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WHITHER KIBBUTZ? – A PERSONAL PERSPECTIVE : First in a Series

Last June, at the World Zionist Congress, I met with AMEINU activists Ken Bob and Hiam Simon in order to update them on the developments within the Cooperative Stream (Zerem Shitufi) of the Kibbutz movement. I also arranged a meeting between Mario Taub, the coordinator of the Zerem Shitufi and Ken as chairperson of AMEINU. I agreed to update JEWISH FRONTIER readers on developments within the Kibbutz movement from my point of view. The year 2010 marks the 100th anniversary of the Degania’s founding. I realize, willy-nilly, that I have personally been a participant-observer of kibbutz history for almost half that time. Actually, I have to add a decade of (sometimes stormy) Habonim activism prior to my Aliya.

Currently, the two kibbutzim with which I have been intimately involved, Gesher Haziv and Lotan, have followed diametrically opposite paths. Gesher Haziv, has privatized. Kibbutz Lotan of which I have been a member for twenty years, is a collective kibbutz. I serve on the outer executive (Mazkirut Murchevet) of the Zerem Shitufi.

 

Degania was founded 100 years ago. If we undertake a Zionist “cheshbon nefesh” (“spiritual appraisal”) , what has the Zionist enterprise produced that is unique? Yes, the Zionist movement gave us a state “like all the nations.” Yes, Israel’s calendar is a Jewish calendar. Yes, we revived and speak Hebrew. Yes, Israel has achieved the unbelievable in fields such as agriculture, the military and hi-tech in comparison to other nations. But there has been one accomplishment, one social phenomenon which has not been paralleled elsewhere in the world. The kibbutz has been unique feature in our national movement. Failures and foibles – aplenty. We will discuss them in this series. But yes, I am proud and have no regrets that for almost 50 years my story is also a kibbutz story.

In order to share my personal perspective on what is happening in the Kibbutz movement with readers of the FRONTIER, I revisited the last article that I wrote for this journal. “The Merger of the Kibbutz Movements,” appeared in the FRONTIER November 1979 issue. The article focused on the then impending merger betweenIchud Hakvutzot VeHakibbutzim and the Kibbutz Hameuchad. (Outside of Israel, that merger was to lead to the merger of Habonim with Dror as Habonim-Dror in 1982) The merger was catalyzed by cataclysmic events – the Yom Kippur War, the end of Labor hegemony in Israeli politics in 1977 as well as the Camp David agreement. Those events impacted sufficiently on the consciousness of the kibbutz public to overcome establishment reservations – especially in the Meuchad. The drive and determination of Musa Charif, the General Secretary of the Ichud at the time to achieve the merger was also a decisive factor.

In my FRONTIER article I quoted Berl Katzenelson’s eulogy of Chaim Nachman Bialik delivered a month after the latter’s death in 1934.

“We are now in a period wherein we are engaged only in constructing the frame of the building. Our thoughts have not yet turned to furnishing the house, to its interior decoration…. We do not yet have the leisure for profound spiritual life, but the day will come…Some day there will be many Jews in the country and they will give us no rest…in time to come they will struggle with questions of our cultural fate.”

At that time I wrote:

“(Berl) surely had the kibbutz movement in mind…In fact, Berl made out a promissory note—to be redeemed some day by the Zionist labor movement, including the kibbutzim. Berl implied that without providing some meaningful content for the edifice that was being built, the Zionist labor movement would bankrupt itself. This is indeed what has happened in the past few years…

The kibbutz movement seems to be stagnating ideologically…rank and file kibbutz members are involved mainly with the day to day problems of their particular kibbutzim. Will the merger create a new dynamic of purpose? … Can the kibbutz movement redeem the promissory note that Berl Katzenelson drew up 45 years ago?”

More than thirty years have passed. Using the end of the 1970’s as a baseline, the articles in this series will detail my personal view of what has happened in the kibbutz movement and why.