Essential Israel: Volunteer on a Kibbutz

Culture Facts

Where: Throughout Israel, with some branches across the world
What’s it about: Principles of shared ownership and communal living
How to join in: Join the Kibbutz Volunteer scheme and be prepared to work long and hard for personal rewards only

Like sharing your bus seat with a soldier, volunteer work on a kibbutz is an essential Israeli experience for travellers.

Principles

Inspired by turn of the century socialism, kibbutz are agricultural communities which work on the principle of shared ownership. Most accept volunteers for varying lengths of time, although you do have to be between 18 and 35, be prepared to commit between 2 and 6 months to staying at any one Kibbutz, and be prepared to work long hours and do menial jobs – fruit picking, washing up or cow milking. Nowadays kibbutzim are changing and volunteers attracted by socialist ideals are often disappointed as money lust has replaced the group mentality.

History

The first Kibbutz was established in 1909 on the banks of the Jordan River. There are now nearly 300 Kibbutz. The Zionist Judaism movement was founded in Eastern Europe on the eve of the First World War as a mean of preserving the Jewish identity in the face of increasing anti-Semitism across Europe. Influenced by the Scouting movement, of youth, outdoor life and self-reliance fused with the spirit of independence and creativity. In 1927, the Kibbutz Artzi collective of Zionist Kibbutz was founded in Palestine. Its influence spread to Jews throughout the work and in 1937 the first American Kibbutz settled in Ein Hashofet. The Holocaust splintered the original Hashomer Hatzair movement, and after the war ended the few remaining Jewish survivors from Europe fled illegally into Palestine aboard the famed “Exodus” immigration ship. The Kibbutz played a large part in reclaiming the barren lands of the new independent Israel.
After the 6 day war in 1967, volunteers the world over began arriving in Israel to show good will by becoming kibbutz volunteers. The kibbutzism movement flourished with the idealism of the 1960’s and 70’s but is now undergoing a difficult period brought on by a dwindling economy and lack of confidence of its members.

Tourism has now become part of the role of Kibbutz in the search to bring in new incomes – Bed and Breakfast, guest houses and food stores are all run by Kibbutz organisations. Many members work outside the kibbutz in professional jobs like doctors and teachers, donating their income to the cause to keep the Kibbutz alive.

Kibbutz have a strong political and military tradition. In the past they’ve been vulnerable to Arab attack because of their remote locations, often close to borders and disputed land.
The reason Kibbutz exist in Israel is because on the farms there is more work than people, and the demanding National Service takes away many of the young fit workforce. Kibbutzism keeps Israel alive, supplying 50% of its foods, and 25% of its army commando units. Members of the Kibbutz are called “Kibbutzniks” and all property and income is communally owned, meals are eaten communally. Jobs vary depending on the trade of each Kibbutz but can range from factory work to working on a fish farm, picking orange in a grove, tending livestock, and tend to be repetitive, unskilled tasks. You can often request to change jobs and negotiated better work depending on how long you plan to stay. Hours will usually be between 6 – 8 hours, often starting at 6am or earlier, 6 days a week, resting on the Sabbath (Saturday).

How to Guide

You don’t get paid on a Kibbutz, it is voluntary work, but you will get a small allowance (maybe around $10 per week) to spend on beer, cigarettes or other basic from the shop. There’s plenty to do on a Kibbutz; social activities, drinking, meeting people and you can get days off every month for day trips or longer trips. The Kibbutz will organise every 3 months to do things liks beach bumming in Eilat or visiting Jerusalem. It’s also probably the only country in the world where the bottle of vodka is the same price as a cup of coffee. Kibbutz volunteers will stay in the Volie house, guests will stay two or three to a room, sometimes more in volunteer quarters. Accommodation is basic – think hostels – and get used to sharing. Facilities vary but better equipped Kibbutz will have swimming pools, sport facilities, cinema screenings, a pub and a disco.

You have to pay for your own travel costs to and from the Kibbutz and some may ask for a small administration charge and deposit, returned if you stay for 2 months. It is harder now to just turn up and join, so if you arrive in Tel Aviv you should visit the Kibbutz volunteer office at 103 Ben Yehuda Street. Be aware that now HIV tests are compulsory for volunteers.

More Information

Kibbutz Volunteer.com
Resource site run by John Carson, an English backpacker and kibbutz volunteer for over two years, with tips and information on volunteering and real info on life in Israel.

Kibbutz Question Time
Many questions on Kibbutzism answered by one former volunteer.

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