Israel’s kibbutz communities, nestled in its most scenic and fertile landscapes, are one of its best-known Israeli “products,” representing a unique, rural way of life whose historic hallmark is sharing. The kibbutz movement began around the turn of the 20th century when groups of young pioneers from Eastern Europe decided to combine their commitment to egalitarianism and their love of nature and working the land with their Zionist creed. These first kibbutzniks, as members of these communities are called, founded Degania on the southern shore of the Sea of Galilee, which is still blooming and going strong.
Today there are approximately 270 kibbutzim throughout the country. Interestingly, as famous as the kibbutz movement is, only about 1.5% of Israel’s population has chosen this way of life, making it an even more special phenomenon you’ll want to learn more about when you visit. Their role has certainly been the inverse of their small numbers – it is impossible to imagine Israel without the kibbutz contribution to agriculture, industry, as a first home for immigrants and, in the early years, in defense of its borders.
Many say the kibbutz secret of success has been its willingness to change with the times. More than a generation ago, for example, they gave up the idea of children sleeping in group quarters watched over by kibbutz caregivers, which in the old days was considered essential to maximize working hands. And today, some kibbutzim have decided to foster greater individual enterprise, while continuing to share elements of their cultural and social lives. Still others have kept the traditional framework of a redistribution of the resources of all members.
Since all kibbutzim began as farms, they are located in Israel’s most beautiful regions. That makes them an alluring destination for visitors, and many operate hotels and/or bed-and-breakfast facilities, craft shops, galleries and other attractions and tourist services. In fact, visitors who want both to meet these unusual folks and enjoy their hospitality can plan their entire Israel trip staying overnight only at kibbutzim! With lots of room to run around outdoors, kibbutz accommodations are great for families with young children. Some kibbutzim run tours of their community, and boast museums of their pioneering days and/or the heritage sites and artifacts found right on their land.
An unforgettable opportunity to get acquainted with kibbutz life, to make life-long friends among the kibbutzniks and other people from around the world, and to see Israel at the same time is by volunteering on one of 30 or so kibbutzim for a minimum of two months and a maximum of six months. If you love green pastures and waterscapes, you may look for a kibbutz volunteer program in northern Israel’s Hula Valley or near the Sea of Galilee. In contrast , there are dramatic desert scapes in the Negev or the Arava, where you can help make the arid land bloom.
For further information and various conditions for volunteers visit http://www.kibbutz.org.il/eng/
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