Updated: Oct 21, 2021
In last Sunday's story, we spoke about the kibbutz movement—the collective farming system that began in Israel in 1909 in Degania just south of the Sea of Galilee. While I am no fan of socialism and definitely not Marxism, it was successful as long as Israel's existence depended on it. But what happened once Israel stabilized?
[Note: I got a few emails from people last week who read the title, were offended, and then responded without even reading the blog. Sometimes we forget that the very first chapters of the book of Acts show a people who "had all things in common." There is a difference between choosing to share your wealth with others and being forced to by the government.]
First, let me tell you how a kibbutz worked. The ideology came out of Eastern Europe and Russia. The layout of a kibbutz was simple. You had a residential area. The children, at least for the first few decades, would not sleep in their homes but in the children's house. Remember, everything was equal. There were common grounds for swimming and dining and an auditorium for meetings and entertainment. Elana and I once went to a costume party on the Jewish feast of Purim at a kibbutz.
The kibbutz life is simple. Everything you need is on the kibbutz. In most cases, cars are not needed, as you either walk or bike to your destination. In comes cases, golf carts are used.
A.D. Gordon was the father of Israel's agricultural movement. He was an exhorter credited with getting the Jews of Eastern Europe to get their hands dirty and become farmers. He said,
You work here [on the farm] simply without philosophizing; sometimes, the work is hard and crowded with pettiness. But at times, you feel a surge of cosmic exaltation, like the clear light of the heavens... And you, too, seem to be taking root in the soil which you are digging, to be nourished by the rays of the sun, to share life with the tiniest blade of grass, with each flower; living in nature's depths, you seem then to rise and grow into the vast expanse of the universe.
He turned farming into a religion.
In the early years, there was a large focus on equality in all things. Women would do any job that the men did. However, things have changed today. While the women still work, they don't do so much of the hard labor. Teachers are needed in every kibbutz, not to mention doctors and nurses.
Everyone in the kibbutz works on the kibbutz. In rare situations, some are sent outside of the kibbutz because of their skill in a particular area. One of my wife's childhood friends is a leader in his kibbutz outside Beersheva in the desert. Each day he leaves to go work in the high-tech industry. But, according to the ideals of kibbutz life, he freely turns over his entire paycheck to the kibbutz. Why would he do that? He loves the kibbutz life. It is called voluntary socialism. It's not for me. I am a visionary and am constantly thinking of new ideas…the kibbutz lifestyle would be extremely boring for me.
If ever there was a model of socialism that should have succeeded, it was the Israeli Kibbutzim. Why? Unlike in the Soviet Union and its satellites, there was no one getting fat at the top at the expense of the workers. Furthermore, there was no Marxist revolution, no violent takeover as in Cuba. It was just a group of Jews on a farm deciding to share everything in hopes of building a new state.
What held them together was not a totalitarian government as we see in China, but a shared desire to see Israel succeed as a nation—they were committed to the prophetic declarations, such as we see in Ps 102:16, "For the Lord will rebuild Zion and appear in his glory." And Amos 9:14, "They will rebuild the ruined cities and live in them. They will plant vineyards and drink their wine; they will make gardens and eat their fruit."
Nevertheless, the kibbutzim were dependent on the state to forgive their debt. By the mid-80s, the state could no longer afford the status quo. Things had to change. While a minority of kibbutzim remain loyal to the founders' motto, "from each according to his ability, to each according to his need," most have abandoned the socialist system. When kibbutzim kids would go to university, they were often presented with a new and exciting world of opportunities. To make ends meet, most of the kibbutzim, in addition to farming, opened up wedding halls, hotels, and even water parks.
In nearly 80 percent of kibbutzim, there have been massive reforms. Children still sleep together, but with their families. Members get paid according to their contribution, not need. Homeownership is now allowed. And members can work outside jobs and contribute a portion to the kibbutz.
This has led to a revival in the kibbutz movement, which still contributes over 80 percent of Israel's produce. It is hard to separate the kibbutz movement from the Zionist dream. They go hand in hand. And while communism never works for long at the state level—and always leads to oppressing the people, it did work long enough in Israel's kibbutz movement for the nation to stabilize.