The Kibbutz: Awakening from Utopia

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9780847695263: The Kibbutz: Awakening from Utopia

The Israeli kibbutz, the twentieth century's most interesting social experiment, is in the throes of change. Instrumental in establishing the State of Israel, defending its borders, creating its agriculture and industry, and setting its social norms, the kibbutz is the only commune in history to have played a central role in a nation's life. Over the years, however, Israel has developed from an idealistic pioneering community into a materialistic free market society. Consequently, the kibbutz has been marginalized and is undergoing a radical transformation. The egalitarian ethic expressed in the phrase, “From each according to ability, to each according to need,” is being replaced by the concept of reward for effort. Cooperative management is increasingly giving way to business administration. Kibbutz members, who were obligated to and dependent on their community, are now responsible for running their own lives and earning their own living.
Through distinguished journalist Daniel Gavron's revealing portraits of ten kibbutzim we hear the voices both of the veterans who are witnessing the collapse of their dream and of the youngsters who have rejected the vision of their parents. The author also analyzes the economic collapse that triggered the changes and the failure of the unique kibbutz education system to perpetuate communal values. The opening and concluding chapters provide a compelling overview of the situation and look toward the future.
Gavron, a former kibbutznik, brings a keen and sensitive eye to this first overview of the current revolution in the Israeli kibbutz. Jewish readers and all those interested in Israel will find this book a compelling portrait of a country trying to hold onto its past while facing its future.

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The kibbutz, or agricultural and light industrial commune, was one of Israel's chief instruments of state-building. Initiated in 1910 as a socialist experiment in cooperative action, it provided work for newcomers, promoted their settlement in inland areas of Palestine, and afforded a sense of purpose and solidarity. At the time of statehood, Israel's national borders were largely determined by the location of the most distant kibbutzim, and, writes journalist Daniel Gavron, the kibbutz movement "held a unique position of prestige, providing many of the nation's best military commanders, as well as a third of its government."

Over the last half century, Gavron argues, and especially since the 1970s, the kibbutzim have lost some of their utopian sensibility. For example, where before each kibbutz worker held an equal share of the commune's holdings, there are now differentials in income, and decades of inflation and borrowing compromised the financial integrity of several of the most important communities. Many Israelis consider kibbutzim to be wonderful places for children and the elderly, but not for career-minded workers in the prime of life.

All that notwithstanding, the kibbutz continues to play an important role in Israeli life, Gavron writes, producing some 40 percent of the country's crops and about 10 percent of its manufactured goods. His study of this remarkable, and in the main successful, experiment is a useful contribution to Israeli history. --Gregory McNamee

From the Back Cover:

The kibbutz is easily one of the most recognizable -- and misunderstood -- aspects of Israeli culture. As the world becomes more modernized, the kibbutz has been forced to evolve in ways that often conflict with its founding principles. Daniel Gavron, a well-known Israeli journalist, gets to the heart of the kibbutz by interviewing members of many different communities throughout Israel to offer this heartfelt, perceptive account of today's kibbutz and its future.

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