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...

  • Arts and Culture US & Canada ‘Death of Klinghoffer’ Actress Compares Met Opera to ‘Schindler’s List’

    ‘Death of Klinghoffer’ Actress Compares Met Opera to ‘Schindler’s List’

    An actress starring in the controversial Met Opera The Death of Klinghoffer defended the show on Tuesday by comparing it to the 1993 Holocaust film Schindler’s List, New York Post reported. “To me, this was like [the movie] Schindler’s List. We make art so people won’t forget,’’ said the actress, who plays a captured passenger in the show and asked not to be identified. The Met Opera focuses on the infamous murder of Lower East Side Jewish resident Leon Klinghoffer, 69. The wheelchair-bound father of [...]

    Read more →
  • Analysis Arts and Culture Beyond ‘Klinghoffer’: Opera’s Composer, Librettist Have Broader Jewish Problem

    Beyond ‘Klinghoffer’: Opera’s Composer, Librettist Have Broader Jewish Problem

    JNS.org – One of the most controversial operas in recent memory, “The Death of Klinghoffer,” debuted Oct. 20 at New York’s Metropolitan Opera. The Met has scheduled seven more performances through November. The first staging did not occur without protest, as about 400 demonstrators—including Jewish communal and nationally recognized leaders—came to Lincoln Center to denounce the anti-Jewish and anti-Israel opera. “Klinghoffer,” the creation of composer John Adams and librettist Alice Goodman, premiered in 1991—with few additional stagings. The opera is based [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture US & Canada Israeli Actress Gal Gadot in Talks to Star in Ben-Hur Remake

    Israeli Actress Gal Gadot in Talks to Star in Ben-Hur Remake

    Israeli actress Gal Gadot is in negotiations to take on the female lead role in the remake of the 1959 classic Ben-Hur, according to The Hollywood Reporter. If the deal is finalized Gadot will play Esther, a slave and Ben-Hur’s love interest. Actor Jack Huston will star as the Jewish prince who is betrayed into slavery by his childhood friend Messala, played by Toby Kebbell. Ben-Hur fights for his freedom and vengeance with the help of Morgan Freeman’s character, who trains Ben-Hur how to win at chariot-racing. [...]

    Read more →
  • Jewish Identity Sports Young Israelis Try to Crowd-Fund Their Way to Major League Baseball Playoffs

    Young Israelis Try to Crowd-Fund Their Way to Major League Baseball Playoffs

    JNS.org – Baseball, hot dogs, and apple pie are the American dream. So why do two young men who have built their lives in Israel have a GoFundMe crowd-funding webpage with the urgent message that they need $3,000 to travel to the U.S. to watch the Kansas City Royals and Baltimore Orioles square off for Major League Baseball’s (MLB) American League championship? Brothers Naftali and Yoni Schwartz, 27 and 25, respectively, are Kansas City natives. Even though they made aliyah with their [...]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Sports Race Cars Speed Through Jerusalem in Amazing Exhibition

    Race Cars Speed Through Jerusalem in Amazing Exhibition

    Some 3,000 years ago, King David probably never imagined cars racing at 240 kilometers per hour (150 miles per hour) through the ancient capital of the Jewish people. But on Monday and Tuesday, October 6-7, thousands of Israelis lined the streets to watch Porsche, Audi, and Ferrari race cars fly through the capital against the backdrop of the Tower of David, the Old City Walls, and other city landmarks. The second annual non-competitive Jerusalem Formula One Road Show had been [...]

    Read more →
  • Israel Sports NBA Superstar LeBron James Says He Wants to Visit Israel

    NBA Superstar LeBron James Says He Wants to Visit Israel

    Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James expressed interest in visiting Israel someday, local news site Cleveland.com reported on Sunday. Speaking to Israeli reporters before the Cleveland Cavaliers’ preseason debut against Maccabi Tel Aviv, the NBA star said he had never visited the Jewish state but “I want to look forward to going there if I get an opportunity to.” When asked by an Israeli reporter if there was “any chance that LeBron James and Cleveland comes to Tel Aviv,” the athlete said [...]

    Read more →
  • Sports US & Canada Florida Rabbi Dominates Former Basketball Star Congressman in Hoops Showdown (VIDEO)

    Florida Rabbi Dominates Former Basketball Star Congressman in Hoops Showdown (VIDEO)

    A Florida-based Chabad rabbi put former basketball star, U.S. Congressman Curt Clawson to shame on the court when the two faced off one-on-one recently. A YouTube video, posted online on Tuesday, shows Rabbi Fishel Zaklos of Chabad of Naples shooting hoops with the Florida politician, who played basketball in high school and at Purdue University in Indiana. The game took place in the parking lot of the Chabad Jewish center run by Zaklos. During the 1-minute clip, Zaklos scores two impressive [...]

    Read more →
  • Sports US & Canada David Blatt’s Cleveland Cavaliers Rout Maccabi Tel Aviv, 107-80

    David Blatt’s Cleveland Cavaliers Rout Maccabi Tel Aviv, 107-80

    JNS.org – Less than five months after leading Maccabi Tel Aviv to its sixth European basketball title, David Blatt, now the head coach of the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers, routed his former team in an exhibition game on Sunday, with the Cavaliers dominating Maccabi 107-80 at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland. The 20,562 fans in attendance witnessed Lebron James’s first appearance in a Cavaliers uniform since he left the club in free agency for the Miami Heat four years ago. [...]

    Read more →



Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.