Zionist Dream of Kibbutz Fades in 1990s Lifestyle
Reforms in The Jewish State
ISRAELI-OCCUPIED GOLAN HEIGHTS
Yaakov Gabriel turned heads and caused a few grumbles last year when he was the first one on his block to own a car.Skip to next paragraph
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That's because this neighborhood has never been a place to care about keeping up with the Joneses.
Kibbutz Afik, one of about 270 such communal agricultural settlements in Israel, was founded on the idea that each member gave according to his or her ability, took according to his or her need, and owned next to nothing.
At least, not individually. At such farming communities, first founded in 1910 by European Jews who blended popular communist ideas about group ownership with the Zionist goal of building a homeland in Palestine, virtually all assets were controlled and distributed by the kibbutz as a whole. Later, if a kibbutz was wealthy enough to buy a car or two, it was shared by all.
Mr. Gabriel joined this newer kibbutz, built on land that Israel captured from Syria in the Arab-Israeli conflict of 1967, because he wanted to carry on the progressive tradition of communal living and patriotic settlement.
But life at Afik has become a disappointment, and not primarily because of its uncertain political status - Gabriel says he is willing to leave this land someday in exchange for peace with Syria.
Rather, it is the decline of the kibbutz ideology and its revolutionary notions of undoing the inequalities of capitalism that has left him feeling disillusioned.
"I can't say I'm happy with the changes on [the] kibbutz," he sighs. "It's not what I came here for. I came as a pioneer."
To save themselves from debt and bankruptcy, many kibbutzim have turned to market forces. Running everything from tourist hotels to high-tech companies - in addition to the customary agricultural concerns - several have handed control of their industries to professional managers.
Ten kibbutz industries have gone public with share offerings on the Israeli stock exchange, and another 20 to 30 are considering it, according to the Tel Aviv-based Kibbutz Industries Association.
In the workplace, kibbutz enterprises are no longer staffed only by members, nor are all members required to work on the kibbutz. Though that was a decision made to attract new residents and allow more freedom of occupation, critics say it is turning kibbutzim into little more than bedroom communities.
On many kibbutzim, seasonal workers from abroad are brought in to pick produce while members are off working in more intellectually fulfilling jobs.
But it is perhaps on the social level that life at the kibbutz has changed most radically.
To overcome gender stereotypes, all cooking was once done at a central dining hall and children were raised collectively in a separate children's home, freeing women to join the work force. But a shift to a more traditional family lifestyle began when kibbutzim started letting members install kitchens, detracting from the emphasis on communal dining.
And recently, the last kibbutz that still had children's homes closed them down and started letting all children sleep at home.