Urban Kibbutz is Draining Figurative Swamps

Categories: Israel
By Haggai Alon

This column first appeared in Hebrew in the newspaper “HaKibbutz,” the national paper for the Kibbutz movement, and distributed with the weekend edition of Yediot Ahronot, Israel’s most widely read daily newspaper.

The urban kibbutz is one of the cornerstones of the fulfillment of Zionism and has the capability of becoming a solution for many because the time has come to move from physically “draining the swamps” to figuratively draining the social and educational swamps of the society.

On February 10, 2010, an article appeared in the NY Times with the headline:” Kibbutz within 4 Walls”. In the closing lines, the journalist claims that the social experiment may be quite modest but in its’ essence, it contains a universal dimension. I really have no idea why The New York Times, perhaps the most influential newspaper in the world, decided to write about this fairly new development of the Kibbutz. The important thing is that it recognized the manner of the urban kibbutz as efficient, and successful in spite of the fact that it is cooperative.

Ten years prior to that newspaper article, on the Jewish New Year of 2000, a group of graduates from the youth movement established the urban kibbutz at the “Kibbutz Hill”, on the outskirts of Nes Tziona and above the remains of the “Ayalon Institute”. The idea became a reality with the help of Shai Huldai, my teacher and mentor from Kibbutz Hulda. It took us two years to finalize the plans and it was settled by members of the movement, mostly kibbutz members. Many around us did not understand the whole process.
The urban kibbutz which began in the 1980’s has been from the beginning the “other” child of the kibbutz movement and so it remains today. Our founding fathers who built the country could not have envisioned the best of their children settling in cities to “drain the swamps” of social injustices and devote themselves to educational principles and improvement. Even today, movement leaders look upon the urban kibbutz as a passing phase, a phenomena of no importance—but here they are mistaken. The urban kibbutz is one of the cornerstones of Zionist fulfillment in the 21st century. It is an ideological framework, providing a  breakthrough for the adult members of the movement and the urban communes.

The urban kibbutz is a solution for the future and it can be a solution for many. Rural settlement will remain a solution only for the wealthy because of the high costs of land and living. The cities can become the front of a new kind of settlement and provide a unique kind of fulfillment in the spirit of the pioneer, to establish a responsible life style in order to positively contribute to the Israel society.

The urban kibbutz includes all of the basic elements of cooperation and collaboration while allowing for flexibility. In addition, it promotes an economic framework, not necessarily based on the family unit, that has the ability to make decisions in a democratic nature, while continuing to build their social structure, learning together and strengthening their ideological basis: building a culture of productivity and not one of consumption, with the emphasis on involvement with their surroundings and without the urge to over organize once 2 or more generations are present.

Today, while we celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Kibbutz Movement, it is a necessity for the movement to spread its’ wings over the urban kibbutz, as these are the core of the young leadership of the movement here and across the seas. We must build a bridge across the ideologies of the kibbutz and the urban kibbutz. Now is the time for the kibbutz movement to decide on several of the country’s poorest neighborhoods in our peripheral cities and join in their “re-settlement”. This can provide solutions for some of our struggling
kibbutzim and their members. The urban kibbutz can be a universal answer to the problems of the often cruel capitalism as well as a path towards social responsibility and involvement in Israeli society.

There are those who choose the kibbutz as their way, there are those who choose it as their home and there are those who combine these elements. There are those who chose it from across the seas (like my mother). Kibbutz: I love it.

About Haggai Alon

Haggai Alon is CEO of MAOF, an economic consulting company that serves kibbutzim in Israel. He is also a columnist on Maariv’s NRG website. He previously served as advisor to the Defense Minister on Palestinian matters.
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