A kibbutz (Hebrew: קיבוץ, קִבּוּץ,
lit. "gathering, clustering"; plural kibbutzim) is a collective community in
Israel that was traditionally based on agriculture. Today, farming has been
partly supplanted by other economic branches, including industrial plants and
high-tech enterprises. Kibbutzim began as utopian communities, a combination of
socialism and Zionism. In recent decades, many kibbutzim have been privatized
and changes have been made in the communal lifestyle. A member of a kibbutz is
called a kibbutznik (Hebrew: קִבּוּצְנִיק).
Pogroms flared up again in Russia in the first years of the 20th century. In 1903 at Kishinev peasant mobs were incited against Jews after a blood libel. Riots again took place in the wake of Russia's defeat in the Russo-Japanese War and the 1905 Revolution. The occurrence of new pogroms inspired yet another wave of Russian Jews to emigrate. As in the 1880s, most emigrants went to the United States, but a minority went to Palestine. It was this generation that would include founders of the kibbutzim.
Klar Blum Kibbutz
Like the members of the First Aliya
who came before them, most members of the Second Aliya wanted to be farmers.
Joseph Baratz, one of the pioneers of the kibbutz movement, wrote a book about
We were happy enough working on the land, but we knew more and more certainly that the ways of the old settlements were not for us. This was not the way we hoped to settle the country—this old way with Jews on top and Arabs working for them; anyway, we thought that there shouldn't be employers and employed at all. There must be a better way.
Though Baratz and others wanted to farm the land themselves, becoming independent farmers was not a realistic option in 1909. As Arthur Ruppin, a proponent of Jewish agricultural colonization of the Trans-Jordan would later say, "The question was not whether group settlement was preferable to individual settlement; it was rather one of either group settlement or no settlement at all."
Ottoman Palestine was a harsh environment. The Galilee was swampy, the Judean Hills rocky, and the south of the country, the Negev, was a desert. To make things more challenging, most of the settlers had no prior farming experience. The sanitary conditions were also poor. Malaria, typhus and cholera were rampant. Nomadic Bedouins would raid farms and settled areas. Sabotage of irrigation canals and burning of crops were also common. Living collectively was simply the most logical way to be secure in an unwelcoming land. On top of safety considerations, establishing a farm was a capital-intensive project; collectively the founders of the kibbutzim had the resources to establish something lasting, while independently they did not.
Finally, the land had been purchased by the greater Jewish community. From around the world, Jews dropped coins into JNF "Blue Boxes" for land purchases in Palestine. In 1909, Baratz, nine other men, and two women established themselves at the southern end of the Sea of Galilee near the Arab village of Umm Juni. These teenagers had hitherto worked as day laborers draining swamps, as masons, or as hands at the older Jewish settlements. Their dream was now to work for themselves, building up the land. They called their community "Kvutzat Degania" (lit. "wheat of God").
The founders of Degania endured backbreaking labor: "The body is crushed, the legs fail, the head hurts, the sun burns and weakens," wrote one of the pioneers. At times half of the kibbutz members could not report for work and many left. Despite the difficulties, by 1914, Degania had fifty members. Other kibbutzim were founded around the Sea of Galilee and the nearby Jezreel Valley.
The fall of the Ottoman Empire at the end of World War I, followed by the arrival of the British, brought with it benefits for the Jewish community of Palestine and its kibbutzim. The Ottoman authorities had made immigration to Palestine difficult and restricted land purchases. Rising anti-semitism forced many Jews to flee Eastern Europe. To escape the pogroms, tens of thousands of Russian Jews immigrated to Palestine in the early 1920s, in a wave of immigration that was called the "Third Aliya."
Zionist Jewish youth movements flourished in the 1920s, from right-wing movements like Betar to left-wing socialist groups such as Dror, Brit Haolim, Kadima and Habonim (now Habonim Dror). Most significant for the history of the kibbutz was Hashomer Hatzair, whose members founded many kibbutzim. In contrast to those who came as part of the Second Aliya, these youth group members had some agricultural training before embarking. Members of the Second Aliya and Third Aliya were also less likely to be Russian, since emigration from Russia was closed off after the Russian Revolution of 1917. European Jews who settled on kibbutzim between the World Wars were from other countries in Eastern Europe, including Germany.
