The Kibbutz: Israel’s Collective Utopia

The Kibbutz is one of the most iconic symbols of Israel’s early years, before and after 1948. How did the kibbutz become so popular? Where did the idea of the kibbutz begin and why did the kibbutz movement flourish? How many people in Israel even lived on kibbutzim? This episode gives you everything you need to know about this unique, idealistic, spirited movement that helped shape Israel into the country that it is. 

Watch this video and use these prompts to explore the world of the kibbutz.

  1. In two sentences or less, what makes a kibbutz a kibbutz?
  2. Who was A.D. Gordon?
  3. What was the first kibbutz?
    • Tel Aviv
    • Degania
    • Ein Hanatziv
    • Lotan
  4. What is a kibbutz member called?
    • Kibbutzee
    • Kibbutzer
    • Kibbutzka
    • Kibbutznik
  1. Why was pre-state and early Israel the perfect time and place for kibbutzim to flourish?
  2. In what ways is the collectivism of the kibbutz movement so profoundly positive, and in what ways might the collectivism of the kibbutz movement detract from society? 
  3. One member of the kibbutz might have been a doctor, making good money outside of the kibbutz, while another did the kibbutz’s laundry. They both received the exact same provisions. Is this fair? Why or why not?
  4. Although the kibbutz is an icon of early Israel, even at the height of its popularity only 7.5% of Israel’s population lived on kibbutzim. Why do you think this is? 
  5. The group effect of the kibbutz was so powerful, without which overcoming challenges of being without parents, without a set country and often having denied God, would be too difficult. How did the kibbutz seek to bring everyone together and become a microcosm of what the state would try to become?
  1. Ask your students to come up with a list of things in their life that they most value (ie: family, possessions, sports, religion, etc). Once the students have come up with their lists, ask them to think about how living on a Kibbutz would have affected the most important things to them (ie: not owning your own possessions, not living with your parents). How would living on a Kibbutz change your way of life?
  2. Read the following article with your students and discuss the following questions:
    • What is it about Kibbutzim that have allowed them to survive within a country with an evolving economy and culture?
    •  What characteristics of the Kibbutz movement has been so enticing that people from across the world joined kibbutzim throughout the last century?
    • Would you consider spending time on a Kibbutz? Why or why not?
  3. Engage your students in an experiential learning activity around the theme of Initiative, a theme found in the accompanying video.
  4. Give your students our Kahoot on the Kibbutz!
  1. Amos Oz Writes: “For all its disadvantages, [the kibbutz] is the least bad, the least unkind, that I have seen anywhere…. The kibbutz is the only attempt in modern times to separate labor from material reward and this attempt is, in Martin Buber’s phrase, ‘an exemplary non-failure.’ The kibbutz is the only attempt to establish a collective society, without compulsion, without repression, and without bloodshed or brainwashing. It is also, in retrospect, a unique attempt, for better or for worse, to reconstruct or revive the extended family… the loss of which may turn out to be the greatest loss in modern life.” When you think of the words, “an exemplary non-failure,” how is the kibbutz movement a fascinating example of such an idea?
  2. Can you imagine living on a kibbutz? In what ways would your life be the same, and in what ways would your life be vastly different?
  3. In this article, Noam Shpancer, who grew up on a kibbutz, describes his childhood experiences. He states that the kibbutz was a wonderful place for kids, in some ways, but discusses the darker aspects of it as well. He writes, “The pressure to conform was relentless. Individuality and competition were looked down upon.” Why did the kibbutz strive to breed conformity and sameness? In the 21st century, individuality is a supreme value; can you imagine what it would be like to grow up in such a different environment?
  4. If you were moving to Israel, would the Kibbutz collectivist life, Tel Aviv cosmopolitanism or the history of Jerusalem draw you in the most?
  1. Amos Elon, Understanding Israel: A Social Studies Approach 
  2. Anita Shapira, Israel: A History, Part 3, Chapters 10 and 11
  3. Noam Shpancer, “Child of the collective”
  4. J.J. Goldberg, “What Actually Undermined the Kibbutz” 
  5. Rachael Gelfman Schultz, “The Kibbutz Movement”

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Experiential Learning is a proactive way to educate with a focus on reflection and can take place in any academic setting: day school, supplementary school, camp, youth group, synagogue, college campus or university. 

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