For much of Israel’s existence, the kibbutz embodied its highest ideals: collective labor, love of the land and a no-frills egalitarianism.
But starting in the 1980s, when socialism was on a global downward spiral and the country was mired in hyperinflation, Israel’s 250 or so kibbutzim seemed doomed. Their debt mounted and their group dining halls grew empty as the young moved away.
Now, in a surprising third act, the kibbutzim are again thriving. Only in 2007 they are less about pure socialism than a kind of suburbanized version of it.
On most kibbutzim, food and laundry services are now privatized; on many, houses may be transferred to individual members, and newcomers can buy in. While the major assets of the kibbutzim are still collectively owned, the communities are now largely run by professional managers rather than by popular vote. And, most important, not everyone is paid the same.
Once again, people are lining up to get in.
“What we love here is the simplicity,” said Boaz Varol, 38, who rides his bike along wooded pathways to work at the swimming pool, once for communal use, that he rents and runs as a private business at Kibbutz Yasur, in the rolling hills of the Western Galilee, northeast of Haifa. “Everyone does what they want, we have our independence, but without the kind of competition you find outside.”