Updated: Oct 21, 2021
Would you believe it if I told you that socialism helped young Israel survive? That was what I told a conservative talk show radio host some 30 years ago, and he simply could not believe it.
Personally, I am a fan of the free market. But about 40 years before Israel become a nation, they realized that the only way they could survive was to start collective farms where everything was equal. They called these farms Kibbutzim. It comes to form the Hebrew word לקבץ l’kabets, to gather.
During my time in Israel, I’ve spent much time on kibbutzim, possibly staying in a hotel there or interviewing them about their unique area of expertise for Out of Zion (see below). While most began as farms, over the years, they’ve branched out into running event halls for weddings and bar mitzvahs or some other type of industry.
The Jewish Farmer
When the Jews returned to the promised land, it had been badly neglected by the Ottoman Empire and the Arabs who lived there. It was unfarmable. In the south, rocks had to be cleared, and in the north, malaria-infested swamps had to be drained. The Jewish people worked together for the common good.
AD Gordon is considered the father of Jewish Agricultural. He made Aliyah in the early 1900's and, while rejecting socialism, promoted the idea of the "Jewish Farmer." He understood, that of the Zionist dream to be realized, the new "olim" immigrants from Eastern Europe, who were used to city living (often forced into ghettos) would have to embrace a life of agriculture—they would have to work the land. He was quite prophetic, as Israel has indeed caused even the desert to blossom like a rose.
Degania—from the Hebrew word for grain—was the very first kibbutz located at the southern end of the Sea of Galilee. The idea of reclaiming the soil had become something of a religion for the early Jewish chalutizm, or pioneers. The young men and women came mostly from Eastern Europe. They were not used to physical labor and knew little about agriculture. But they had memorized the prophecies about rebuilding the land.
They overcame these odds to create the foundation for Israel’s booming agriculture. Israel is famous for her creativity, but few people believed you could grow potatoes in the desert. Kibbutz Yotvata, after failing with fruits and vegetables, determined to grow potatoes. They were told it wouldn’t work, and yet 60 years later, it is one of their main products.
By bringing the Jewish people back to this barren land, the Lord would test his people. It would take faith. Author Moshe Kempinsky says, “God says, ‘I’m going to do something miraculous—I'm going to create a land that even though those climate issues don't call for it, it's going to be a land that's going to be filled with dates and honey, and also with milk so that you know that... nothing in this land comes here except when it’s from Me.’”
Is that not what we see in the Scriptures? Did not God say that the desert will blossom like a rose? Isaiah predicted that “Israel shall blossom and bud, and fill the face of the world with fruit (Isa 27.6), and Ezekiel said, “The trees of the field shall yield their fruit, and the earth shall yield her increase” (Ezek 34.27)
And did not God promise a land flowing with milk and honey?
CBN’s Julie Stahl writes, “It appears God has delivered on that promise. Despite the heat, humidity and limited resources, Israeli cows produce more milk per year than cows in the United States, European Union, and Australia.”
The aforementioned Kibbutz Yotvata is the largest milk-producing facility in the country. They were laughed at when they said they would raise cows in the desert heat. It was an impossible mission, but by 2008 they were churning out 62 million liters of milk per year.
Stahl claims that ancient honey came mainly from dates. She writes, “Today, Israel's dates are still famous throughout the world. Israel exports some 12,000 tons of dates each year to 20 countries.”
The Kibbutz movement is largely to thank for Israel’s becoming a world leader in agriculture. But it was not without controversy. Socialism is a failed economic system. The Kibbutz movement was great when Israel’s existence depended on it, but would it survive once Israel stabilized? That's a story for a future Sunday Story...