The first experiments of the new generation of intentional, activist communities in Israel can be traced back to as early as 1968. In that year, Garin Sha’al began building a prototype Urban Kibbutz in Carmiel, whilst the founders of the first Garin Torani began establishing themselves in Kiryat Shmona. These new social action oriented communities were from very different backgrounds, politically, ideologically and sociologically. Garin Sha’al founders were graduates of the Socialist Zionist youth movement Habonim Dror from North America, whilst the founders of the Garin Torani in Kiryat Shmona were from Orthodox National Religious backgrounds, including Bnei Akiva and Yeshivat Mercaz HaRav. Several similar Urban Kibbutzim and Garinim Toraniim were established during the late 1970’s and 1980’s but then in the 1990’s they began blossoming in more significant numbers all over Israel, as a variety of networks and movements were by then focused on actively creating such intentional communities.
For the past three decades, the contact between these communities was rare and usually confrontational – based on political and ideological antagonism and rivalry, as these socialist and religious communities and movements competed and fought to influence and lead Israel in opposing directions with regard to many key issues. In recent years however, social and political developments such as the struggle against the privatization of the land of Israel and the growing poverty gap have brought the various community movements and networks together, putting aside some of their differences in order to work together towards mutual aims such as democratic Zionism, social solidarity, social action and community building. By the time that the massive socio-economic protests swept Israel in 2011, there were already at least 14 different community movements and networks representing, networking, and creating social action oriented communities across Israel. They can be roughly described according to four general characteristics, although in reality there are many more overlaps and differences between them all, so this terminology can be misleading: Local residents (immigrants and minorities); Religious (modern Orthodox and Charedi); Educational/Cooperative and Secular/Pluralist.
1. Local Residents’ Community Networks: There are three networks of immigrant activist communities, based primarily upon local young adult leadership groups taking responsibility for their own community’s neighborhoods and thereby improving Israeli society at large. Hineini and Chaverim B’Teva are networks of Ethiopian immigrant communities and M’Dor L’Dor is a network of Caucasian (ie from the Caucasus region) immigrant communities. In terms of the process of forming the communities and their social action projects, the Druze network Ofakim L’Atid is similar to the immigrant networks, in that the community members are also local groups of young adults who are coming together in order to improve their wider communities and Israeli society.
The other twelve community building organizations are different in that they typically involve people deliberately moving their residential locations in order to form their communities and their social action projects in neighborhoods which they identify as relevant, often due to their socio-economic and/or geographic marginalization.
2. Religious Community Networks: There are three networks of religious ‘Garin Torani’ communities, including two which are ‘Modern Orthodox’ / ‘National Religious’ – the Bnei Akiva youth movement (which historically built many religious ‘traditional’ kibbutzim) graduate movement and the huge Keren Kehillot community network – and also the Nettiot network which includes Ultra Orthodox and ‘Baal Teshuva’ (‘returning to the religion’) communities. There are also other similar religious activist community networks who have not joined the Council.
3. Cooperative Educator Kibbutzim Movements: Four of the ‘classic’ Pioneering Socialist Zionist youth movements which historically built most of the ‘traditional’ kibbutzim have developed graduate movements of ‘Educator Kibbutzim’. Both located in urban and rural settings, their communities are generally composed of smaller ‘intimate kvutza’ groups which have a highly collective communal life as well as a very high proportion of members working together daily in cooperative educational projects. In addition to Kvutzot Am (Habonim Dror graduates), Kvutzot HaBechira (HaMachanot HaOlim graduates), Hashomer Hatzair graduates and Dror Israel (Hanoar Haoved Vehalomed graduates), there is a newer fifth similar movement – Tarbut – of cultural activist communities, focusing on music, drama and the arts as their medium of social change.
4. Secular/Pluralist: Both ‘Maagal HaKvutzot’ and ‘The Community Incubator’ are networks of independent secular/pluralist urban communities and kibbutzim. Some of these communities define themselves as an ‘urban/city kibbutz’ and include various degrees of collective consumption and cooperative production.
The first difficult discussions about working together for the greater good of Israeli society during 2011 resulted in the establishment of a democratic, representative umbrella body in 2012. Together, the Israeli Council of Communities for Social Action today includes 14 different movements and networks, representing 270 communities nationwide, with some 8000 adult community members who are running social action enterprises which positively affect approximately 350,000 Israelis. Our work is just beginning…
This article was originally written for C.A.L.L. #38 of the International Communes Desk.