Leeuw on the Herengracht with Ayaan Hirsi Ali. Hirsi Ali is still a member of the Dutch Parliament, and we talk about Islam. Specifically, we talk about the concept of “moderate Islam,” or what she calls “liberal Islam.” And she has one word for it. “It’s absurd,” she says. “It’s complete nonsense. There is no ‘liberal […]

    Read more →
  • Food Jewish Identity A Look at the Vilna Vegetarian Cookbook (REVIEW)

    A Look at the Vilna Vegetarian Cookbook (REVIEW)

    Everybody knows that cooking varies from country to country. There are Italian restaurants, Chinese restaurants, etc. We associate different styles of cuisine with different languages. Do we also think of the association of different cuisines with different dialects? We should, because cooking also varies from region to region. Litvaks and Galitsyaners have their own traditions of preparing gefilte fish. Marvin I. Herzog, in his book The Yiddish Language in Northern Poland: Its Geography and History (Indiana University, Bloomington, and Mouton & Co., The […]

    Read more →
  • Relationships US & Canada Analysis: Jewish Women Less Likely Than Catholics to Take Husband’s Name

    Analysis: Jewish Women Less Likely Than Catholics to Take Husband’s Name

    An analysis of New York Times wedding announcements showed that women married in Jewish ceremonies were less likely to take their husband’s last names than those married in Roman Catholic ceremonies, the Times reported on Saturday. The largest gap between the two groups was in 1995 when 66 percent of Catholic women took their husband’s names and 33 percent of Jewish women did the same. Nearly half of the women featured in the publication’s wedding pages since 1985 took their husband’s name after marriage, while about […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Blogs Jerry Lewis, Legendary Jewish Comic and Humanitarian, Stays Relevant at 89

    Jerry Lewis, Legendary Jewish Comic and Humanitarian, Stays Relevant at 89

    JNS.org – Through appreciation of both his comedy and humanitarian work, legendary Jewish entertainer Jerry Lewis is staying relevant at age 89. The only comic to ever be nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize, Lewis added another award to his trophy case in April, when he received the 2015 Distinguished Service Award from the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB). Gordon Smith, NAB’s president and CEO, said the organization was “honored to recognize not only [Lewis’s] comedic innovation, but also his remarkable […]

    Read more →
  • Europe Sports Israeli Gymnasts Win Bronze, Silver Medals at 2015 European Games in Baku

    Israeli Gymnasts Win Bronze, Silver Medals at 2015 European Games in Baku

    Israeli athletes marked a successful day on Sunday, as gymnasts won multiple bronze and silver medals in the 2015 European Games in Baku. The Gymnastics team won two silver medals and one bronze in group events, while Neta Rivkin, an Israeli Olympic gymnast, won bronze for the Solo Hoops event. Sunday’s gymnastics wins follow Sergey Richter’s bronze on June 16 for the Men’s 10 meter air-rifle, and Ilana Kratysh’s silver for women’s freestyle wrestling. The 2015 European Games in Baku are […]

    Read more →
  • Theater Report Highlights Success of Russian-Jewish-American Ballroom Dancers

    Report Highlights Success of Russian-Jewish-American Ballroom Dancers

    Russian-American Jews are some of the most successful ballroom dancing competitors in the U.S., South Dakota Public Broadcasting (SDPB) Radio reported on Thursday. Jonathan Sarna, a professor of Jewish history at Brandeis University, said their success can be traced back to Jewish discrimination in the former Soviet Union. Because of the prejudice they faced, Russian Jews had to perform better than their peers in every field, including dancing, in order to have a chance of getting ahead. “They knew that if they […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture US & Canada Israeli Dancer With Shofar, Prayer Shawl Wows ‘So You Think You Can Dance’ Judges (VIDEO)

    Israeli Dancer With Shofar, Prayer Shawl Wows ‘So You Think You Can Dance’ Judges (VIDEO)

    An Israeli dancer made use of Jewish props in an extraordinary routine that left judges amazed when he auditioned for season 12 of TV dance competition So You Think You Can Dance on Monday. At first, the panel of judges appeared confused when Asaf Goren, 23, began his audition in Los Angeles with a tallit (prayer shawl) over his head and the blowing of a shofar, which he explained “opens the sky” for people’s prayers. However, as soon as he started his “Hebrew breaking” performance, […]

    Read more →
  • Sports US & Canada Jewish Hoops Fairytale Falls Short as David Blatt’s Cavaliers Drop Game 6

    Jewish Hoops Fairytale Falls Short as David Blatt’s Cavaliers Drop Game 6

    JNS.org – A fairytale ending to Jewish basketball coach David Blatt’s first season in the National Basketball Association (NBA) was not meant to be, as the Blatt-led Cleveland Cavaliers on Tuesday night dropped Game 6 of the NBA Finals to the Golden State Warriors, 105-97, to lose the best-of-seven series 4-2. Blatt, who just last year coached Israel’s Maccabi Tel Aviv franchise to a European basketball championship, failed to finish a second straight hoops season on top. But after the Cavaliers began the NBA […]

    Read more →