In the early days, communal meetings were limited to practical matters, but in the 1920s and 1930s, they became more informal. Instead of meeting in the dining room, the group would sit around a campfire. Rather than reading minutes, the session would begin with a group dance. Remembering her youth on a kibbutz on the shores of the Kinneret, one woman said: "Oh, how beautiful it was when we all took part in the discussions, [they were] nights of searching for one another—that is what I call those hallowed nights. During the moments of silence, it seemed to me that from each heart a spark would burst forth, and the sparks would unite in one great flame penetrating the heavens…. At the center of our camp a fire burns, and under the weight of the hora the earth groans a rhythmic groan, accompanied by wild songs."
kibbutz defense shelter
Kibbutzim founded in the 1920s tended
to be larger than the kibbutzim like Degania which were founded prior to World
War I. Degania had had twelve members at its founding. Ein Harod, founded only a
decade later, began with 215 members.
Kibbutzim grew and flourished in the 1930s and 1940s. In 1922 there were 700 people living on kibbutzim in Palestine. By 1927, the number had risen to 2,000. When World War II erupted, 24,105 people were living on 79 kibbutzim, comprising 5% of the Jewish population of Mandate Palestine. In 1950, the figures went up to 65,000, accounting for 7.5% of the population. In 1989, the kibbutz population peaked at 129,000.
In 1927, United Kibbutz Movement (HaKibbutz Hameuhad) was established. Several HaShomer Hatzair kibbutzim banded together to form HaKibbutz HaArtzi. In 1936, HaKibbutz HaArtzi founded its own political party, the Socialist League of Palestine, commonly referred to as Hashomer Hatzair.
In 1928 Degania and other small kibbutzim formed "Hever Hakvutzot" ("association of kvutzot"). Kvutzot were deliberately small, not exceeding 200 members, in the belief that this was imperative for maintaining trust. Kvutzot did not have youth-group affiliations in Europe. Kibbutzim affiliated with Hakibbutz Hameuhad took in as many members as they could. Givat Brenner eventually came to have more than 1,500 members. Artzi kibbutzim were also more devoted to equality of the sexes than other kibbutzim. Women called their husbands ishi ("my man") rather than the customary Hebrew word for husband ba'ali (lit. "my owner"). The children slept in children's houses and visited their parents only a few hours a day.
There were also differences in religion. Kibbutz Artzi and Kibbutz HaMeuhad kibbutzim were secular, even staunchly atheistic, proudly trying to be "monasteries without God." Most mainstream kibbutzim also disdained the Orthodox Judaism of their parents, but they wanted their new communities to have Jewish characteristics nonetheless. Friday nights were still "Shabbat" with a white tablecloth and fine food, and work was not done on Saturday if it could be avoided. Only late some kibbutzim adopted Yom Kippur as the day to discuss fears for the future of the kibbutz. Kibbutzim also had collective bar mitzvahs for their children.
If kibbutzniks did not pray several times a day, kibbutzniks marked holidays like Shavuot, Sukkot, and Passover with dances, meals, and celebrations. One Jewish holiday, Tu B'shvat, the "birthday of the trees" was substantially revived by kibbutzim. All in all, holidays with some kind of natural component, like Passover and Sukkoth, were the most significant for kibbutzim.
Religious kibbutzim were established in clusters before the establishment of the State, creating the Religious Kibbutz Movement. The first religious kibbutz was Ein Tzurim, founded in 1946.
Arab opposition increased as the Balfour Declaration and the wave of Jewish aliya to Palestine began to tilt the demographic balance of the area. There were bloody anti-Arab and anti-Jewish riots in Jerusalem in 1921 and in Hebron in 1929. In the late 1930s Arab-Jewish violence became virtually constant, a period known as the Great Uprising in Palestinian historiography.
Kibbutzim began to assume a more prominent military role. Rifles were purchased or manufactured and kibbutz members drilled and practiced shooting. Yigal Allon, an Israeli soldier and statesman, explained the role of kibbutzim in the military activities of the Yishuv.
