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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.