The planning and development of pioneering Zionist were from the start at least partly determined by politico-strategic needs. The choice of the location of the settlements, for instance, was influenced not only by considerations of economic viability but also and even chiefly by the needs of local defense, overall settlement strategy, and by the role such blocks of settlements might play in some future, perhaps decisive all out struggle. Accordingly, land was purchased, or more often reclaimed, in remote parts of the country.
Kibbutzim also played a role in defining the borders of the Jewish state-to-be. By the late 1930s when it appeared that Palestine would be partitioned between Arabs and Jews, kibbutzim were established in outlying areas to insure that the land would be incorporated into the Jewish state. In 1946, on the day after Yom Kippur, eleven new "Tower and Stockade" kibbutzim were hurriedly established in the northern part of the Negev to give Israel a better claim to this arid, but strategically important, region. The Marxist faction of the kibbutz movement, Kibbutz Artzi, favored a binational state over partition, but advocated free Jewish immigration, which the Arabs opposed.
Kibbutzniks fought bravely in the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, emerging from the conflict with enhanced prestige in the nascent State of Israel. Members of Kibbutz Degania were instrumental in stopping the Syrian tank advance into the Galilee with homemade gasoline bombs. Maagan Michael, manufactured the bullets for the Sten guns that won the war. Maagan Michael's clandestine ammunition factory was later separated from the kibbutz and grew into TAAS (Israel Military Industries).
The establishment of Israel and flood of Jewish refugees from Europe and the Arab world presented challenges and opportunities for kibbutzim. The immigrant tide offered kibbutzim a chance to expand through new members and inexpensive labor, but it also meant that Ashkenazi kibbutzim would have to adapt to Jews whose background was far different from their own. Until the 1950s, nearly all kibbutzniks were from Eastern Europe, culturally different from the Jews of Morocco, Tunisia, and Iraq. Many kibbutzim hired Mizrahim as laborers but were less inclined to grant them membership.
Ideological disputes were also widespread. Israel had been initially recognized by both the USA and the Soviet Union. For the first three years of its existence, Israel was in the Non-Aligned Movement, but David Ben-Gurion gradually began to take sides with the West. The question of which side of the Cold War Israel should choose created fissures in the kibbutz movement. Dining halls segregated according to politics and a few kibbutzim even saw Marxist members leave. This controversy cooled once Stalin's cruelty became better known and once it became clear that the Soviet Union was systematically anti-Semitic. The disillusionment particularly set in after the Prague Trials in which an envoy of Hashomer Hatzair in Prague was tried in an anti-Semitic show trial.
Another controversy involved Holocaust reparations from West Germany. Should kibbutz members turn over income that was the product of a very personal loss? If Holocaust survivors were allowed to keep their reparation money, what would that mean for the principle of equality? Eventually, many kibbutzim made this one concession to inequality by letting Holocaust survivors keep all or a percentage of their reparations. Reparations that were turned over to the collective were used for building expansion and even recreational activities.
Kibbutzniks enjoyed a steady and gradual improvement in their standard of living in the first few decades after independence. In the 1960s, kibbutzim actually saw their standard of living improve faster than Israel's general population. Most kibbutz swimming pools date from the good decade of the 1960s.
Kibbutzim also continued to play an outsize role in Israel's defense apparatus. In the 1950s and 1960s many kibbutzim were in fact founded by an Israel Defense Forces group called Nahal. Many of these 1950s and 1960s Nahal kibbutzim were founded on the precarious and porous borders of the state. In the Six-Day War, when Israel lost 800 soldiers, 200 of them were from kibbutzim. The prestige that kibbutzniks enjoyed in Israel in the 1960s was reflected in the Knesset. When only 4% of Israelis were kibbutzniks, kibbutzniks made up 15% of Israel's parliament.
As late as the 1970s, kibbutzim seemed to be thriving in every way. Kibbutzniks performed working class, or even peasant class, occupations, yet enjoyed a middle class lifestyle.
Text from Wikipedia
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